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Striking the Balance: The Crucial Interplay between Fluency and Accuracy in English Learning

Updated: Jun 9, 2023


When embarking on the journey to master the English language, an important question often arises: Should one prioritize fluency or accuracy? What is more important? Keeping the conversation going despite some mistakes or speaking correctly at all cost?


The answer, however, lies not in an either-or dichotomy but rather in the intricate interplay between these two facets of language proficiency. Fluency refers to the ability to express oneself smoothly and effortlessly, while accuracy pertains to the correctness and precision in language usage. While some argue for the primacy of fluency, and others emphasize the significance of accuracy, this article contends that both aspects are equally essential and must be developed simultaneously.


By striking a delicate balance between fluency and accuracy, English learners can unlock the true potential of their language skills. In this article, we explore the reasons behind this dual focus and outline a structured approach for achieving proficiency in both domains.

 

The Significance of Fluency and Accuracy in English Learning

To set the stage for our discussion, it is essential to establish clear definitions of fluency and accuracy.

What is Fluency? Defining Fluency


Fluency encompasses the ability to communicate effortlessly, maintain a smooth flow of speech or writing, and convey intended messages with ease.


"If someone is fluent in a language it is generally understood that they are able t ospeak the language without pausing and in a manner appropriate for the context" (Thornbury, 2006)

Is it important for you to be able to follow a conversation and participate without feeling that you are getting stuck?


Of course, it is!


A lot of students go to English classes and they ask for each of their mistakes to be corrected. But what they don't realize is that if they are interrupted in a conversation, they will lose their train of thought and this will impact their fluency negatively.


Non-fluency is expressed in "frequent pauses, repetitions and self-corrections" (Hedge, 1993)


Every time you have a conversation in English, the sense of achievement in the conversation is extremely important. What this means is that in order for you to develop your fluency, you need to participate in communicative activities and feel that you have understood your partner and they have understood you.


The more sense of achievement you get from the conversation, the more motivated you will be to continue engaging in speaking activities in English.


This will not only boost your confidence but will also develop important communication strategies:

Strategy

Example

approximation

using an alternative word when the learner can't find a word in their vocabulary

using all-purpose words

using words like stuff, things, kind of, sort of

paralinguistics

using your gesture, mime and body expression

checking understanding

repeating or asking questions to check if learner's partner understands

description

describing details

"Such strategies are similar to the production strategies used by proficient speakers" (Thornbury 2005) This means that it is important for you to develop these strategies as they will be useful for you.


Fluency plays a crucial role in effective communication, allowing English learners to express their thoughts and ideas without hesitation. It promotes confidence, as learners can engage in conversations, discussions, and presentations more comfortably. Fluency also enhances listening comprehension and enables learners to understand native speakers at a natural pace, improving overall language acquisition.


What is accuracy? Defining Accuracy.

On the other hand, accuracy refers to precision and correctness in language usage, including proper English grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and sentence structure.


"Accuracy is the extent to which a learner's use of a second language conforms to the rules of the language. This is usually measured in terms of grammatical accuracy but it is also possible to talk about accuracy of vocabulary" - Thornbury


While fluency facilitates communication, accuracy ensures that the conveyed messages are understood correctly. Is it important for you to gain a sense of confidence in terms of how accurately you speak or write?


Accuracy is vital for avoiding misunderstandings and misinterpretations in both professional and social contexts. It helps learners convey precise meanings, avoid grammatical errors, and maintain clarity. Accuracy is especially crucial for written communication, such as academic essays, business correspondence, and official documents, where precision is of utmost importance.


A lot of students, in fact, think that if they don't speak correctly, they will not be understood or they will feel embarrassed.


Firstly, think about the fact that if someone is communicating with you, it is because they want to communicate with you. People don't engage in conversation to evaluate your English level (only English teachers do 😁).

This means that people will make an effort to understand and explain even if they make a mistake. Don't allow accuracy to be a measure of how well you are able to communicate!


You do want to improve, however. So it is important to work on accuracy. There are many ways to do that. Firstly, it is important to understand how you learn and improve. We talk about this in our post on English language learning.


Overall, accuracy is equally important as fluency if you aim to be a proficient speaker.

 

The Case for Simultaneous Development of English Fluency and Accuracy

Communicative Effectiveness and Fluency

Fluency is closely linked to communicative effectiveness, as it enables English learners to convey their ideas and thoughts smoothly and effortlessly. By focusing on fluency, learners develop the ability to express themselves in real-time conversations without getting stuck or losing their train of thought. Fluency allows for more natural interactions, promotes active engagement in discussions, and fosters a deeper connection with native speakers and other language learners. It empowers learners to participate actively in various social, academic, and professional contexts, contributing to their overall language development.


Work on Precision and Clarity: The Role of Accuracy

While fluency ensures effective communication, accuracy plays a vital role in maintaining precision and clarity in language usage. Accuracy allows learners to express themselves with grammatical correctness, appropriate vocabulary, and accurate pronunciation. It helps learners convey their intended meanings precisely, avoiding misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Accuracy is particularly crucial when dealing with complex topics, technical subjects, or situations that require specific terminology or formal language usage. Developing accuracy enhances overall language proficiency, elevating learners' credibility and confidence in their English skills.


How to Achieve a Harmonious Balance between becoming both Fluent and Accurate in English

Rather than viewing fluency and accuracy as opposing forces, it is essential to understand their interdependency and strive for a harmonious balance. Fluency without accuracy may result in misunderstandings, while accuracy without fluency can hinder natural and spontaneous communication. Striking a balance between the two allows English learners to express themselves smoothly while maintaining linguistic precision. This balance empowers learners to communicate effectively, build strong language skills, and adapt to various linguistic contexts with confidence and versatility.


Strategies for Simultaneously Enhancing Fluency and Accuracy

There are claims that if the focus is on fluency, learners lose out on accuracy and the other way around.


"Communication tasks often develop fluency at the expense of accuracy" Richards

This can be true but knowing the possibility of developing fluency at the expense of accuracy calls for us to do something to avoid this.


What can you do?

  • Be prepared: when participating in communicative activities, always prepare a short list of grammatical structures or vocabulary that you would like to incorporate into your conversation.

  • Focus: while speaking, be focused and aware of the flow of the conversation as well as how much you are using previously learned language

  • Talk to your teacher: ask your teacher to not interrupt you while speaking but to give you a list of your errors at the end of the activity

  • Analyze: look at the mistakes you made during your speaking activity and make a list of the errors you want to avoid the next time you are in conversation.

Repeat the process.


Engage in Meaningful Conversations and Listening Activities

Active participation in conversations with native speakers and fellow learners provides opportunities to practice both fluency and accuracy. Engaging in meaningful discussions hones fluency by encouraging spontaneous responses, while also fostering accuracy through exposure to natural language usage and feedback from conversation partners. Additionally, dedicated listening activities, such as podcasts, audiobooks, and authentic materials, improve both fluency and accuracy by enhancing comprehension skills and exposing learners to different accents, intonation patterns, and speech rhythms.

Incorporate Reading and Writing Exercises

Reading extensively helps learners absorb new vocabulary, sentence structures, and grammatical patterns, contributing to accuracy in written and spoken expression. Writing exercises, such as journaling, essays, and creative writing, allow learners to apply their knowledge and practice accuracy in a controlled environment. Regular reading and writing activities nurture language proficiency by reinforcing accurate language use and expanding vocabulary, ultimately benefiting overall fluency.


If you want a unique approach to learning English in the shower, check out this post we wrote.


Utilize Language Learning Resources and Tools

Leveraging language learning resources and tools, such as online courses, language apps, and interactive websites, can support the simultaneous development of fluency and accuracy. These resources often provide structured exercises, grammar explanations, and interactive activities that target specific language skills. Incorporating these resources into daily practice routines can enhance fluency by encouraging consistent language engagement and accuracy by offering targeted guidance and practice opportunities.

Seek Feedback and Targeted Practice

Actively seeking feedback from language tutors, teachers, or proficient speakers allows learners to identify areas for improvement in both fluency and accuracy. Constructive feedback helps learners correct errors, refine pronunciation, and enhance overall language proficiency. Targeted practice, focusing on specific aspects of fluency and accuracy, helps learners address individual challenges and reinforce their language skills systematically.



 

By implementing these strategies, English learners can embrace a comprehensive approach that fosters simultaneous development of fluency and accuracy. Balancing these two elements throughout their learning journey empowers learners to communicate effectively and precisely, unlocking the full potential of their English language skills.




What kind of learner are you?

  • I speak correctly but it's hard for me to speak fluently

  • I speak correctly and fluently

  • I speak fluently but make some mistakes

You can vote for more than one answer.


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