Language Fluency: Definition & Promotion Strategies

Instructor: Ralica Rangelova

Rali has taught Public Speaking to college students and English as a Second Language; She has a master's degree in communication.

This lesson offers a definition of language fluency along with clarifying examples. It touches on areas of fluency and provides strategies for promoting students' fluency.

Language Fluency

Linguists have had endless debates and have come up with countless definitions for the term ''fluency''. Although linguists have not agreed upon a single universal definition of fluency, the prevailing thought is that language fluency is reached when a speaker can confidently, easily, and accurately express themselves in a language. Speed, pauses, repairs, proper expressions, and degree of understanding are some key elements of fluency. Gaps in vocabulary are possible but a fluent speaker can easily guess the meaning from context or get a point across by explaining, rewording, or describing the unfamiliar word.

Interpretations of Fluency

As mentioned, fluency is a vast topic. Some measure fluency by how well the speaker understands what they are being told or whether they can spontaneously engage in a conversation. While some believe fluency implies that the learning process has completed. Others argue a speaker is fluent when they can function in a language even with a minimum amount of basic words. For example, Jose may be considered fluent if he can talk about the ongoing economic crisis for 30 minutes using simple everyday words. In contrast, Maria could be fluent if she can hold the same 30-minute discussion but using proper terms, complex sentences, and constructions. In other words, language appropriateness may outweigh communication freedom, as some linguists think the number of words a speaker knows indicates their proficiency. In this case, Ertan, from Turkey, who knows 3000 commonly used words and phrases may be considered more fluent than Jaime, from Mexico, who knows more academic words but fewer everyday expressions.

Areas of Fluency

Communication is not only about speaking and listening. It can be reading a text and giving a written response. Although we may expect a fluent speaker to excel in all four domains, this is often not the case. A speaker might be unable to write a single word, but they can hold a full conversation on any given topic. Some children grow up using one language at home and another at school. As the first language serves for verbal communication at home only, they never learn to write in their first language. In some cases, a learner can write with ease and accuracy but struggle with listening or speaking. Thus, there are four areas in which a speaker has to develop fluency.

The 4 Areas of fluency are:

  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing

Learners have different experiences, backgrounds, goals, interests, and strengths, and developing each skill takes varying amounts of effort and time. Some language skills never become equally strong. Your students go through different levels of fluency with each skill. At level 1, Maria could produce or recognize a limited amount of everyday words and ask few questions, while at level 3, she can talk about various topics and use vocabulary and grammar with great accuracy.

Strategies for Promoting Fluency

Fluency comes with practice. Provide students a chance to access and use material they already know a lot about, so they can make it theirs and actively participate. Always use a familiar topic to engage, motivate, and interest students. It is easier to talk, write, read, or listen when the topic is something they know and like. Fluency is not reached simultaneously or independently in each domain. Skills in each area will grow incrementally and it is important for students to work on developing each skill specifically. The following strategies can be applied to English language learners and students with learning disabilities and language disorders.

Reading Fluency

Your students read with fluency when they are able to read quickly and easily, while decoding individual words and meaning accurately. Expression, intonation, and pace are also indicators of fluency. To enhance understanding, and to practice speed, intonation, and expression, you can apply various techniques such as repeated reading, where students repeat after you, another native speaker, or a recording. Another strategy is peer-assisted learning where two students are grouped together to read a text as a role play and one is the coach. A good strategy for promoting comprehension is to teach students to identify main ideas in passages and find patterns in words. An ultimate goal should be reading texts designed for native speakers because they use natural language rather than abstract words.

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