Is Your English Fully Operational? – Accurate, Fluent and Fluid Speaking

Scarcella and Oxford (1992) mention that ‘a learner will basically need to develop competences in order to become proficient in an L2 – grammatical competence, socialinguistic competence, discourse competence and strategic competence.

I bet that at the some point of your teaching career you have come across that student who wants to learn only to speak English. Little do they know that there is a lot more to it than meet the eyes. By the same token, some teachers might consider developing Speaking Skills a challenge, especially if they are confronted with high demands. In addition, there is the fact that developing such skills might be extremely strenuous for both learners and teachers if it is not dealt with both preparation and caution.

Unfortunately, some people tend to regard speaking as a skill that will take care of itself. That may be true if one takes into account how eager a student is to walk an extra mile to learn. Nevertheless, they will fail to observe that speaking comprehension is impacted by the speed and accuracy with which words are both encoded and decoded. In other words, fluent speakers can focus their attention on meaning as opposed to being bogged down with pausing to decode unfamiliar lexis or structures, which might lead to language imperfections.

Morgan and Rinvolucri (1995) mention that ‘to speak a foreign language fluently the learner has to trust the raft of words he/she is sailing on, and to achieve such trust he/she must have had the chance to say affectively meaningful things in the language.’ When studying in Edinburgh a native-speaker came to me and said that I spoke English better than he did. ‘Aye! I dinna ken what he was getting at that time.’ Some time later, it dawned on me that as learners progress they can become more analytical and judgemental of their competence. It is of paramount importance to define the communicative dimensions (fluency, accuracy and fluidity) involving the teaching-learning process.

Fluency refers to the way a leaner can command a language in a comprehensive way. It goes beyond the hard work put into it; in fact, it requires a genuine desire to communicate more than messages, say, to express one’s thoughts and be able to understand other people’s. Consequently, fluency seems to be the ultimate goal of language learners who want to function in a full variety of areas ranging from professional, academic to personal life.

Fluidity refers to the way a learner internalises a language. It will usually begin by emulation of small units to larger stretches of language. It is closely connected with pronunciation (rhythm, pace and the kind) and how smoothly (fluidly) the stretches of language are delivered in a natural-like (not necessarily native-like) manner. That happens when you notice that you are ‘in the zone’ and that your thought units will flow easily.

That said, speaking fluency entails effortless communication through speed, accuracy and fluidity. It goes beyond the automatic word chunking recognition, but above all, appropriate phrasing, rhythm and intonation. Struggling speakers more often than not show a distinct lack in flow, which makes them deliver speech in a rather uninteresting monotone. This is mostly due to unawareness of appropriate pronunciation features within utterances. Fluent and fluid speakers, by contrast, will use such strategies with ease by following a natural pattern bearing substantial resemblance to L2.

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to become a ‘fully operational’ speaker of English. However, as both a learner and teacher of English I can come up with a few pointers that may lead up to success: a) emulating: provide learners with appropriate models (either good or bad) of what fluent and fluid speech may sound like. Hearing accurate phrasing, intonation patterns, rhythm and  pausing will definitely add to learning; b) single word drilling: get learners to build up confidence by following specific phonemic patterns that will lead to increase in speech speed and recognition; c) chunking drilling: provide learners with practice in longer stretches of language that will allow room for instinctive learning – intelligibility; d) guided before unguided oral practice: this is effective in increasing word level recognition, accuracy, speed, fluency and fluidity; e) language vitamins: show learners that ‘formulaic language’ comes in ready-made-grammar-lexis-pronunciation packages. Functional and notional language should prove to be a definitely strong link in the chain.

In conclusion, the classroom can be an invaluable environment for new experiences, hence, fluency training is a vital component to help reduce the unnatural L2 and make it sound more natural to learners. Consequently, with consistent fluency training learners may move from an accurate decoder to an independent user who can function fluidly within the spoken language realm.

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Adriano Zanetti

Adriano Zanetti – BA in Letras, Post-graduate in Language Teaching Methodologies, RSA Dip. DELTA. An educator for 30 years, an ELT consultant/teacher trainer at A2Z English Consultancy, a teacher/trainer/coordinator at FISK São João del Rei and Cambridge Assessment English Speaking Examiner. A Pronunciation SIG member responsible for Pronunciation courses for teachers/students. Presented several times in LABCI/ABCI conferences, Braz-Tesol Regional/National Chapters and different institutions in MG. /

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