Oracy Cambridge: the Hughes Hall Centre for Effective Spoken Communication

In the world of work, the value of effective spoken communication is almost universally recognised. Job adverts emphasise the importance of being a confident communicator, or a strong ‘team player’.

There is good reason for this. At their best, teams are creative problem-solving units, demonstrating that ‘two heads are better than one’. Research in psychology, linguistics and neuroscience now encourages the view that human intelligence is distinctively collective and that language has evolved to enable collective thinking.

We do not only use language to interact, we use it to interthink (Littleton & Mercer, 2013). Contrary to popular beliefs about ‘lone geniuses’, it is increasingly accepted that many of the major achievements of humankind have resulted from effective collaboration and communication in small groups.

Yet poor communication in workplace teams is common, and this can inhibit creative problem solving and lead to poor decision-making. The same applies to communication between staff and customers, carers and their clients, teachers and students, and many other occupational relationships.

Why is poor communication so common? The reason is that the ability to use spoken language effectively (oracy) has to be learned; and even highly intelligent people may not have learned how best to use talk to get things done.

It is also important, in a participatory democracy, that all people – not just those from privileged backgrounds – develop the ability to speak confidently in public, to present effective and persuasive arguments through speech, and to examine critically but constructively the arguments presented by others.

So it is very unfortunate that, unlike literacy and numeracy, oracy is rarely taught in schools. Government educational policy in the UK accords little value to teaching talk skills. This is also the case in most other countries.

And while educational research has shown that there are some very good ways of developing oracy skills, there is currently little contact between practitioners in school-based education and workplace training.

There is more information on the Oracy Cambridge website.

Oracy Cambridge aims to address this situation, by:

• Raising awareness of the importance of effective spoken communication, and ways that it can be taught and learned, amongst policy makers and practitioners, within the UK and internationally.
• Hosting events that bring together those concerned with understanding and developing effective spoken communication in educational settings, workplaces and communities;
• Collecting and disseminating empirical findings and conclusions based on research that can influence education, work-related training and policy;
• Creating and sharing practical support materials for developing and assessing oracy, in schools and workplaces.

See the video presentation about oracy by Neil Mercer at http://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/oracytoolkit/

Oracy Cambridge Conference

The Power of Talk conference is about recognising the value of good spoken communication in a diverse range of contexts – the arts, education, law, social care, counselling, management and the workplace – and considering how to develop a greater awareness amongst practitioners and policy makers of the importance of developing talk skills for individuals and communities.

The conference took place on Friday 22nd April 2016. There were presentations by key speakers involved in developing oracy in different contexts. During the conference, delegates were invited to share their experience in discussion with each other, contributing to a wider picture of the ways we put talk to work; what is effective talk in particular settings, and how some aspects of spoken language unnecessarily limit progress and achievement.

Neil Mercer’s blog report on the conference is available here.

Alan Howe’s blog report on the conference is available here.

Oracy News and Events:

The Oracy Cambridge team

Twitter: @oracycambridge


Neil Mercer, Emeritus Professor of Education and Life Fellow of Hughes Hall, Cambridge
Email: nmm31@cam.ac.uk
Twitter: @profneilmercer

University of Cambridge members:

Paul Warwick, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education and Fellow of Homerton College, Cambridge.

Ayesha Ahmed, Research Associate, Faculty of Education and Senior Member of Hughes Hall, Cambridge.

James Mannion, Research Student, Faculty of Education and Hughes Hall.

Pete Dudley, Borough of Camden and City Fellow of Hughes Hall, Cambridge.

External members:

Lyn Dawes, Educational Consultant.

Alan Howe, Educational Consultant.

Wendy Lee, Speech and Language Consultant.

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