When should fluency take some priority over accuracy?

And how should your error correction policy reflect this emphasis? Teaching in Spain.

Diary submitted by Alexia C, Madrid.

Fluency vs accuracy is an essential dichotomy when learning a foreign language. A lot of the time I have found that students often aim to have both these skills perfected, but often this is a skill that can be restricted to students with higher levels such as a C1 or C2 levels, and is in some way unattainable for those who are not as practiced. I have found that it is possible to focus on both fluency and accuracy, but at separate times. I think that the way to best exemplify this is through the CEFR preparation lessons. In these lessons, I have practiced exam technique with students through debate questions on a certain topic. On these occasions I have prioritised fluency over accuracy, so as not to disrupt students whilst they are expressing their ideas on sometimes complex topics.

The way I have adapted my error correction policy on these occasions has been to allow the student to articulate their ideas, and if they get themselves into a situation where they have attempted a complex structure or idea and cannot complete a sentence, I will stop them and help them to create a more simple way of expressing themselves. Whilst they are talking, I will also take note of any grammatical or pronunciation mistakes that they make on a piece of paper. Then, once the class is finished I will talk them through the sheet and give it to them to keep and read over. In this way I have allowed fluency to take priority over accuracy for the duration of the lesson in the interest of the topic, but then I have not let the student leave oblivious to their mistakes. It seems that the main divide between fluency and accuracy is that ‘more traditional teachers tend to give accuracy more importance; more liberal teachers tend towards fluency’ (TEFL, 2016).

As a student of languages myself, I believe that it is more important to be able to converse with a native person than to have mastered every grammatical structure perfectly. However, ‘at beginner levels, when students don’t have enough language to worry about fluency, teachers tend to focus on accuracy’ (ibid), and this is something that I have followed while teaching. Thus, my error correction policy has been to politely stop the student talking and to immediately correct the student’s mistake. 

When should fluency take some priority over accuracy? tefl trainer blog

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