Improve Speaking Fluency

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System, Vol. 17, No. 3, pp. 377-384,1989 Printed in Great Britain

0346-251X/89 $3.00 + 0.00 0 1990 Pergamon Press plc

IMPROVING SPEAKING FLUENCY
PAUL NATION

English Language Institute, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand This paper examines the improvement of learners of English during the performance of a speaking activity which involves repeating the same unrehearsed talk. Improvements in fluency, grammatical accuracy, and control of the content showed that during the short time spent doing the activity, learners performed at a level above their normal level of performance. It is argued that working at this higher than usual performance is a way of bringing about long-term improvement in fluency.

Speaking activities in the language classroom can have a variety of goals. These include the following. 1. The learning of content matter. 2. The learning of language items from other participants. 3. The development of fluency. 4. Learning communication strategies. 5. Developing skill in discourse. This paper looks at the development of fluency, in particular at a technique called the 4/3/2 technique. Fillmore’s (1979) first kind of fluency is “the ability to fill time with talk . . . a person who is fluent in this way does not have to stop many times to think of what to say next or how to phrase it”. As Fillmore goes on to show, this fluency will depend on a range of factors including having quick access to and practised control of many of the language’s lexical and syntactic devices, being able to decide readily when it is appropriate and efficient to use them, as well as having familiarity with interactional and discourse schemata. Brumfit (1984) sees fluency “as the maximally effective operation of the language system so far acquired by the student”. These definitions suggest that fluency can be measured by looking at (1) the speed and flow of language production, (2) the degree of control of language items, and (3) the way language and content interact. From a teacher’s point of view, activities to develop fluency are those which focus the learner’s attention on the message that is being communicated and not the language forms. Brumfit describes such activities in the following way: “The emphasis in making the accuracy/fluency distinction is on the mental set of the learner . . . language work focused predominantly on language is always accuracy work, however ‘fluently’ it may be performed, whereas language work which entails using the target language as if it is a mother 377

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tongue is always fluency work . . .” Canale (1983) makes a similar distinction between knowledge-oriented and skill-oriented activities,. The goal of fluency-directed communication activities is to enable the learner to integrate previously encountered language items into an easily accessed, largely unconscious, language system as a result of focussing on the communication of messages. Such activities are essential to language learning if the learner is to be able to use the language. Some teachers, for example Allwright (1979), argue that activities with a message focus are all that are essential for language learning to occur. Swain (1985) presents evidence to support her belief that in order for native-speaker fluency to be achieved in another language, learners need to be “pushed” towards “the delivery of a message that is not only conveyed, but that is conveyed precisely, coherently, and appropriately.” In addition, she suggests that the move from semantic to syntactic processing is necessary in order for a learner to master a language for production. This move can come from the need or pressure to produce language or from being “pushed” to produce well. “Being ‘pushed’ in output . . . is a concept parallel to that of the i+ 1 of the comprehensible input. Indeed, one might call this the ‘comprehensible output’ hypothesis.” The 4/3/2 technique, described by Maurice (1983), incorporates the aim of...
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