Spoken Grammar

Spoken Grammar

There are situations when our students advance their English enough to start watching videos, TV series and film without translations. Once this happens, a lot of questions arise. Why the character used this or that construction? Why don’t they answer fully, as most English learners study in an English lesson? The answer is that a lot of speakers use Spoken Grammar in their everyday conversations. In order to help your students, you need to teach them some features of spoken Grammar to facilitate their communication. Some of these features are to be discussed in the article.

What is Spoken Grammar?

Spoken grammar is an important feature of the language used in everyday conversations. According to Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy (“Cambridge Grammar of English”, 2006), the main features of the Spoken language are:

  • Spoken language happens in real time and is typically unplanned.
  • Spoken language is most typically face to face.
  • Spoken language foregrounds choices which reflect the immediate social and interpersonal situation.
  • Spoken language and written language are not sharply divided but exist on a continuum.

These are heads, tails, ellipsis, boundary markers, hyperboles, co-constructions, etc., i.e. language constructions, utterances and linking phrases that most native speakers use and that make the speech sound natural. Some of these terms exist in written grammar, but some of them can be new for both teachers and students.

In this article, we will discuss backchannels and indirect speech.

How to teach some features of Spoken Grammar?

1.Teaching backchannels. Backchannels – are the words and phrases that help the conversation flow smoothly and demonstrate that you listen attentively to your interlocutor, e.g. yeah, uh-uh, really, that’s impossible, I totally agree, etc. Let’s take a video below as an example to demonstrate how to teach backchannels.

  • Include pre-watching (for instance, show a screenshot from the video and ask a student/students to guess who the person is and where he is or stop the video after interviewers’ questions and ask to predict some answers), while-watching (for example, multiple choice questions) and post-watching tasks (ask students to answer a couple of questions from the interview about themselves).
  • Play the first part of an interview (first 30 seconds). Ask a student why an interviewee uses “Yeah” in the speech (it gives a speaker time to think).
  • Introduce the idea of backchannels.
  • Ask the student to watch the video up to the end and write out other backchannels.
  • Then give a list of backchannels  (yeah, oh, uh-huh, I see, really, wow,  ah, yes) and ask a student which of them give the speaker time to think and which ones show that you are listening to the speaker.
  • Then take any dialogue from the textbook and ask a student to add possible backchannels to the dialogue.
  • Tell a student to find any real-life interview on YouTube at home and write out backchannels he or she might find there.

2) Teaching spoken ‘indirect’ speech. Traditionally students should be at Intermediate level (be aware of most tenses, e.g. Past Perfect) to be taught traditional indirect speech formation. Moreover, when they do so, they need to control all pronouns, as well as adverbs of place and time. However, it does not mean that students of lower levels don’t need to report someone’s words. So, we can teach them how to do it to ease their communication.

Mike: Hi, Allie? Why are you so sad?

Allie: Well, I am a bit disappointed with my father’s words.

Mike: What did he say?

Allie: The problem is not what he said, but how he did it. I asked him to take his car, but he replied, Okey, you can take it. I hope you won’t crush it AGAIN.

  • Ask the student to read the dialogue and find the father’s words in the conversation of Mike and Allie.
  • Ask, what the exact words were (Answer: ‘You can take it. I hope you won’t crush it AGAIN’).
  • Say, what verbs can introduce the direct speech (Answer: replied, said, answered, asked, etc., usually in the past tense).
  • Ask what the underlined word mean and why can it be used (Answer: to separate Allie’s words from father’s words).
  • Give examples to show what other words can be used to:

…And the boy said, well, I’ve already done the homework.      

…Patrick stood aside so Matt said, hey, are you coming with us?       

…and Marta said, look, I know you’re in trouble, But I can’t help you.

…I told him, I don’t wanna be with you, and he said, but I love you!   

…we met together to drink coffee but he said, listen, I need to go because my mother called me.   

…I told her that the test is tomorrow and she replied, oh, I completely forgot about it.

  • Discuss the meaning of the underlined words (Answer: they can demonstrate surprise, disagreement, hesitancy, or even anger).
  • Go to freer practice and ask students to report their conversation with friends, dialogues from films, TV series or videos. You can take some videos from the course book, which usually follow the unit, and report conversations from there.

After such practice at the lesson, in the future, the student will be able to notice these features (read about developing noticing skills in the article) and learn new features from authentic resources.  

In case you are a Skyeng teacher, you can join the webinars on Spoken Grammar to learn more (if you are not and but want to apply, click here). In case you are not a Skyeng teacher, you can read the book Cambridge Grammar of English and get some ideas there.

Hope, you found the article useful and will teach your students some features of spoken Grammar.




Наталия Мушкарева

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