english speaking ability

What is a Speaking Skill? Definition and Competencies

What is Speaking?

Speaking Ability

Speaking is a part of the important skills in learning English.

Let us find out the definition of speaking first!

In Webster’s New World Dictionary, speaking is to say words orally, to communicate by talking, to make a request, and to make a speech.

According to Hornby (1995, p.20), speaking is about something to talk, say something about something, to mention something, to have a conversation with somebody, to address somebody in words, to say something, or express oneself in a particular language.

Bygate (1987) defined speaking as producing auditory signals to produce different verbal responses in listeners. In line with this statement, Brown (1994) and Burns and Joyce (1997) state that speaking is an interactive process of making meaning that includes producing, receiving, and processing information. It is regarded as combining sounds systematically to form meaningful sentences.

In addition, Nunan (1999, p.25) states that speaking requires that learners not only know how to produce specific points of language, such as grammar, pronunciation, or vocabulary, but also that they understand when, why, and in what ways to produce language.

Thornbury (2005, p.121) states that speaking is an activity in real life carried out by a speaker to carry out his/ her ideas to interact with listeners. The activities are unplanned, and their continuity is based on situations. Speaking is a collaboration between two or more persons in the shared time and context to communicate opinions, information, or emotions.

Speaking is an activity to express oneself in a situation or to express a sequence of ideas among people in a community by using verbal and non-verbal symbols in a particular language, situation, and context.

Read Also: Speaking Rubric: Definition and Example

Speaking Skill Competencies

Speaking Skill Competencies

As an essential tool for language teaching and learning, speaking can “facilitate language acquisition and development” (Goh, 2007, p. 1), and it can be beneficial to learners’ academic achievement as well as professional success (Saunders & O’Brien, 2006).

As an important aspect of language skills, English speaking should not be devalued but be “developed in its own right” (Goh, 2005, p. 105). Therefore, good speaking competence is essential to English learners.

Read Also: 5 Types of Speaking Assessment Tasks

Speaking competencies cover two areas, fluency and accuracy. According to Mazouzi (2013), learners’ activities should be designed based on an equivalence between fluency and accuracy. Therefore, both fluency and accuracy are important elements of communicative competence.


The first competence of speaking skill is fluency, which is teachers’ main aim in teaching speaking skill.

Speaking fluency is the ability to produce the spoken language “without undue pausing or hesitation” (Skehan, 1996, p. 22). Too many hesitations and pauses in speaking may obstruct speaking fluency and depress the speaker.

Hedge (2000) expressed that fluency is the ability to answer coherently by connecting the words and phrases, pronouncing the sounds clearly, and using stress and intonation.

According to Hughes (2002), fluency is the learners’ ability to speak understandably and not break down communication because listeners may lose interest.

Thus, fluency deals with the student’s ability to use mechanical skills, such as pauses, speed, and rhythm; language use, such as being coherent and reasoned; and judgment skills, which is the ability to speak appropriately, depending on the context.

Read Also: Micro and Macro Skills of Speaking


The second characteristic of speaking performance is accuracy. Learners should be fluent in learning a foreign language. Therefore, teachers should emphasize accuracy in their teaching process. Speaking accuracy indicates “the extent to which the language produced conforms to target language norms” (Yuan & Ellis, 2003, p. 2), which involves correct pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.

Thus, learners should pay enough attention to the exactness and the completeness of language form when speaking, such as focusing on grammatical structures, vocabulary, and pronunciation

  1. Grammatical structures; learners’ correct use of grammatical structures requires the length and complexity of the utterances and the well-structured clauses.
  2. Vocabulary; to gain accuracy in terms of vocabulary means to select suitable words in suitable contexts. Learners sometimes apply similar words or expressions in contexts that do not mean similar things. So learners should be able to use words and expressions correctly.
  3. Pronunciation; Thornbury (2005) declared that pronunciation is the lowest level of knowledge learners typically pay attention to. In order to speak the English language accurately, learners should master phonological rules, and they should be aware of the various sounds and their pronunciations. Learners should also know the stress, intonation, and pitch.

All of these elements help learners speak the English language easily and effectively.

References and Recommended Reading

  • Hornby, A.S. 1995. Oxford Advanced Learner Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press
  • Nunan, D. (1999). Second Language Teaching & Learning. Boston: Heinle & Heinle publishers.
  • Thornbury, S. (2005). How to Teach Speaking. London: Longman
  • Bygate, M. (1987). Speaking. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Brown, H. D. (1994). Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. Prentice Hall Regents.
  • Burns, A., & Joyce, H. (1997). Focus on Speaking. Sydney: National Center for English Language Teaching and Research.
  • Goh, C. C. M. (2005). Oracy development in literacy-privileged learning environments: Too little, too late? In J. A. Foley (Ed.), New Dimensions in the Teaching of Oral Communication (pp. 92–110). Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre.
  • Goh, C. C. M. (2007). Teaching speaking in the language classroom. Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre.
  • Hughes, R. (2002). Teaching and researching speaking. Edinburgh: Pearson Education.
  • Mazouzi, S. (2013). Analysis of Some Factors Affecting Learners’ Oral Performance. A Case Study: 3rd Year Pupils of Menaa’s Middle Schools. M. A. Dissertation, Department of Foreign Languages, English Division, Faculty of Letters and Languages, Mohamed Khider University of Biskra, People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria
  • Skehan, P. (1996). Second language acquisition research and task-based instruction. In J. Willis, & D. Willis (Eds.), Challenge and Change in Language Teaching (pp. 17–30). Oxford: Heinemann.
  • Yuan, F., & Ellis, R. (2003). The effects of pre‐task planning and online planning on fluency, complexity, and accuracy in L2 monologic oral production. Applied linguistics24(1), 1–27.
Tenry Colle
Tenry Colle

Hi! My name is A. Tenry Lawangen Aspat Colle. I am a motivated and resourceful English educator. In addition, as the owner of @rymari.translation17 has shaped me to be a punctual and dependable translator of Indonesian to English and vice versa.


  1. I am currently doing a PhD. study on the influence of classroom climate on speaking skills in sec. schools in in Kenya. Your work was very useful thanks

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m thrilled to hear that you found my article helpful for your PhD research on the influence of classroom climate on speaking skills in secondary schools in Kenya. Good luck with your PhD.

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