Making an Oral Presentation in a Foreign Language: Some Tips

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It is normal to get sweaty palms or cold feet when you know you have to perform in your own language, but students of foreign languages get a double dose of jitters when they know they have to stand up before a class, or even just in front of their teacher to present an oral report. This brief article contains very concrete instructions on how to prepare for an oral presentation in a foreign language class. It is as applicable to college students as it is to high school students – and dare I suggest, even to a seasoned public speaker, if he or she has to present in a foreign language.

Read it… Over and Over Again

First, read aloud all assignments from which you are to develop your oral presentation. It doesn’t hurt to make a photocopy to mark up.

You should read it four or five times. Do not race through it. As you read, especially after the first reading, pay attention to pronunciation, intonation, stress, etc., marking your copy in pencil to remind you when to pause, or raise or lower your pitch, according to the rules of the language. English and Spanish, for instance, employ a rising tone at the end of questions and a slightly falling tone at the end of statements. Most dialects of Spanish have a less sing-song quality than English.

As you read, try to understand the passage in context–without looking up anything. After the second or third reading, make a small colored dot under each word whose meaning you are unsure of and that therefore is preventing you from comprehending the passage. After marking the words, get out a piece of paper and write them down, look them up and write their meaning next to them. This becomes your vocabulary list to master over the following few days. Read the passage again with your vocabulary list at hand.

Practice with Your Partner

When oral work is to be presented with a partner, practice with your partner at least three times before coming to class. Rehearse presentations aloud, just as though you were in class. Ask each other questions related to the theme of the assignment in the target language. Try to make the words your own, but slow down to avoid letting English pronunciation or intonation into the performance.

Try to Understand, not just Memorize

It may surprise some readers to learn that when they are to prepare an oral summary of long passages, it doesn’t pay to write out a summary and then memorize it. If you are faced with such an assignment, such as the summary of a chapter or a long article in a magazine, your time is more productively spent working to comprehend the reading assignment. It can be useful to prepare a skeletal outline on one or two index cards of the points you need to make in order to give a complete summary of details, events, and other pertinent information in the passage you have read.

What is you Have No Time to Prepare?

Another scary moment for foreign language students is when they are called on to present something impromptu! Here is a convenient frame for even the toughest moment. You may recognize this from journalistic writing: “who, what, when, where, why and how.” The model English sentence I use to help students remember how to apply this is: “Three people were injured yesterday on highway one when their brakes failed and their car hit an embankment. Notice how each of the typical “reporter questions” is answered progressively. With a little practice in your native language, this mode of delivery can become second nature and improve your communication skills generally.

I hope these tips have helped you become more comfortable speaking in another language. If you have any further tips please share them in the comments!