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Speaking Journals: A Step-by-Step Guide

9 Dec

An advanced ESL student asked me this week about how she can polish her speaking (and listening) skills while studying solo.  Her goal is near fluency, and I think it’s quite achievable for her – and quite formidable since she’s only ever lived in Seoul.

Already, she listens to American dramas and reviews the content with a script she’s purchased.  She also plugs into English radio while she’s working or studying, keeping a notepad handy for any new words or phrases.  Yet, she wants more practice speaking!   The few hours a week we have together is fantastic, she admits, but eagerly wants more chance to talk.

What are my suggestions?   I wanted to pinpoint ways she can speak outside of our lesson time, and learn from it  – by using a speaking journal.

A SPEAKING JOURNAL – This is great for smartphone users, who already have (or can download easily) an app for voice recording.  I suggested for her that instead of writing a journal, which she has done extensively in the past, she should “speak a journal.”  And to keep it interesting – don’t just make it about what you’ve done today or plan to do tomorrow, even though that is very great practice.  Because of her advanced English functioning, I suggested she change the topics – which focuses vocabulary, expressions, context, tone and so forth.

Here’s a step-by-step plan to get started with an ESL Speaking Journal:

  1. Find the app on your smartphone, or get one – iphone or android.   I have an android phone which came with a voice recorder, but you may want find one with more functionality.
  2. Try recording a small clip – introduce yourself – and see if you can email it to yourself.  The voice files should be able to be sent using a variety of social media popular in your country.  In South Korea, my students and I send and receive voice recorded files using email, SMS, and KakaoTalk.
  3. Now, prepare to speak!  Daily.  I recommend 5 minutes of continuous talking with only minor pauses in speech.  Pushing yourself to speak without stopping is a great way to strive for ESL fluency.  Think fast! 🙂  For the first time, talk about whatever comes to mind – about your day, what you’re doing, plans for dinner, etc.   Try to flow from the past to the future, which ensures you use at least a few verb tenses.
  4. Grab a companion journal (or a few pages from your current ESL Writing Journal^^) to write in.  In this journal, start a list of potential topics to discuss, so that you can refer to it on days when you don’t know what to talk about.  This is also a great place to add new vocabulary and expressions that comes up with this activity.
  5. Day 2 – First, speak about  a topic that interests you, for 5 minutes continuously, little pause in speech.  For example, I love tea, so I could talk about tea for 5 minutes.  In a second language that may be difficult because there is a lot of topic-specific vocabulary.  Great!  Along with speaking practice, “rounding out” your ESL repertoire is what you’re striving for.
  6. Day 2 – Second, listen to yesterday’s speaking journal recording.  By reviewing each recording a day later, it gives you some time to separate from what you’ve talked about so you can listen with a more objective ear.   With pen and companion journal in hand: Listen for errors in grammar;  Look up vocabulary words that would have been good to use; Write down expressions you liked using or would have liked to say;  Think of, or look up, some idiomatic expressions on the topic that you could have used.
  7. Once you’ve been actively keeping a journal for a week, ask your ESL Teacher if you can send her a file for a listen.  She or he may be able to give a listen and offer some advice!
  8. And most importantly, have fun.  Learning a language is difficult, takes time, and there is no point in time where you can say “I made it!”  Keep ESL a learning adventure and you’re bound to enjoy yourself.

If you have been keeping a Speaking journal, have tried it in the past or are eager to give it a whorl – please leave your advice and comments below!

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