The 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 still not taught in many British schools. Although Wales and Scotland have put oracy into their national curricula, educational policy in England still gives little direct attention to the development of spoken language skills. This is still also the case in many 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.
The Oracy Cambridge team
Director: Neil Mercer, Emeritus Professor of Education and Life Fellow of Hughes Hall, Cambridge. Professor Mercer was also awarded the 2021 John Nisbet Fellowship for his outstanding contribution to educational research over his career.
University of Cambridge members:
- Ayesha Ahmed, Teaching Associate, Faculty of Education and Senior Member of Hughes Hall.
- Pete Dudley, Lecturer, Faculty of Education and Fellow of Hughes Hall.
- Paul Warwick, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education and Fellow of Homerton College.
- Rupert Wegerif, Professor, Faculty of Education and Fellow of Hughes Hall
- Lyn Dawes (Education Consultant)
- Alan Howe (Education Consultant)
- Wendy Lee (Speech and Language Consultant)
- James Mannion (Bespoke Programmes Leader, UCL and Hughes Alumnus)
- Topsy Page (Education Trainer)
- Jean Lang (Education Consultant and Researcher)
- Neil Phillipson (Education Consultant)
- Benjamin Strawbridge (PhD Student, Faculty of Education)