Austin Meusch

On a caffeine-fueled mission to make speaking assignments in world language classrooms as fast and easy as possible.

How Difficult Should My Speaking Assignments Be?

Aug 15, 2022 | 1 comment

This is a common question teachers ask themselves when creating their first assignments. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, there are a few guiding principles one can follow to ensure student’s are getting the most out of their Speaking assignments.

Aim to build confidence

Not feeling confidence enough to get started speaking their new language is one of the biggest hurdles 2nd language learners face. We don’t expect 2 or 3 year olds to be able to communicate in their native language at the same level as a college professor but by the time students enter junior high school, there is an implied expectation of their ability to communicate in their native language.

So.. starting all over again in a new language, speaking at the level or a 2 or 3 year old, usually doesn’t feel great. Student’s may wish they could skip to the point where they can form sentences and work on mastering more advanced grammar concepts. Unfortunately, there is no alternative to establishing a baseline understanding and level of comfort with the script and sound of the new language. It simply must be done to build the solid foundation necessary for growing listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills.

With empathy for the student in mind, we can apply this principle by asking ourselves one question. Will a majority of my students realistically be able to say each of these words (or phrases) within one week? If the answer is no, your assignments may be adding to students doubts and frustration instead of motivating them to charge forward.

Aim to strike a healthy balance between presenting students with a challenge and making the assignment doable. In the assignment pictured below, you can see how the set’s analytics give you an idea of how challenging the assignment was for students. The first item, a complete sentence, was only pronounced successfully 25% of time. One in four attempts were correct. Whereas a word that is essentially the same as the student native language (English), “no” was pronounced correctly 94% of the time.

Words and phrases that strike a healthy balance typically stay within the 25% – 75% pronunciation success rate. If your pronunciation success rates are consistently below 25%, students will likely feel frustrated and discouraged. If they’re consistency above 75%, students may not feel challenged enough to see value in the assignments.

To view your assignment analytics at the set level, go to your library, open the preview and select edit. Then from the settings tab, choose analytics. You’ll see a breakdown with every word or phrase in the playlist.

If your assignment is too difficult or easy, the easiest way to adjust difficulty is phrase length. We recommend starting with  simple two or three word phrases for brand new beginners and increasing the phrase length as the student’s abilities grow. As you introduce students to more vocabulary and ways to use words together in a sentence, phrase length will naturally increase.

 

Tengo I have
Tengo que I have to
Tengo que ir I have to go
Tengo que ir a la playa I have to go to the beach
Ahora tengo que ir a la playa I have to go to the beach now

 

It’s also best to avoid adding multiple single words into one card. For example, adding three verbs to a card like –  pagar, estar, pensar – presents challenges for students and the voice recognition. For a student that can pronounce two of the three correctly, they’ll have a more difficult time focusing on the word that needs the most work. The voice recognition algorithm was created by analyzing natural human speech patterns. Therefore, it’s easier for it to understand a sentence, a short phrase, or even two word combinations that are naturally found in written or spoken speech (article + noun, pronoun + conjugated verb, etc..).

Practice new concepts while they’re fresh

Research shows that our brains are actually wired to forget. In Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve he concluded students forget about 56 percent of what they learn within one hour, 66 percent within one day, and 75 percent within six days.

For this reason we recommend, especially while initially teaching pronunciation, layering multiple, small speaking assignments throughout lessons. This creates a consistent learn / do rhythm to classes that will have student’s immediately realizing the usefulness of the new material.

In one of Mar’s pre-made spanish pronunciation lessons, she offers a lesson plan that works on 15 minute blocks. The first half of the block being a presentation that introduces the new material and the second half of the block being a speaking assignment that has students immediately applying the new concept.

Introduce students to power of small wins

Learning a new language isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon that unfolds over years. As human beings, we can’t wait until we’re fluent to feel a sense of accomplishment. Small wins, especially when tied to the ability to communicate in target language, are a great way to fuel motivation and create moments to celebrate.

To do this using Speakable, we recommend having students complete a speaking assignment at the beginning of a unit. This will establish a baseline of pronunciation success for each word. Then, at the of the unit, assign the same set again. When students finish, have them compare their pronunciation success metrics from the first assignment to the last, repeat assignment. The improvement they see will show growth and help reinforce the value of the time they spend in your classroom.

In the last two years, I’ve spoken with hundreds of people who have successfully learned a second language and the most common theme amongst their learning stories is they all came to genuinely enjoy their learning journey. By celebrating small wins, we can also help our students find the joy in language learning.

Example

Syllable Breaking Lesson plan (12 slides)

Speaking assignments
Monosyllabic Speaking Assignment
Two Syllables Speaking Assignment
Three Syllables Speaking Assignment

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