When should fluency take some priority over accuracy?
And how should your error correction policy reflect this? Teaching in Spain.
In answering the first part of this question it is essential to explain the two factors that can determine the success of a student’s ability of the English language, and to recognise the distinction between accuracy and fluency. Accuracy concerns technical knowledge and the ability to produce sentences which are grammatically correct and coherent. Whereas fluency places more emphasis on producing sentences more freely and being able to converse more comfortably with a language.
An important consideration to take into account when teaching at the Language school is that the majority of students are learning English so that they can speak and communicate with others, as oppose to speak without any grammatical errors whatsoever. Fluency according to the English dictionary is being able to express oneself easily and articulately. Teachers who do put more emphasis on fluency aim to produce students who are competent in expressing themselves. I am only too aware that students at the language school can complete fill in the gap exercises and other techniques to improve grammar at home. Therefore I tend to focus on meaning and classroom activities to promote points of view, debates and role play. At the beginning students do have limited vocabulary and we do try to introduce basic grammar however if the student is at an advanced level than perhaps at that stage fluency could take over.
The same holds true where a student is better in grammar than the other and there is a clear imbalance here. I would again shift the focus of my teaching methodology and error correction to promote fluency. I can demonstrate my understanding of this subject by explaining a recent encounter with an English student. Whilst the student was able to produce accurate sentences she was unable to express herself and I got the feeling that her approach to learning was to memorise grammar terms and the lesson certainly wasn’t fun. She took a great deal of time responding to my questions and I could sense that she was fearful of making mistakes. With this particular student I did not want my error correction to be a form of criticism. I tried to be a bit more empathetic and wanted to build her confidence and therefore in this scenario it was better not to correct every single mistake but to leave the minor ones uncorrected. With this particular student it was more important for her to improve her fluency and to speak freely and therefore I would make a note of the mistakes and talk about them later on or at the end of the class.
I would apply the same techniques of error correction where I would be teaching a group of students. I had a class with two college students who were both friends, one of the students was more proficient and more fluent than the other and there was a marked difference in their ability to communicate in English. I wanted to encourage both students and not to highlight the errors in class as mistakes thereby avoiding certain embarrassments that could arise in the classroom setting. I applied a correction technique inviting the student to stop and try again and self correct themselves and I found this to be most effective as I did not want to demotivate this particular student. In addition I would always try to give positive advice at the end of the class with constructive criticism each time.
Teaching in Spain has been a most wonderful experience and it has been a shared experience with the students. The students have taught me about their language, culture and their education system. When I arrived to the language school on the very first day I had very limited knowledge of the Spanish language but I surprised myself at how quickly I began to pick up phrases as I immersed myself in a new culture.
I formed some great friendships along the way with my colleagues at the school and with the students respectively. Obtaining a Tefl certificate with 500 hours of classroom teaching experience will definitely open the door to other teaching jobs here in Spain and indeed around the world. I recommend anyone who is interested in teaching abroad to come and experience the beauty of living here in Barcelona and to learn more about the Spanish culture.