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Tips For Teaching Public Speaking to EFL Students

Paul has spent many years teaching English as a foreign and second language. He has taught EFL in Taiwan and Thailand, and ESL in the U.S.

Martin Luther King - One of The Greatest Orators of Modern Time


EFL Students Giving Speeches

Within one month I had to select one of my fifth-grade EFL students to write and give a two to three-minute speech at our school's morning assembly. My student and I were free to select the topic of our choice for a speech that would be presented in front of close to 3,000 students in grades one through twelve. Needless to say, this is a daunting task for most EFL learners who are shy and challenged in writing and speaking. It is, however, an activity that many of the best students can accomplish with the coaching of a skilled EFL teacher. This article first looks at the traditional way many EFL instructors prepare students for speeches. Then, after examining some of the greatest orators of modern history, it suggests some tips for improving the speeches of young EFL learners.

Traditional Ways of Teaching Public Speaking

Every Wednesday morning a representative of a different grade presented a 2-3 minute speech at our school's morning assembly. Since I had been at school, almost all of the teachers prepared speeches for students. After practicing reading the speeches in front of their instructors, the students would read their speeches at the assembly. When delivering the speeches, it was obvious that most students didn't know what they are talking about, because there were numerous mistakes in pronunciation, intonation, stress, and chunking of words correctly together. Many of the speeches were almost unintelligible to me because the students either spoke too fast or they didn't talk loud enough. Because the speeches were not written by the students, they could not identify with the message in their discourse and successfully convey it to listeners.

On formal occasions such as the celebration of school and national holidays and visits of VIPs, the best students are chosen to deliver speeches. All of these speeches are written by teachers and memorized by the speech givers. Students have forgotten their lines a few times and have been unable to compensate for holes in their speeches due to unfamiliarity with the subject matter. Another problem is that there is no emotion conveyed in the speech since students are merely reciting lines in a robot-like fashion.

Tips For Teaching Public Speaking to EFL Students

I think it would be wise to study the techniques of recent great orators in the world to give us an idea of what goes into delivering a successful speech. The purpose of a speech is to communicate a message to an audience. In recent history, the evangelist Billy Graham, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, President John F. Kennedy, and the notorious Adolf Hitler were some of the best orators in the world. All of these individuals were great speakers because they believed in what they were saying. They also completely understood the needs of their listeners. Because they were passionate about their subject matter and completely in tune with their followers, these outstanding speakers were able to connect with their audience and get across their messages. This was done by the tone of voice, gestures, forcible speaking, and pauses, just to mention a few main techniques.

From these great orators, I think we can learn the following tips which EFL students can apply in giving good speeches:

1. Know Your Subject Matter

It is possible to give a good speech written by others if you are completely knowledgeable about the topic of discussion. Many Presidents have delivered outstanding speeches prepared by ghostwriters. The problem arises when you know nothing or next to nothing about a topic of a speech written by someone else. This often happens when teachers write speeches for students on Western holidays and customs which are many times foreign to EFL learners not in Western countries.

One way to overcome this problem is for students to write their speeches under the guidance of an instructor. By doing this, students can choose a topic of their interest that means something to them. Furthermore, they can express ideas in their own words which are more understandable to their peers than what a teacher thinks they should be saying. When teachers edit students' speeches, they should not be too concerned about the production of a professional product. Obvious grammatical errors should be corrected; however, the meaning and tone of students' speeches must not be revised.

2. Understand Your Audience

Teachers must stress to speech givers that they must know the interests and needs of their audience. When a fifth grader is giving a speech, he or she should be aware that his or her audience will consist of students in grades 1-12. Therefore, the student should prepare a speech on a topic that will be interesting and entertaining for all listeners. As an example, all students like playing games. Hence, a good speechwriter and presenter could choose a game that interests most students and shows them how to play it.

3. Connect With The Audience

Knowing what you are talking about and understanding the interests of your audience will greatly help the young speech giver get his or her point across. The first step in getting the meaning across is to be aware of the purpose of one's speech. If the purpose is to explain how to play a game, the speaker will use a lot of gestures and body actions. For informative speeches, the student speech giver will make sure that correct stress, volume, and rate of speech are used to get across ideas.

Great motivational speakers can get their meaning and point of view across to listeners using the following techniques:

a. Varying The Rate of Speech and Tone of Delivery

Most people will find a monotone speech at an unvarying rate of delivery very boring. You must vary your speed and tone of voice when getting your point across to emotionally connect with your audience.

b. Gestures and Body Language

In his speeches and contact with people, Former President Bill Clinton was able to connect with so many people through his eye contact. His facial expressions and especially his smile were also very infectious. Many speech givers can learn a lot from this.

c. Pauses

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Adolf Hitler made great use of pauses in his motivational speeches. Students should be taught this technique when they are trying to stimulate the interest of their listeners.

d. Speak Forcibly

One problem a lot of students have, especially girls, is speaking forcibly at a louder volume of voice. Many of my female students are shy and therefore tend to speak very softly. This never is to anyone's benefit when giving speeches.

4. Developing Self-Confidence in Public Speaking

Many students hesitate to volunteer to give a speech because they are afraid to stand in front of a large audience. This is understandable because most young people have never had this experience, and they are afraid they will make mistakes and be embarrassed. If a student knows his speech matter, audience, and techniques for getting a message across, chances are he or she will have some self-confidence. Nevertheless, many students are still not relaxed and get stage fright before speeches. One way to overcome this is by having the students take deep breaths before a speech and establishing eye contact with one person in the audience while delivering a speech.

5. Use 3x5 Inch Note Cards As Aids

Most students should not memorize a complete speech. They should also not completely read a speech. Rather, students have a set of note cards to help them remember and follow the points to be made in the speech.

Preparing young EFL learners for giving speeches is a very challenging task. It can be an interesting and worthwhile activity, however, if teachers do the following: one, let students select their speech topics and write their speeches; and two, coach students on how to understand and connect with their audience to get their messages across.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on January 12, 2016:

Please excuse again my long delay in answering your comment.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on January 12, 2016:

Thank you very much for your comment.

Mollie Gail Squires on November 13, 2015:

I just love that you have a speech page.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on November 12, 2012:

Louisa, Thanks for reading my hub and your interesting comments. Your ideas are worth exploring if I ever decide to go back to the States.

Louisa Rogers from Eureka, California and Guanajuato, Mexico on November 11, 2012:

Hi Paul! Reading this I see that you have lots of experience teaching presentation skills to ESL students. You could offer to teach an ESL class in the U.S. focusing on helping second language learners understand the differences between public speaking here and in other cultures. Due to educational values that vary from culture to culture, some audiences will be more passive, need more permission, not necessarily ask questions, etc. On the other hand, other audiences might be very confrontational. That's just one idea. Another idea might be "Business Writing for ESL." Hope this helps!

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 11, 2012:


Thank you very much for reading and for your comments.

Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on July 10, 2012:

Your tips will help ESL students, especially given the easy-to-follow format here. I agree that outlining the purpose at the start of the speech is very important.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 09, 2012:


Thank you very much for reading and your comments. I'm happy you liked my hub.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on July 09, 2012:

What a great idea to instill confidence in both language use and public speaking. Voting this Up and Useful.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 08, 2012:


Thank you very much for reading and your comments. I greatly appreciate them.

Mellonyy on July 08, 2012:

I liked the paragraph about the body language. It is so important. Thumbs up, Paul. Very nice presentation!

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 07, 2012:


Thanks for reading and the very nice comments. This is probably more than a month's worth of hard work, but it is something I enjoy doing.

Suzie from Carson City on July 07, 2012: power to you, dear Teacher! This definitely seems like a month's worth of hard work...for both you and student. But when all is said and done (literally) I'm sure the feeling of pride and accomplishment, abound!! Great Hub, Paul.......Peace UP++

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