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fluency

Topics: Linguistics, Language, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, Cambridge / Pages: 6 (1491 words) / Published: Dec 11th, 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

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Fluency

constructing what to say, not reliant on the teacher or textbook to provide the language
• the normal processes of listening, reading, speaking, etc. will be in play, e.g. improvising and paraphrasing in speech
• teacher intervention to correct should be minimal as this distracts from the message.

Much ELT material (e.g. Klippel, 1984) has taken up the concept of fluency activities, and presents tasks which conform to the criteria above. An example would be students reading a handout with five proposals for how to spend a weekend, and agreeing on the weekend they would enjoy spending together.
More recently the criteria for task design have been developed in relation to specific skills, e.g. Bygate,
1987, on speaking) and the debate on fluency in the classroom has extended to the roles of teachers and learners and the appropriate management of classroom learning.

Project work has been part of educational thinking and practice on experiential learning for the greater part of this century (Dewey, Kilpatrick, Illich, Frey) and has influenced the teaching methodology of curriculum subjects at the school level. More recently since the mid-seventies, as ELT has espoused principles of learner-centred teaching, learner autonomy, the negotiated syllabus, collaborative learning, and learning through tasks, English language educators have explored and exploited the tradition of project work, and it is now part of the
English language curriculum in many contexts.

Further reading
Brumfit, C. 1984. Communicative Methodology in
Language Teaching: The Roles of Fluency and
Accuracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bygate, M. 1987. Speaking. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Faerch, C , K. Haastrup, and R. Phillipson. 1984.
Learner language and language learning. Clevedon:
Multilingual Matters 14.
Klippel, F. 1984. Keep Talking: Communicative
Fluency Activities for Language Teaching.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Legutke and Thomas (1991) use data from case studies of project work in the UK, USA and Germany to suggest three types of project: encounter projects enable students to make contact with native speakers, for example, American, or British visitors to their country. Text projects encourage students to use
English language texts, either a range of them to research a topic or one text more intensively, for example, a play to read, discuss, dramatize, and rehearse. Class correspondence projects involve letters, audiocassettes, photographs, etc. as exchanges between school pupils in different countries. Project Work
A project is an extended task which usually integrates language skills work through a number of activities.
These activities combine in working towards an agreed goal and may include planning, the gathering of information through reading, listening, interviewing, etc., discussion of the information, problem solving, oral or written reporting, and display. Projects usually involve a number of features:
• the study and use of authentic English language materials • an emphasis on student group-centred experience and de-emphasis of teacher-directed work
• the encouragement of student responsibility for planning, carrying out, and presenting the task
• a sequence of activities over a period of time, e.g. planning, fieldwork, preparation of information, presentation • the use of a range of skills
• activity outside the classroom in the students' own time. Brumfit (1984) gives an example in which advanced adult students elect to work in groups to produce a radio programme about their own country. A range of topics, for example, ethnic groups, religion,

Project-based learning has been promoted within
ELT for a number of reasons. Learners' use of

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Key concepts in ELT

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In Brumfit's view,fluencyactivities will give students the opportunity to produce and understand items of language which they learn in form-focused work or accuracy work. It is significant that his definition of fluency covers all of the language skills. His suggestions for creating natural language use in the classroom include creative writing, class libraries, and project work.

education, are assigned to the groups, who research their topic and write andrehearsea script. Hutchinson
(1991) suggests a project on 'Animals in Danger' for secondary school pupils, in which they use knowledge from Science and Geography to research threatened species, write an article, and make a poster. Fried-Booth (1987) gives a more teacherdirected example suitable for junior learners at an elementary level, in which they are asked to collect food labels or wrappings from tins, cartons, packets, etc. for a period of a week. These are used to create a wall display with a map of the world illustrated with the labels, which are attached to therelevantcountries of origin and export with coloured threads and pins.
The map is then used for oral practice and controlled writing. language as they negotiate plans, analyse and discuss information and ideas is determined by genuine communicative needs. At the school level, project work encourages imagination and creativity, selfdiscipline and responsibility, collaboration, research and study skills, and cross-curricular work through exploitation of knowledge gained in other subjects.
Successful use of project work will clearly be affected by such factors as availability of time, access to authentic materials, receptiveness of learners, the possibilities for learner training, and the administrative flexibility of institutional timetabling.

Further Reading
Brumfit, C. 1984. Communicative Methodology in
Language Teaching. The Roles of Fluency and
Accuracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press.
Fried-Booth, D. L. 1987. Project Work. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Hutchinson, T. 1991. Introduction to Project Work.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Legutke, M. and H. Thomas. 1991. Process and
Experience in the Language Classroom. Harlow:
Longman.

Received May 1993

Tricia Hedge

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The author
Tricia Hedge is the Editor of this journal.

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