What is spontaneous speaking or ‘spontaneous talk’?

“Spontaneous talk is an unscripted interaction, in which teachers do not know exactly what language the students will produce. The speaker, student or teacher, only has something to say as a result of having heard and understood what has been said to him/her. Talk is therefore both listening and speaking, reception and production. Talk is communicative language use, as distinct from language rehearsal (Jones, 2002). This talk may be learner-initiated or in response to a teacher’s question. It may be within an oral talk or part of everyday communication between tasks. However it occurs, it will be produced not read, improvised not rehearsed, and it will often have that element of ‘struggle’; the effort to communicate when linguistic resources are stretched (Hawkes, 2012).” (Translation, Literary Texts and Classroom Talk toolkit for Studio KS3 French, Pearson 2015)

Why is it important?

For students, the ability to speak in the target language is what the subject ‘Modern Languages’ actually is. They believe that what they can produce in unrehearsed situations is what they really know, i.e. it represents how good they are at languages. In addition, theories of language learning prioritise interaction as the primary site of learning (Long, 1985; Swain, 1995, 2000; Lantolf, 2000).

What are the differences between planned and spontaneous talk?

To a certain extent, planned speaking implicates a different skills set compared to unplanned speaking or spontaneous talk. Both have a very important place in the teaching and learning of languages, and it is only what we know that we can produce spontaneously. However, it is helpful to exploit as fully as possible in the classroom the opportunities for spontaneous or unplanned target language talk, which has perhaps been under-represented in our teaching in the first few years of language learning.

Planned speaking
• focus on production (S)
• rehearsal
• prepared
• focus on form
• learner knows what teacher will ask
• teacher knows what learner will say
• closed questions are closed

Spontaneous talk
• focus on interaction (L + S)
• use
• improvised
• focus on meaning
• learner doesn’t know in advance what teacher will ask
• teacher doesn’t know what learner will say
• closed questions are open

Hawkes, R. (2012) Learning to talk and talking to learn: how spontaneous teacher–learner interaction in the secondary foreign languages classroom provides greater opportunities for L2 learning, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Cambridge.

Hawkes, R. (2015) Translation, Literary Texts and Classroom Talk toolkit for Studio KS3 French, German and Spanish. Pearson

Jones, B. (2002) ‘Thirty years of change’, in A. Swarbrick (ed.) Teaching Modern Foreign Languages in secondary schools (44–64), London: Routledge Falmer.

Lantolf, J.P. (2000) ‘Second language learning as a mediated process’, in Language Teaching 33: 79–96.

Long, M.H. (1985) ‘Input and second language acquisition theory’ in S. Gass and C. Madden (eds) Input in second language acquisition (377–393), Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Swain, M. (1995) ‘Three functions of output in second language learning’ in G. Cook and B. Seidlhofer (eds) Principles and practice in the study of language (125–144), Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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