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The Concourse

TKT Module 1: Describing language and language skills
Productive skills


The skills part of the course for module 1 is divided into two parts.  This part deals with the productive skills.  The skills are arranged like this:


This guide is quite short and summarises what you need to know for the TKT.
In this site, you will find longer guides to the skills in the teacher-training section.  If you prefer to do those guides and then return to this one for a brief summary and revision, use this menu.  Links will not open in a new tab so use the back button to come back here.

understanding writing teaching writing
understanding speaking teaching speaking


Key concepts in this guide

By the end of this part of the guide, you should be able to understand and use these key concepts:

  • transaction vs. interaction
  • elements of speaking and writing
  • preparation: topic knowledge, drafting, proofreading
  • style and register (Note: Cambridge uses no distinction in TKT between style and register so you should go to the guide on this site for information in this area.)
  • initiating and responding
  • accuracy vs. fluency

Look out for these words like this in the text.
There will be tests at the end of the guide for you to check that you understand the ideas.

writing speaking

Writing and speaking

notes speaking

Types or writing and speaking

thinkwrite Task 1: Get a pen and a piece of paper and write down four types of writing and four types of speaking you have done recently.
Click here when you have thought of something.

Probably, not all of the types are in this list.  It is very difficult to predict what people will have to write and say.  That is one reason that teaching the area is quite difficult.


Purposes for speaking and writing

All writers and speakers write and speak for a reason.  There are two essential types of purpose:

  1. To transact:
    This refers to getting things done in the language rather than just oiling the social wheels.
  2. To interact:
    This refers to making and maintaining social relationships rather than actually getting something you need or getting something done.
think Task 2: Look at the 8 types of speaking and 8 types of writing in the table above and divide them in your head into:
a) transaction
b) interaction
c) both
Click here when you have done that.

Knowing why we are speaking or writing a text helps us to decide how to speak and how to write.
Some important points:

  1. Transactions
    If we want to get something done, we need to focus on an outcome and make sure we emphasise it without making the water muddy with too much unnecessary information.
    1. Writing:
      If we want to ask a question about a computer printer in an email, we do not need to know how the receiver of the email is feeling and we don't need to say how we feel.  All we want are data.
      If we want to write a text telling someone how to get to our address, we must make it clear in our writing, probably step by step, and separate it from any interactional content in the letter, email or note.
    2. Speaking:
      If we want to buy something in a shop, apart from saying please and thank you, we probably do not want to start a social relationship with the shop assistant.
      If we want to make a point at a meeting or in a seminar, we need clearly to signpost it with something like
          In my opinion ...
          I think that ...
          It seems to me that ...
      etc.  We do not need to spend too much time being nice to people but we will often try to interact to keep them friendly using something like:
          That's a good point
          You've obviously done a lot of work on this

      and so on.  Even formal transactions like business meetings have large elements of interaction because they involve people.
  2. Interactions
    1. Writing:
      When we are interacting with friends or relations in writing, we do not need to be complete or very clear and accurate.  We will probably share a good deal of information with them so saying that Mary is your sister's name when writing to a friend is not necessary.  You just need to write
          my sister
      and your friend will know who you mean.
      In fact, purely interactional writing, except in emails and texts (occasionally) is quite unusual.  When we want to interact, it's usually by speaking to people.
    2. Speaking:
      A lot of speaking is interaction, even when we are also transacting.
      For example, in a shop we use a lot, we may have a conversation with the shopkeeper about the weather, her family, her health etc. before we get to asking for what we want.
      Equally, even in quite formal situations, we often combine a little interaction before we get to the point.
      For example:
          Good morning, ladies and gentlemen and thanks for coming
      is actually just social interaction and not important to the topic and the transaction to follow.

We use different kinds of language depending on what we are doing.


Differences between speaking and writing

We saw above how speaking and writing are similar in the way we decide what sort of language to use when we are interacting and when we are transacting.
Now we need to look at speaking and writing and see how they are different.  We'll take writing first:

Writing is ... ... because
decontextualised Often, when we write something we don't know where it will be read or who will read it or even when.  We have no context to help us so we need to be very clear and give all the information.
planned We can think carefully about what we want to write and we can write it again and again until we are happy with the product.
permanent We know that writing is permanent and people can read and re-read as well as keep what we have written.  That often makes us careful.
static What we write is fixed and we can't respond to the reader by changing what we say or adding examples and so on.
conservative When we are writing, we often try to use correct grammar and find the right words for what we mean.
formal A lot of writing is transactional and quite formal because we usually talk to people we know well rather than writing to them.

think Task 3: Now look at the characteristics of speaking and see if you can, on paper or in your head, fill in the 'because' column.
Click on the eye open when you have thought what goes in the right-hand column.

Speaking is ...  ... because ... 
eye open
When we speak to someone we do so in a context, not alone.  We have our surroundings to refer to and we know the time and place of our conversation.  If, for example, some says, Over there!, it is clear what they mean with no further explanation needed.
eye open
Unless we are presenting a formal talk or making a speech (something few learners need to do), we do not plan what to say in advance.  We must think on our feet.
Speakers in all languages use hesitation (err, um etc.) and fillers such as well, like, and sort of to give them time to think.
eye open
Unless we are making a recording (leaving a telephone message, for example), what we say is immediately gone with only our memories left.
Speaking moves quickly and few people can remember everything that is said.
eye open
When we are speaking, we have to respond to our listeners and adapt what we say if they look puzzled, interested or bored, for example.
Speaking is a much more active, two-way process than writing because feedback is usually immediate.
eye open
When we are speaking, we do not have time to select exactly the right word or piece of grammar that we need.  Native speakers rarely use all the right words and correct grammar when they speak (in any language).
Speakers make things up as they go along, saying, e.g., the thing for trimming the lawn or the whatsit for cleaning windows etc.
eye open
Almost all speaking is more informal than writing so we use colloquial expressions, contractions and even slang when we speak.
Some speaking (such as presenting at a meeting or giving a speech) can be formal but even here, using contractions and some colloquial or vague language is very common.


Style and register

Both speakers and writers need some understanding of these two ideas.

style refers to levels of formality and can affect
grammar: informally, grammar can be less accurate, leaving out words and speaking or writing in part sentences such
    Wish you were here
    Listen up!
In formal writing and speaking we are much more careful to speak and write in whole properly-formed sentences.  So, for the examples above, we might prefer:
    I wish you were here
    Please listen to me
    Are you coming?

lexis: in informal speech and writing we can use vague words like thing, stuff etc. and colloquial and slang language such as messed up (disturbed), rubbish (nonsense) and so on.  So, informally, we might say or write:
    Sort out your stuff
    The style in this is all messed up

but, formally, we might prefer
    Please clear up your property and put it away
    The style has become inconsistent and confused

pronunciation: informally, we shorten words, drop the /h/ sound at the beginning or change the /ŋ/ to /n/ at the end of words.  In formal style, we are careful to pronounce more carefully.  For example, if we say
    I was sitting on the train
we will pronounce the end of the verb differently: (/sɪtɪŋ/ (formal) vs. /sɪtɪn/).
register refers to language appropriate for our topic or field (e.g., legal language, scientific language, talking about football etc.) and can affect
grammar: technical literature often avoids the use of the first person, contractions and active voice sentences
lexis: using technical terms such as catalyst, socio-economic class, goalie, mens rea etc.

Note as above: Cambridge uses no distinction in TKT between style and register so you should go to the guide on this site for more information in this area.


Teaching implications

Speaking and writing are difficult skills because speaking is so immediate and puts time pressure on our learners and writing requires careful use of text staging, grammar and lexis.
We need to break down the skills into subskills and practise each one before asking people to put everything together.
These subskills are slightly different but parallel because both skills are productive.

Here's a summary:
Writing Speaking
drafting and proofreading:
allow learners time to draft and re-draft and work together to polish a text
preparation for speaking:
allow learners some preparation and make sure they are speaking about something they are familiar with (register)
learners need to know who they are writing to and why so they can select appropriate formality and organise their writing
learners need to know who they are speaking to and why but also where and when so they can take advantage of the context and surroundings
writers need to use accurate language so will need help in getting the lexis, spelling and grammar right from the outset
speakers are under time pressure so they don't focus on accuracy too carefully but do use a lot of language chunks and fixed expressions such as What I mean is ..., In other words ... etc.
Expressions like this give us thinking time and can be easily taught.
style and register:
writers need to be very careful to get the right tone and level of formality and this will depend on the text type and the audience
speakers need to initiate as well as respond to what they hear so practice in maintaining conversations by introducing new ideas and asking for responses is important

There are lots of guides on this site which you can follow to learn more about speaking and writing in English.  A good place to start is the initial plus section.  That has a section each on understanding and teaching all four skills.

self test

Self-test questions

Before you go on, make sure you can answer these questions.  If you can't, go back to the sections which give you trouble.

If you are happy with your progress, go on.


Tests and practice for TKT

Test 1 A matching task
Test 2 A 10-item quiz

Return to the Module 1 index: back
or go on to the next guide which is to motivation.