Education Evolutions

Expanding Speaking Skills for English Language Learners

The Lana Learn team in Vietnam is expanding speaking skills for students with the help of formative and summative assessments.

The Lana Learn team in Vietnam is well underway in the second semester of their English language training (ELT) program at Unit 871. This program aims to support the Vietnam Ministry of National Defense’s goal that 30% of the Vietnam Armed Forces should be able to converse in English by 2030—no small order. This “steady state” program will contribute immensely to the US-Vietnam partnership and strategic goals in the coming years. The instructors are currently working with students on expanding speaking skills using both formative and summative assessments.

There are three main assessments we are focusing on: speaking activities, speaking tests, and speaking projects. Recently, we have formulated a pilot for a speaking project on the American Language Course (ALC) book topics. Class Alpha is currently working through Book 12 and completing the project as a summative assessment. The students are participating with enthusiasm thus far.

It’s important for the instructors to have a standardized metric to score speaking ability in any class. Although speaking assessments can seem arbitrary, there are a few ways to make them consistent and measurable. We are working on a rubric that aligns with the ALC comprehension levels. This rubric rates speaking in four skill areas: pronunciation, fluency, grammar, and vocabulary. Each level and each skill area have a set of clear descriptors. This allows the instructor to listen to a student’s speaking and give a detailed score. Then, the instructor will combine the points given for each skill to obtain an overall speaking score.

Let’s think of an example.  We could have a class that is on Book 11 (Level 2), and interview one male student.  We notice that his speaking is “to standard” for that level in 3 out of the 4 areas. However, it is one level below standard in vocabulary.  The reason being that although he is able to “speak about familiar and unfamiliar topics,” which describes both Level 2 and Level 1, he better fits the Level 1 description of speaking with “only basic lexis on unfamiliar topics.” Following this template, we can distinguish the areas of strength and weakness for each student. This score, coupled with a short description of the students’ speaking ability can assist us in knowing their English ability in a more comprehensive way.

expanding speaking skills in the classroom
Giving students speaking projects can help them apply what they have learned in real-life scenarios.
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