One of the most important requirements for optimal language learning is to provide the appropriate environment for learners to develop language skills. Such environment must include appropriate (and necessary) language input for learners. Teacher talk in the classroom constitutes one major source of this input. There is, however, an ongoing debate on how much of this talk is necessary and on whether students be given enough room for reflection on and use of language.
The evil part of a high TTT
Why do some teachers talk too much?
Let’s look at some reasons for a high Teacher Talk Time (TTT)
- A high TTT may be a result of lack of experience. New teachers might think that by being busy talking, their students are actually learning.
- Lack of confidence may be another cause. By doing most of the talking, some teachers may feel confident that they are controlling the situation.
- Some teachers fear silence and think that silence means that students are not learning.
Disadvantages of high TTT
Talking too much can be counter productive. The outcome of a high TTT is detrimental. It results not only in very long or complicated instructions and explanations but also in a monotonous teacher-centered class where student’s autonomy is at stake. A high TTT also hinders knowledge construction due to the domineering role of the teacher. Besides, talking at the students doesn’t necessarily mean talking to the students. There is more to communication than just one person speaking and another one listening. By talking all the time we deprive our students not only of their share of the talk, but also of the possibility for them to reflect on language. We forget that silence has a positive effect on learners and that its power can contribute to langauge learning. It is worthwhile noting that the Silent Way method has exploited the benefits of silence. The teacher in this method is almost always silent and this silence according to Stevick (1980: 45) provides the cognitive and affective space within which the learner takes charge of his or her learning.
Is it that bad?
Don’t our English learners need some kind of input?
There is evidence (Krachen 1987: 26) that learners need a silent period before they become able to speak. This silent period helps students develop a competence in the target language and gets learners process language before they are actually able to produce it. In other words, before they can speak they need to listen. Krachen contends that the best methods are those that supply comprehensible input in low anxiety environment, containing messages that students are really interested in hearing. Teacher talk can have positive effects if handled carefully. In fact, teacher talk can provide language model especially when students don’t live in an English-speaking community. Thus authentic talk where the conversation is meaningful and relevant can boost language acquisition and provide a low anxiety environment. Most of the vocabulary and structures can be acquired when real spontaneous input is provided. So instead of intending to minimize Teacher Talk Time in the classroom, it would be better to optimize this talk for the good of langauge acquisition.
Ways to optimize TTT
Teacher talk can be positive:
- Teacher talk is necessary when it provides language model.
- In listening activities such as story telling, a high TTT can be allowed
- Teachers may indulge in spontaneous speech where the message is clear enough for learners to understand.
- When talking, a teacher must respect one essential rule: being meaningful, purposeful and relevant.
- If a task is to be carried appropriately and effectively, a teacher talking to give instruction is not that harmful.
More on the benefits of silence: S for Silence by Scott Thornbury
Stevick, E. W. (1980) Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways, Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
Krashen, S.D. (1987) Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition, Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall.