Types of Speaking in ESL

In the context of ESL teaching, ~there are at least five types of speaking that take place in the classroom. This post will define and provide examples of each. The five types are as follows…

  • Imitative
  • Intensive
  • Responsive
  • Interactive
  • Extensive

The list above is ordered from simplest to most complex in terms of the requirements of oral production for the student.

Imitative

At the imitative level, it is probably already clear what the student is trying to do. At this level, the student is simply trying to repeat what was said to them in a way that is understandable and with some adherence to pronunciation as defined by the teacher.

It doesn’t matter if the student comprehends what they are saying or carrying on a conversation. The goal is only to reproduce what was said to them. One common example of this is a “repeat after me” experience in the classroom.

Intensive

Intensive speaking involves producing a limit amount of language in a highly control context. An example of this would be to read aloud a passage or give a direct response to a simple question.

Competency at this level is shown through achieving certain grammatical or lexical mastery. This depends on the teacher’s expectations.

Responsive

Responsive is slightly more complex than intensive but the difference is blurry, to say the least. At this level, the dialog includes a simple question with a follow-up question or two. Conversations take place by this point but are simple in content.

Interactive

The unique feature of intensive speaking is that it is usually more interpersonal than transactional. By interpersonal it is meant speaking for maintaining relationships. Transactional speaking is for sharing information as is common at the responsive level.

The challenge of interpersonal speaking is the context or pragmatics The speaker has to keep in mind the use of slang, humor, ellipsis, etc. when attempting to communicate. This is much more complex than saying yes or no or giving directions to the bathroom in a second language.

Extensive

Extensive communication is normal some sort of monolog. Examples include speech, story-telling, etc. This involves a great deal of preparation and is not typically improvisational communication.

It is one thing to survive having a conversation with someone in a second language. You can rely on each other’s body language to make up for communication challenges. However, with extensive communication either the student can speak in a comprehensible way without relying on feedback or they cannot. In my personal experience, the typical ESL student cannot do this in a convincing manner.

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