fluency

Topics: Linguistics, Language, University of Oxford Pages: 8 (1491 words) Published: December 11, 2013
Key concepts in ELT
Tricia Hedge

The term fluency has acquired two rather different
meanings in ELT. The first is similar to a typical
dictionary entry. For example, 'fluent' is defined by
Chambers Concise Dictionary as 'able to speak and
write a particular language competently and with
ease.' In this meaning it is normally restricted to
language production, and in ELT it is normally
reserved for speech. It is the ability to link units of
speech together with facility and without strain or
inappropriate slowness or undue hesitation. Faerch,
Haastrup, and Phillipson (1984) include fluency as a
component of communicative competence, and
define it as 'the speaker's ability to make use of
whatever linguistic and pragmatic competence they
have.' They distinguish three types of fluency:
• semantic fluency, i.e. linking together propositions
and speech acts (also known as coherence);
• lexical-syntactic fluency, i.e. linking together
syntactic constituents and words;
• articulatory fluency, i.e. linking together speech
segments.
Non-fluency in an English language learner is
discernible in frequent pauses, repetitions, and selfcorrections, as in this extract from the speech of an elementary learner:
I enjoy . . . er . . . enjoyed . . . e r . . . making
this . . . er . . . homework . . . on pronunciation . . .
pronunciation . . . but . . . urn . . . you know . . . I
have . . . there are lots of mistakes . . . so . . . you
see . . . it helps . . . it is helping me to . . . imp . . . (coughs) . . . make better . . . my English . . .
This learner is beginning to compensate for this nonfluency by using the fillers 'you know', 'you see', in the pauses while he deals with his linguistic
uncertainty. It is noticeable, too, that he uses the
communication strategy of paraphrase when he fails
to produce 'improve' and says 'make better' instead
to increase his fluency.

This first meaning of fluency relates to competence in
the learner. Course books in the seventies often
contained fluency drills aimed at increasing the
learner's ability to link syntactic segments with ease.
For example, the teacher would set up a chain drill
and provide each student with a different prompt in
turn which they would have to insert in the correct
position syntactically, as in:
Ss: I went to the theatre last night.
T: (my aunt's house)
S: I went to my aunt's house last night
T: (visited)
S: I visited my aunt's house last night.
T: (yesterday)
. . . etc
More recently teachers have debated whether it is
possible to teach gambits, such as fillers, to
compensate for fluency.
A second meaning of fluency has developed in
relation to the goals of ELT and the nature of
classroom activity. Brumfit (1984) argues from a
definition of fluency as 'natural language use' and
defines the aim of fluency activity in the classroom as
to 'develop a pattern of language interaction within
the classroom which is as close as possible to that
used by competent performers in the mother tongue
in normal life.' He lists a set of criteria necessary for
achieving fluency activity. These have been
simultaneously developed and expanded by a number
of other writers and can be summarized as follows:
• the language should be a means to an end, i.e. the
focus should be on the meaning and not on the
form. Other writers have made similar distinctions
e.g. message/medium (Krashen), meaningfocused/form-focused (Ellis) • the content should be determined by the learner
who is speaking or writing
• there must be a negotiation of meaning between
the speakers, i.e. the learners must be involved in
interpreting a meaning from what they hear and

ELT Journal Volume 47/3 July 1993 © Oxford University Press 1993

275

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Fluency

constructing what to say, not reliant on the teacher
or textbook to provide the language
• the normal processes of...
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