Context for Speaking and Listening

In order to develop communicative competence, students need to understand that:

  • The way speaking and listening can be adjusted to meet the demands of a variety of contexts.
  • The ways in which spoken language can be manipulated for different purposes.
  • The purpose, audience and situation affects the decisions and choices that they make.
  • That socio cultural beliefs, values and assumptions affect those participating in a communication.
  • What they say and how they say it will be interpreted and evaluated by others.

Situational Context for Speaking and Listening

The decisions that students make about their speaking and listening will vary according to the context. These decisions are influenced by the following:

  1. The situation or setting in which the speaking and listening takes place.
  2. The purpose of the speaking and listening.
  3. The roles and relationships between speakers and listeners.
  4. The physical setting of the communication.
  5. The mode of the communication.
  6. The topic being discussed.

SocioCultural Context for Speaking and Listening

There are many socio-cultural factors that influence the composition and comprehension of spoken texts:
The way that people use spoken language reflects and shapes their view of the world.
Speakers and listeners are strongly influenced by their gender, ethnicity and status.
Spoken language is used to establish relationships and group identity.
• There are many different varieties of English around the world, including varieties of Standard English. Each variety reflects and shapes socio-cultural attitudes and assumptions.
• Spoken texts can be crafted and manipulated to influence others.

What Students Need to Know When Listening and Speaking

These are some considerations that students need to take when listening and speaking

#1: Register

Students need to learn how to vary the language they use according to the context they are in; this is known as changing register.

Register is made up of three components:

  • Field: Who or what is being talked about
  • Tenor: The relationship between speaker and listener.
  • Mode: How the spoken text is being delivered, e.g. a face-to-face conversation, a telephone conversation, a formal presentation.

#2: Speech Communities and Speech Networks

When people speak to the same groups of people frequently, they form speech communities. Students experience this at school when they form friendship groups or join a club or sports

Certain speech patterns form between the speakers that make them feel like a group. They will have a lot in common, and won’t always need to explain the things they talk about because they
already share a lot of information, e.g. events that happen at school, at training or in the family.

Students belong to more than one speech community; they will often change the way they speak and what they talk about when they move from one speech community to another.

When analyzing a gathering of people, you need to take these into account:

SettingWhere are they?
ParticipantsWho is talking?
PurposeWhat do they want? Entertain?
NormsWhat conventions are they using?
InstrumentalitiesAre they using a casual or formal register?
GenresWhat kind of speech act are they using?

#3: Interpreting Spoken Texts

Speakers use language to represent their points of view. Listeners can either accept or challenge the attitudes, values and beliefs that they hear.

Students might raise questions like these after listening to a point of view:

  • How is a point of view informed?
  • What is the difference between fact and opinion?
  • How accurate is the information? How do you know it is accurate?

#4: The Social and Cultural Backgrounds of Language Users

Elements such as ethnicity, gender, age, education and social class all contribute to the way that
we use and interpret spoken texts.

Speakers might assume that listeners share their cultural knowledge and values. Teachers should involve students in collecting stories about situations where shared cultural knowledge and values were assumed but which resulted in a misunderstanding

#5: Linguistic Devices

There are many linguistic devices that speakers can use to enhance the message they are trying to communicate. Listeners interpret these devices and decide how they will respond to the message.

Linguistic Devices

  • An allusion is an indirect reference to something outside the immediate context of a speech act.
  • An analogy compares one thing with another.
  • An anecdote is a brief spoken text narrating an interesting or amusing personal incident.
  • Bribery is a persuasive device commonly used in advertising, where special offers are used to encourage the listener to buy a product.
  • Cant is Using jargon inappropriately to create confusion.
  • Choice of language. The language can be descriptive, emotive or technical.
  • Code Switching: A speaker alternating between one or more languages or dialects.
  • Emphasis is anything that is said with greater stress.
  • Figurative language is used by speakers to express difficult ideas more clearly, by comparing them to something that the listener is already familiar with.
  • Flattery involves an appeal to the listener’s self-image, including their need to belong or their need for prestige.
  • Intonation is the variation of pitch when speaking. Many languages use pitch syntactically to convey surprise and irony, or to change a statement into a question
  • Irony contrasts the reality and the expectation with what is said and what is meant
  • Wit refers to the perception and expression of a relationship between seemingly incompatible or different things in a cleverly amusing way.
  • Humour is the perception, enjoyment or expression of something that is amusing, comical, incongruous or absurd.
  • Irrelevance is including points or arguments that do not contribute to the main idea, with the aim of distracting the audience.
  • Jargon is using words that are specific to a particular subject and will only be known by those connected with that subject.
  • Overgeneralization is the use of sweeping statements that cannot be literally true in all cases.
  • Parody is imitating a speaker in such a way as to ridicule them.
  • Propaganda Devices using a deliberate selection of language devices to turn listeners in the speaker’s favour.
  • Prosodic Features: These are features of language that include pitch, volume, tempo and rhythm.

#6: Analysis of Spoken Texts

These are some activities that people can use to analyze spoken test:

  • Compare recording of the past and present.
  • Compare and contrast two reports of the same topic

You can help students develop critical awareness by asking questions such as:

  1. What is the purpose of the spoken language?
  2. What do I already know about this topic? What is new to me?
  3. What is the relationship between the speaker and the audience?
  4. Does the speaker use emotive language? What effect does this produce?

More English Teaching Posts

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  4. 15 Awesome ESL Games and Activities
  5. PPP Framework: Presentation, Practice and Production
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Manuel Campos, English Professor

Manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English