2 Key elements of language acquisition: fluency and accuracy

Diary submitted by Damian L, Madrid

When should fluency take some priority over accuracy and vice versa? 

This is a particularly hot issue up for debate with various different points of view over which of the two key components of second language acquisition should carry more weight when teaching; accuracy or fluency. There are many formalists who would put greater importance on learning the forms and rules of a language. However, some activists would argue for the other, saying that one must focus more on learning how to use a language. I think, as with most things, striking a balance is the best way forward and one should only put more emphasis on one over the other in specific circumstances. 

In this diary, I shall attempt to briefly outline some examples when one of these two components takes priority over the other, and explain why some might argue for this slight imbalance. However, before doing so, I’d like to express why this issue is so important to consider. It is no understatement that many EFL teachers can become plagued by trying to decipher which component should take precedence in the classroom environment. For example, I have at times seen my students begin to disregard the correct structure and grammar when I have allowed my class to become too fluency orientated. On the other hand, however, I too have fallen trap to following an approach which is too accuracy orientated. This resulted in my students becoming too constricted by the rules and led to them obsessing on producing perfection and in turn had a detrimental impact on their learning and communication. This therefore brought me first-hand experience in trying to find a balanced approach and when and where to adapt and rely more on one approach than the other. 

I believe one of the first things a teacher should contemplate when faced with this dilemma is to consider the student’s age. If you are dealing with kids some might argue that it is preferable to let fluency take priority as young learners may become discouraged to communicate as their resilience and determination are likely to be much lower than that of an older learner. However, this does not mean ignoring their mistakes, but rather that it may be more beneficial to address those more specifically later, perhaps even individually. The level of the student should also be considered. Logically, students with lower levels of English should have fewer fluency-based activities as they first need to learn the linguistic form to produce the language. 

Another key aspect the teacher should note is what part of the lesson it is. Many argue that it is alright, or even beneficial, to adapt and be flexible, switching from a more fluency orientated approach to a more accuracy orientated approach throughout a lesson. This is because different parts of a lesson require different needs in terms of accuracy and fluency. Some would argue that at the beginning of a lesson a teacher should be more focussed on fluency so as to elicit the most engagement and communication from the learners in the warm up session. Then when moving onto the introduction, a teacher could take a more accuracy orientated approach in order to show them what is correct and incorrect and that they fully understand and are ready to begin to use what they have learned. Here, towards the end of the class, in the practise and student initiative phases, fluency maybe be more advantageous.

To conclude, I believe that a teacher should try to take as balanced an approach as possible in order to not run the risk of straying too far to one extreme. However, it is important to keep in mind that leaning more on one side than the other is sometimes necessary depending on your student and the course objectives.

2 Key elements of language acquisition_ fluency and accuracy tefl trainer blog

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