CHORAL speaking is the recital of poetry or dramatic pieces by a chorus group.
It has been seen as a means of improving spoken English. It is the art of using a number of voices in unison to produce a piece of poetry or prose that highlights, through performance, the images and the mood that the writer of the piece envisaged.
Today, a number of schools in Johor take part in choral-speaking competitions.
These schools first participate in the zone or district levels before proceeding to the state level. Success at the state level will lead to competition at the national level, where participants will face the creme de la crème from different states.
Becoming national champion is no easy task, and is the dream of every school to get to that pinnacle.
For a number of years now, I have been invited by the Johor State Education Department to judge the choral-speaking competition at the state and national levels.
As an adjudicator, I am faced with the process of filtering to seek out the very best group. Selecting the winner is no easy task.
Normally, the winning team is clearly outstanding in the subject matter which carries 30 marks for facial expression, clarity, unity, gestures, interpretation, audibility and enunciation. The team must have brought out the spirit of the poem recited.
The panel of judges will also ensure that the winning team has displayed a combination of qualities, namely commitment and control and challenge, during the presentation.
Normally, it is advisable that schools come up with original scripts and not pieces lifted from books or the Internet. Preferably, we should look for originality. Sadly, however, a number of schools today plagiarise their texts.
One must realise that choral speaking is not simply speech training, and delivery of a piece relies on careful teaching and student cooperation.
When approached enthusiastically and in a structured, systematic way, choral speaking has an obvious educational value for students of English.
Not only does choral speaking provide essential learning of English vocabulary and structures, it also allows students to learn English as a group where the pressures on individuals to perfect English speaking are removed.
The group approach to learning a performance piece also alleviates the students' self-consciousness. Choral speaking also encourages a knowledge and appreciation of English literature within a poetry and prose context.
Recently, I was invited to a school in Johor Baru to train a group of students who would be taking part in the state level competition.
I was in the school particularly for three weeks giving them my best, advising and providing them with the finer points of the dos and don'ts.
The team's 35 members received the most thunderous applause from the spectators when they delivered a synchronised performance in the competition.
Their hard work bore fruit as they beat nine other teams to clinch the state-level trophy. What made their victory even sweeter and more meaningful was the presence of and support given by many parents who had come from near and far to attend the event in Johor Baru.
Educationists believe that choral speaking is essential in the school curriculum, as it helps hone a pupil's competency and proficiency in the English language.
"It teaches them discipline, as they have to learn how to synchronise their speech and actions and also memorise a five-page script for an eight-minute performance," said a senior English language teacher.
I know it is not easy training a group of students for a choral speaking competition. Teachers should bear in mind that, to become champions, the development of group cooperation in achieving the end result is an essential part of choral speaking and should be regularly highlighted to the students.
Teachers must stress to them the need to connect with the audience. Choral speaking is not about speaking to oneself. Enunciation and voice projection must be clear.
Besides, performers have to be passionate and enthusiastic. Furthermore, they must not sway their bodies as their faces must come alive. They should share their enthusiasm for what they are saying and smile at the audience as well.
The one last thing one should not forget is being creative in choosing the subject matter.
Teachers, be sure to spend time drilling and grilling your students well before they enter any competition.