Fluency is often held up as being the goal for students to aspire to, particularly in Eikaiwa, or conversation schools. I find with many of my students that they have a reasonable knowledge of English grammar, and decent vocabulary. Fluency – the smooth, natural, and coherent use of English – is something difficult to achieve, though.
More research has been undertaken on the subject of fluency in English in L2 learners that I can summarise here. And even if I could summarise it, the usual contradictory opinions and methods would quickly surface. It’s fairly obvious, though, that becoming fluent is about (1) practice, (2) knowledge, and (3) confidence.
How can you become fluent?
Working on the basis that the student has a fairly decent vocabulary and a reasonable grasp of grammar (both of which will improve in the pursuit of fluency), how can you help your students to achieve fluency?
Practice – the tongue, the ears and the brain need to be trained both to speak and listen to English. It doesn’t come instantly. Listening activities are vital as the learner will start to imitate the patterns of native/fluent speakers. This is more than just a matter of speaking quickly. It’s about stress, intonation, word choice, and habits. Putting the known language into practical use in a conversational setting will help to increase the learner’s speed and familiarity with English.
Knowledge – pronunciation, intonation, stress patterns… these are things that need to be remembered and used in conjunction with a decent vocabulary to create fluency. There are other essential elements in language learning, such as diction and sentence constructions, that you need to teach the student to help them achieve fluency.
Confidence – attained through encouragement, familiarity, and knowledge, confidence is a vital factor in becoming fluent. The more the student uses the language in a practical way, the more their confidence will grow. Opportunities for extemporaneous speaking, then, are vital. Confidence isn’t about believing you won’t make mistakes – it’s about making mistakes but not losing your belief (how Zen!).
A guide to teaching…
In the next blog entry, I’ll be discussing some more ideas on fluency, and offering a simple but effective lesson-plan to help you to teach fluency skills. In the meantime, feel free to post your ideas on teaching fluency in English below.