A central consideration for adult learners is that of communicating information and ideas effectively. Speakers plan and make decisions about when and how to use information in order to communicate their meaning or message clearly. They do this using strategies that are similar to those used by writers.
Competent speakers are aware of their audience and are able to use verbal and non-verbal strategies to modify their communications as they speak.
The elements of speaking that capture the language choices the speaker makes are called the register and the style24 (or voice). Every speaker has their own style and adapts it according to the situation.25 The situation includes what is taking place, who is taking part and what part language is playing. Register is often distinguished by the vocabulary choices and syntactical features used. For example, “Would you mind kindly stepping this way?” is spoken in a very different register from “Get over here!” and there are differences in the underlying as well as surface meanings.
Another aspect of a speaker’s language expertise is fluency. Fillmore (1979) describes the following four abilities as those demonstrated by expert speakers:
- the ability to talk at length and fill time with talk
- the ability to talk in coherent, reasoned and semantically dense sentences, mastering the syntactic and semantic resources of the language
- the ability to find appropriate things to say in a wide range of contexts
- the ability to be creative and imaginative in language, for example, by telling jokes, punning, varying styles and creating metaphors.
Confidence in speaking
Confidence plays a significant role in speaking. Confidence is portrayed through both verbal and non-verbal aspects of communication. Speakers tend not to explicitly state whether they are confident or not when speaking (for example, saying “I speak with confidence” or “I do not have confidence”). Instead, the listener gains an insight into the speaker’s confidence through less direct verbal and non-verbal aspects of their speech. Fatt (1999), in “It’s not what you say it’s how you say it”, stresses the important role of non-verbal communication in speaking.
Confident speakers will consider and attend to the following non-verbal aspects of speaking: eye contact, gesture, posture, facial expression and personal appearance.
Volume, speed, pitch and pronunciation also contribute to how the speaker is portrayed. Enunciation and volume can place the speaker in control. Mumbling or very fast speaking can be an indication that the speaker lacks confidence. The use of verbal fillers (“um”, “ok”, “uh”, “ya know”) is also a characteristic of a speaker who may lack confidence.