What Is Fluency After All?

There has been a lot of language schools promoting and guaranteeing that their students end up their courses fluent in a second language. However, do professionals who work for with education really know what it means to be fluent? Many think that it is something regarding the accent, others believe that it is related (or is it?) to thinking in the target language which means that students shouldn’t (or should they?) think in their own native language.

All of us, born and raised in Brazil, have Portuguese as our mother tongue. We are natives and, therefore, fluent in that language and many factors support such status. One of them is our lexical range. Sociolinguistics studies a case called Speech Community, a group that can easily be recognized through linguistic features. In our case we share them with 100% of the Brazilian population thus we are natives and fluent in Portuguese for our Speech Community is obviously recognized through our language. Thinking time can also be an issue that contributes or not to fluency, it is not the reason why it happens though. Thinking time displays how articulate a person is, maybe you have a student not so articulate and takes time to conclude a speech however no teacher will question his or her fluency in Portuguese language.

What second language teachers can do to reach fluency is to develop activities that make their students speak, express themselves in the target language as much as they can. Exercises to master a language’s syntax, which expose students to current vocabs, registers and all the technical and subjective aspects of a language must be drilled with the students. Reading may enrich vocabulary, but silent reading and controlled speech activities help master syntax and role play activities help students understand how to convey in different situations. Pronunciation should be the frost in the cake in the classroom. Furthermore, many languages also have varied paces and pitches which means that teachers have to pay attention several pronunciation features other than just accent for they may contain semantic importance.

Pronunciation is indeed important in a language. It can represent a social group, a social identity and students should have access to such linguistic characteristic as well while in the process of a second language acquisition inside the classroom. What should be in every teacher’s minds is that pronunciation is not a determining factor that defines a student’s fluency. However, it plays an important part in the show.

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