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Examples of this include speeches, lec- tures, conference presentations, and expert discussions where speakers represent their institution or their profession. Unplanned speech, in contrast, is spoken on the spur of the moment, often in reaction to other speakers. Situations that involve planned speech tend to be relatively formal, whereas unplanned speech situations can range from formal to informal.

Formal situations require more written-like language with more complex grammar, whereas informal sit- uations call for more oral-like language with strings of short phrases and short turns between speakers. Test designers can design tasks for various places on the oracy—literacy continuum by varying things like planning time and the kinds of speaker roles and role relationships that they include in the tasks. Two examples To illustrate the nature of grammar in speech, let us look at two examples of transcribed talk.

The first comes from Brown et al. A young British postgraduate is describing what happened when she ordered a snack from room service in an American hotel. The second word, er, is a voiced hesitation sound, which could also be spelled eh or uh. A single plus sign indicates a short pause and two plus signs a longer pause.

The speaker is being interviewed by a researcher to give material for a study. In other words, the speakers are relative strangers and the speaking situ- ation is fairly formal. Even so, the chunks of language are mostly clause-sized, they are strung together with the conjunction and or follow one another without conjunctions, and the vocabulary is rather simple.

There are short phrases, pauses, repetitions and reformulations. On two occasions, the speaker does not follow number concord. A non- native speaker in a test situation might be marked down for such a per- formance. Yet this is a natural sample of native speaker storytelling. The second example is from unplanned and informal dialogue. Three British female students S01—S03 are chatting in the kitchen of a house they are renting. Carter and McCarthy, 85 This is typical casual talk. Most of the turns consist of one short meaning unit and speakers change quickly.

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In her longest turn, Student 1 uses the causal connector cos lines 9 and 10 and, at the last juncture, simple stringing along. Other than that, the coherence in the discourse is created by thematic linking. On line 11, Student 3 shortens her turn by omitting the subject and the verb, you are, but her meaning is still fully compre- hensible. Two structures that clearly belong to spoken-like lan- guage use are topicalisation and tails. Topicalisation, or thematic fronting, gives special informational emphasis to the initial element of a clause in informal speech, as in Joe, his name is Quirk and Greenbaum, Topicalisation breaks the stan- dard word order of written language.

It is a very frequent feature of informal talk, and McCarthy and Carter suggest that the explanation is that it has significant interpersonal meaning. It often indicates that an important topic of con- versation is to follow. Thus, their example of That house in the corner, is that where you live? Tails, in turn, are noun phrases that come at the end of a clause. In a way they are the mirror image of topicalisation, in that they repeat a pronoun that has been used earlier in the clause.

Tails emphasise the point made at the beginning of the clause, and at the same time, they create an informal tone in the talk. The patterns are characteristically spoken-like, but not traditionally taught in language classes or talked about in grammars. They create an impression of naturalness and interpersonal involvement in spoken discourse, and if examinees use them appropriately they could be rewarded for it.

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However, they cannot be punished for not using them, because they are not obligatory in any context. To summarise the discussion on spoken grammar, speech is organised into short idea units, which are linked together by thematic connections and repetition as well as syntactic connectors.

The most frequent con- nectors are coordinating conjunctions and, or, but, etc. Some speaking situations call for more literate grammar with complete clauses and sub- ordination. These are typically formal speaking situations, which may involve prepared talk such as a presentation. Speakers may emphasise points by topicalisation, which means start- ing their turn with the main topic and making the word order unusual, or tails, which means using the natural emphasis of the beginning of their turn for a comment or an evaluation and putting the noun that they are making their comment on at the end of the clause.

This gives talk a spoken flavour. It adds interpersonal and evaluative tones, which is typical for spoken discourse. This can indeed be important in professional contexts or when trying to convey detailed information. Read, They work at the inter- personal level by keeping the conversation going and developing the rela- tionship between the speakers. This aspect of word use should also be rewarded in assessing speaking.

Specific and generic words Some forms of written language require the use of specific words to make it clear what is being talked about. If the same instruction were given orally in a hypothetical set of video-taped instruc- tions, similar words might well be used, but with added visual support. The instruction-giver and the chair-user would probably exchange several turns to make sure that the task got done properly.

Generic words are very common in spoken interaction. Even though they are not precise, they are fully comprehensible in the speaking situa- tion because they talk about people, things or activities that can be seen or because they are familiar to the speakers.

They make spoken commu- nication quick and easy, and few people would find anything strange about this in their mother tongue. Generic words may also come naturally to second-language learners, but in a foreign language context where learners have few opportunities to speak the language outside the class- room this feature of spoken language may be harder to notice and learn.

This sends the message to learners and raters that generic words are important for the naturalness of talk. Another common feature of interactive and relatively informal talk is the use of vague words like thing, thingy, thingummy and whatsit when the speaker cannot think of the word he or she needs to use. They are natural in informal talk, and if learners use them appropriately they deserve to be rewarded for it. Fixed phrases, fillers and hesitation markers Speakers also need to know words, phrases and strategies for creating time to speak. Speakers often also use repetition of their own words, or of those used by the previous speaker, to achieve the same purpose, i.

These expres- sions are very common in native speaker speech, but for some reason their appearance in test performances by foreign language learners is sometimes frowned upon.

When writing assessment scales, test devel- opers should perhaps consider if examinees who manage to use such expressions successfully in a test situation should be rewarded for it instead. Fixed conventional phrases are also used for other purposes in talk than creating time. The phrases either always have the same form, or they constitute a formula where one or two slots can be filled by various terms e. What a nice thing to say, What a horrible thing to say. They have been called lexicalised sentence stems by Pawley and Syder , and lexical phrases by Nattinger and DeCarrico They are easy for speakers to use because they come almost automatically when a relevant situation arises and because, once a speaker begins such a phrase, saying it will give them time to judge the situation, perhaps plan how they want to put what they want to say next, or think of something else to say.

Word use in studies of assessing speaking There are a few studies that support the relevance of the above-men- tioned characteristics of speech for assessing speaking. Towell et al. And if a learner uses a wide range of fixed phrases, listeners tend to interpret that as proof of a higher level of ability than when a learner is using a few stock phrases in all kinds of contexts. Her results support the case that the more smallwords a learner uses, the better their perceived fluency. Together, these studies strongly support the case that the use of spoken-like words is important in speaking per- formance.

Slips and errors Normal speech contains a fair number of slips and errors such as mispro- nounced words, mixed sounds, and wrong words due to inattention. Their slips can signal lack of knowledge, and this seems to be important for many listeners. The solution to this is reciprocity, by which Bygate means that speakers react to each other and take turns to produce the text of their speech together.

This helps the speakers with the processing demands of speech, but it also has a social dimension in that their phrases and turn-taking patterns create and reflect the social relation- ship between them. Speaking as meaningful interaction Speaking and spoken interaction Teaching and testing experts often talk about speaking as a technical term to refer to one of the various skills that language learners should develop and have. This type of speaking tends to be seen as something that individuals do.

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It is legitimate, and for educational purposes useful, to see speaking in this way too, because it is true that individuals speak, and an important part of language use is personal. Nevertheless, it is also important to remember that speaking forms a part of the shared social activity of talking. In a typical spoken interaction, two or more people talk to each other about things that they think are mutually interesting and relevant in the situation.

Their aim can be to pass the time, amuse each other, share opinions or get something done, or they can aim to do several of these and other things at once.


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The point in their interaction is that they do these things together. Each participant is both a speaker and a listener; they construct the event together and share the right to influence the out- comes — which can be both shared and individual.

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The nature of speaking 21 The openness of meanings in interaction When people talk and listen to each other, they are driven by a quest for meaning, but meanings are not always clear and explicit. As discussed earlier in this chapter, this kind of non-explicitness appears in many verbal forms, and it has many motivations. They can avoid committing them- selves to a statement or attempt to find out how the listener feels about the topic before proceeding. They can try to find out what the listener already knows, what he or she is prepared to accept or understand, and what the best strategy might be to persuade the listener to accept their point of view.

For example, someone may introduce the topic of going to the movies and listen for reactions before raising the idea that this group of people might want to go out to a particular show that weekend. A member of the group who has other commitments may then say that she likes the idea but does not know yet because something urgent may come up with work or something.

This is strategically a highly skilful way of using language, and speakers, at least in a language that they live in, use vague expressions for these purposes automatically, because they are a fundamental part of spoken communication.


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  8. They may simply sound strange because they do not know how interpretations are appropriately left open. Alternatively, they may use the right kind of strategies, but the listener may fail or refuse to rec- ognise their intention. The natural appearance of open meanings in a dis- cussion involving a learner is a clear sign of highly advanced speaking skills, as it proves that the learner is able to produce successful indirect utterances and that the listener is willing and able to interpret and act upon this in the context of the interaction.

    This kind of naturalness may not be easy for raters to notice unless their attention is specifically drawn to it through training, rater instructions and wordings of assessment scales.