Betsabé Navarro Romero
Abstract This article examines the different circumstances under which infant and adult learners develop speaking skills. We will see the facilities or difficulties in both cases in order to focus on the real possibilities of adults to develop a high level of speaking proficiency. We will see what the role of the teacher is in order to improve the learners’ skills, the features of oral communication that need to be improved and which strategies can be used to overcome the difficulties. Key words: speaking skills, adult learning, oral communication, teaching strategies. Resumen Este artículo analiza las diferentes circunstancias en las que niños y adultos desarrollan las destrezas orales. Veremos las facilidades y dificultades en ambos casos para así centrarnos en las posibilidades reales que tienen los adultos de alcanzar un alto nivel de competencia oral. Veremos también cual es el papel del profesor en este contexto, para mejorar las capacidades de los alumnos, y ver cuáles son los elementos de la comunicación oral que hay que mejorar y qué estrategias se pueden aplicar para superar las dificultades. Palabras clave: destrezas orales, aprendizaje de adultos, comunicación verbal, estrategias de enseñanza.
If we think of the period in our lives when we learned to speak our first language, and the moment in which we started to make huge efforts to speak our second/foreign language we find significant differences. In the former case, we may have fond memories of what our parents told us; and in the latter, it suddenly becomes a frustrating experience that seems to bring imperfect results. For adults, learning to speak a new language is in many cases far from satisfactory simply because they feel they need to cope with many different aspects at one time, and that seems to be impossible in real conversations. I wonder if it is possible to acquire a high level of speaking proficiency in adults; I wonder if it is possible to make adult learners improve their speaking skills, and the most important thing for teachers: how? The first question we have to consider in order to reach a conclusion is whether learning at infancy is different from learning at adulthood; which are the circumstances that differentiate them and if those conditions inevitably lead to obvious and hopeless results. Only bearing in mind what we can expect of a particular type of learner, we can focus on how to improve their speaking skills. It is obvious that there are marked differences between children learners and adult learners and that they cannot acquire the second language under the same circumstances. Consequently, the results will be also different. Concerning children and the early age at which they learn to speak, we can say that they enjoy certain advantages that make them outstanding learners. They have surprising linguistic abilities due to optimal moment in which they find themselves for language learning, this is to say, at this moment their brain is characterized by a certain plasticity that allows some abilities to develop with ease during a period of time, after which it becomes really difficult for these abilities to be developed (Fleta, 2006: 53), or using 86
Improving Speaking Skills Betsabé Navarro Romero Encuentro, 18, pp. 86-90
Klein’s words ‘between the age of two and puberty the human brain shows the plasticity which allows a child to acquire his first language’ (Klein, 1986: 9). Therefore, children are special learners for their natural and innate abilities to acquire a language. According to Fleta, one of these special abilities is ‘filtering sophisticated information about language properties from birth’ (Fleta, 2006: 49), in other words, children have an enormous ability to integrate difficult information in an easy and unconscious way from the beginning of their development. They are able to acquire and integrate complex data without being aware of it, whereas other...