Speaking is the productive skill in the oral mode. It is more complicated than it seems at first and involves more than just pronouncing words.
In a normal speech communication situation, a speaker tries to exert an influence on a listener (or a group of listeners) by making him or them perceive, understand, feel or do something particular. The speaker guides the listener into doing this by exposing a linguistically structured speech behaviour, which operates together with non-verbal signals, various kinds of background knowledge that the speaker and the listener have, the listener’s responses and other characteristics of the physical and social context in which the communicative activities are embedded. The various behavioural and information-processing operations involved in both the production and comprehension of speech are transient events which partially overlap and occur at very high rates. There is often a frequent exchange of turns (i.e. speaking vs. listening turns) between the communicating parties. All in all, this brings about a very intricate and rapidly evolving social interaction between the parties.
Some of the most important features of speech communication are the following ones:
1. Speech is a dynamic, ephemeral behaviour distributed in time, it proceeds continuously and its inherent dynamics, the changes at various levels, must be subject to on-line monitoring and analysis by both communicating parties. As one goes on, one can no longer observe that which was produced earlier. The products of the speaker’s activities fade rapidly over a period of time, and the same applies to the listener’s activities.
2. Speech behaviour has many features of continuous movements (rather than a chain of successive states).
3. The whole interaction between speaker and listener is dependent on the situation (context) in many extremely important ways:
First of all, the speaker’s speech behaviour is continuously accompanied and supplemented by various non-verbal signals, which means that the verbal message as such is often much less explicit than in writing; referents may be pointed to, interpretations may be made more precise and complex through gestures, facial expressions, tones of voice etc. After all, the use of an utterance in a normal situation involving face-to-face interaction is not an isolated speech act; it is part of a comprehensive communicative act, which comprises the use of both verbal means (speech) and nonverbal means (gesticulation etc). The message is conveyed, or shown, in several ways simultaneously, and the role played by spoken language cannot be properly understood without taking into consideration the whole communicative act.
Secondly, both speaker and listener are normally physically present at the same place, and they normally have a considerable amount of background knowledge about each other, the things talked about etc. Parts of this knowledge may be shared by both interlocutors.
Thirdly, the listener responds all the time (verbally and, perhaps most importantly, by non-verbal means), and this feedback continuously influences the speaker’s behaviour. The speaker must produce his utterances quickly and readily, and the listener must respond just as rapidly, under the pressure of the emotive and social atmosphere of the face-to-face interaction.
In short, these various features imply that dialogues, which are the typical application of speech, must be regarded as a complex social interplay between agents.
4. Communication through speech is a resource available for all normally equipped human beings across different social groups and cultures. It is acquired under rather different conditions than writing. Its ontogenesis is part of the normal individual’s primary socialization, which starts and largely develops in early childhood as an integrated element of habitual activities in everyday culture. To a large extent it then remains a feature of the private sphere of people’s lives. Knowledge of one’s spoken language is an inalienable element of one’s knowledge of everyday culture
There are three kinds of speaking situations in which we find ourselves:
- partially interactive
Interactive speaking situations include face-to-face conversations and telephone calls, in which we are alternately listening and speaking, and in which we have a chance to ask for clarification, repetition, or slower speech from our conversation partner. Some speaking situations are partially interactive, such as when giving a speech to a live audience, where the convention is that the audience does not interrupt the speech. The speaker nevertheless can see the audience and judge from the expressions on their faces and body language whether or not he or she is being understood. Some few speaking situations may be totally non-interactive, such as when recording a speech for a radio broadcast.
There are a number of skills involved in starting, maintaining and ending a conversation. The speaker has to:
- pronounce the distinctive sounds of a language clearly enough so that people can distinguish them. This includes making tonal distinctions.
- use stress and rhythmic patterns, and intonation patterns of the language clearly enough so that people can understand what is said.
- use the correct forms of words. This may mean, for example, changes in the tense, case, or gender.
- put words together in correct word order.
- use vocabulary appropriately.
- use the register or language variety that is appropriate to the situation and the relationship to the conversation partner.
- make clear to the listener the main sentence constituents, such as subject, verb, object, by whatever means the language uses.
- make the main ideas stand out from supporting ideas or information.
- make the discourse hang together so that people can follow what you are saying.
A. SKILL 1: OPENERS or GREETINGS:
Openers refers to initial greetings that demonstrate friendly intention and are often an invitation to conversation. These cover the conventional questions such as “how are you?” Body language usually consists of mutual gaze, smiling, head tilt or toss or warm facial expression. Greetings are virtually essential to starting conversations.
B. SKILL 2: ‘START-UP’ ROUTINES:
The previous skill will encourage the other to talk but won’t get him or her started. For this we need questions. We usually start with general questions, go on to specific ones and finally on to feeling questions; that is questions that ask what the other thinks, believes, feels about something. Hence many conversations move from the superficial to the intimate, though this requires a mutual sharing of feelings, opinions and experiences at deeper levels.
2b. APPROACHING STRANGERS
People often feel anxious about approaching strangers for fear of saying the wrong thing, appearing silly or forward or being rejected. There are conventional and accepted ways of approaching strangers.
C. SKILL 3: SELF-DISCLOSURE
This means being willing to talk about yourself. A good part of any conversation involves talking about topics centring on you or topics you comment on, rather than those you question the other person about. If you are trying to move from a superficial relationship to a closer one it is suggested that the information you share be gradually increased to more intimate levels.
D. SKILL 4: CHANGING TOPICS
People will often terminate a conversation prematurely when they run out of questions to ask or when the conversation begins to focus on an area in which they are not interested. Most initial conversations, especially those between two strangers, take a while to get started. Consequently, before a common topic of interest is found, there may be several silences and several periods where topics are briefly picked up and then dropped.
It is also important to know that you have some control over the direction the conversation takes, especially if only two people are involved in the conversation. If you are not satisfied with the current topic of conversation, asking another open-ended question, following up on some free information that has been stored away, making a self-disclosure statement regarding another topic will often serve to move the topic of conversation to another area which is more satisfying or interesting.
E. SKILL 5: BREAKING INTO ONGOING CONVERSATIONS
If the other people are open to having you join in, their body posture and eye contact will often convey this. They will look your way, give you eye contact, and they may realign their bodies so that they are facing you. If this seems to be the case, then it is a matter of being able to stand by, listen to the context of the conversation, and then join in with some appropriate statement of self-disclosure, opinion, interest or free information when appropriate.
F. SKILL 6: COPING WITH SILENCES
These periods do occur and are quite normal. Sometimes this silence can be uncomfortable and at other times, it can feel quite natural. Some people worry about pauses or silences in a conversation. They feel that they should fill every moment of the conversation with words. However almost all conversations, especially those between people who are getting to know one another better, have periods of silence.
G. SKILL 7: TELLING STORIES
As people become more comfortable in talking with others, they will begin to talk in longer sentences and may relate some stories, experiences, or jokes. However, in relating these, it is important that each have a beginning, a middle, and especially an end.
H. SKILL 8: TERMINATING CONVERSATION
Can you recall situations where you felt “cornered” by someone talking to you, and you used some excuse such as “I have to go to the toilet” or “Oh, I forgot to make a phone call” in order to stop the interaction? Many people do tell of situations such as this, and, as a result, they are anxious about entering any conversation where they may later feel trapped or imposed upon. Things to say may involve some types of verbal responses which may be given at the end of a conversation: “I really have enjoyed talking with you” or “I see someone here whom I have not spoken with for a long time. I would like to continue our conversation later if you are free then”.
I. SKILL 9: ACTIVE LISTENING
Active listening is paying attention to what people are saying, picking up on any free information and letting people know you are listening.You let people know you are listening with words such as “interesting”, “really?”, “incredible!”, “yes”, “hmmm”. It shows physically with nods, leaning forward, sitting up and so on. An important part is to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. People often enjoy explaining things to others. This skill concerns displaying an active interest in the other person.
J. SKILL 10: OFFERING COMPLIMENTS, PRAISE, HELP, ENCOURAGEMENT AND EXPRESSING SYMPATHY
These ‘supportive routines’ are all ways to make your conversation more rewarding to the other person, to make the other more responsive and friendly. There are conventional ways of offering compliments, praise and help, which virtually always bring pleasure to the other. Words of encouragement and expressions of sympathy can also make conversation with you more pleasant and rewarding.