Public speaking is considered an important skill for Japanese university students. From my experience teaching EFL public speaking courses at a university in Japan, I know that many Japanese university students get nervous when giving a speech in front of people. They do not want to talk in front of people because they say they do not have enough confidence. However, I found that after taking one semester of a public speaking course, students reported increased confidence levels in their speaking skills.
Many Japanese students are new to public speaking; therefore, it can be very stressful for them even if they are speaking in their mother tongue. It is then understandable for EFL learners to have a high level of anxiety when they must not only talk in front of people but also deliver the speech in English. A common desire amongst students is to know how to reduce their anxiety when speaking in public. Many experts point out that:
l having a lot of experience of giving speeches will help to reduce anxiety,
l good preparation will reduce students’ anxiety about giving a speech,
l practicing a presentation will reduce anxiety, and
l video recording a speech and reviewing it for practicing a presentation will further help.
Therefore, I think that it is difficult for students to give a speech in front of people in English, if they do not have multiple speaking experiences and give themselves enough preparation time.
Description of the Course
The goal of the 15-week public speaking course in English was to develop students’ confidence in giving speeches in English. To achieve this goal, students were taught how to give various kinds of speeches in an effective and constructive way and in a variety of situations, so that their audiences could understand them.
The students were given a topic for each speech. The length of the speech was one to five minutes, and students were required to give five speeches. Students previously gave only two speeches, a mid-term and a final speech. However, the number of speeches was increased to five, because it helped students improve their skills. Each speech had requirements, such as the number of reasons they have to include in a speech. The topics and purposes of the five speeches were as follows:
(1) “Self-Introduction” – Introduce oneself.
(2) “My Favorite Thing” – Introduce a topic the student likes.
(3) “My Opinion” – Read a news/magazine article, express one’s own opinions on the article.
(4) “Compare & Contrast Two Cultures” – Focus on giving clear information and
(5) “Impromptu” – Give a quick speech. Draw 5 cards (a topic is written on each),
choose a topic, and quickly give a speech.
After each speech, students received comments from the instructor and classmates. The instructor gave comments individually after each speech. The instructor gave only praise for the first and second speeches because students are usually very nervous giving a speech in English. By the third, fourth, and fifth speeches, the instructor gave both praise and constructive criticism. By the third speech, students got a little more accustomed to giving a speech. Classmates listened to and evaluated each other’s speeches in class. Their evaluation also included praise and constructive advice.
Each student’s whole speech was recorded on an IC recorder or a cell phone and then uploaded to the university class website. After students’ speeches were uploaded, they had to submit a written report within one week. In the report, students self-assessed the verbal communication levels of their own speeches. They analyzed their own speech by writing down what they said, and by considering comments from the instructor and from their peers. Students also evaluated the nonverbal communication of their speeches by watching their speech video on the class website. Students became aware of their own speech patterns by listening to and watching their speeches, analyzing them, and correcting their habits of speech so they could improve their public speaking skills. In conclusion, I found this student centered approach resulted in greater student independence, reduced anxiety of speaking in public and an improved ability in public speaking.
Eriko Katsumata is a teacher currently working at Aoyama Gakuin University, Obirin University, and Meiji University, specializing in English public speaking courses and intercultural communication. Her research is focused in the fields of public speaking, intercultural communication, intercultural education, and teacher training.