“How to Teach Speaking” by Scott Thornbury
“How to Teach Speaking” is a book by Scott Thornbury, a freelance teacher trainer and a professor. Published by Pearson Education in 2005, the book serves as a guide for English language teachers who aim to develop their own understanding of speaking as a skill and help their students improve their speaking skills in the target language. Consisted of seven chapters with 156 pages in total, the book successfully combines theory and practice for language teachers. Rather than bombarding teachers with detailed theoretical knowledge, though, the book sets the theoretical background information with to-the-point and easy-to-understand clarifications before it moves onto some practical considerations teachers might take to their own teaching settings.
In the initial chapters of the book, Thornbury first explains briefly the mental and physiological processes language learners go through as they speak the language including speech production, conceptualization and formulation, articulation, self-monitoring and repair, automaticity, fluency, and talk management. The author also explains what learners actually know when they go through these processes, such as topic of speech, culture, discourse, speech acts, grammar, vocabulary, and phonology. In addition, the author touches on how different L1 and L2 speaking are and what sort of communication strategies are employed by learners while speaking. As stated before, the book is reader friendly, and the explanations by the author are clear-cut, well-articulated, and well-woven far away from being heavily based on theoretical explanations. In the following chapters of the book, on the other side, a more practical approach to the author’s explanation is adopted, and different activities are presented to the users of the book in a continuum in which the author divides the activities into three categories depending on their purpose i.e. awareness-raising, appropriation, and (learner) autonomy in speaking. Thanks to this division, the readers will have no difficulty in understanding the rationale behind different activities described in the book and will be able to adopt and adapt the activities in line with their learner profile and needs in their classrooms. It is basically these activities that make this guide worth checking. In the last chapter of the book, the book goes a step beyond in-class applications and extends the content into planning and assessment of speaking in language classes. The author attracts attention to integration and assessment of speaking in curriculum and syllabus of language programs, which could also be very informative for teachers who are concerned with planning and assessment of speaking in their teaching. Finally, in addition to the aforementioned features, the book comes up with photocopiable task sheets along with their answer key that could be implemented for (teacher) training purposes.
In spite of all the positive aspects of the book mentioned earlier on, one criticism could be that the guide in question lacks lesson plans which could be quite useful for language teachers in their classrooms. Although the book comes up with some in-class suggestions and some sample activities in pictures, it does not go beyond describing and categorizing different speaking activities. Therefore, rather than a mere description and explanation of the activities, it could have been better if the future users of the book could see some real lesson plans that targeted learners with different language proficiency levels so that language teachers could visualize better how suggested activities could be implemented in their classes. It would undoubtfully make more sense to those who might not be sure about how to adopt or adapt the activities suggested in the book.
To put it in a nutshell, should any language teacher is interested in understanding better what speaking actually involves and how they could be of help to their learners to enhance their speaking in English and should they want to develop a better insight into different kinds of practical activities to adopt or adapt to their own teaching contexts, they should consider checking this valuable guide.