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.
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.