The Merging of Accuracy and Fluency | TEFL Jobs London

The Merging of Accuracy and Fluency

by Donna Hutchinson
Newly-qualified TEFL Teacher, @donnatamara

Accuracy and fluency; two pillars of TEFL. A great deal of work can go into honing our students’ skills in both areas from endless closed grammar/vocab tasks to long discussion and I mean, when it boils down to it, language is accuracy and fluency isn’t it? Yet, they are so separate from each other, for the most part. In accuracy, we correct, we make sure everything is bang on but in fluency we tend not to correct right off the bat in order to let the language flow, as it were. What about bringing these two areas of language learning to create one lovely, language learning utopia?

Okay, so perhaps I’m being slightly optimistic, there can never be a language learning utopia. We can however, try our utmost to bring accuracy and fluency together; bridge the gap between them. It is something that tends to happen in the latter stages. Currently, I am teaching a high upper intermediate class and their next level would be advanced. They’re a great class; they take in grammar well, they speed through the textbook and can name tenses very often, quicker than myself. Give them a speaking task and again, they get stuck in. Any topic and they will talk and talk. Accuracy, tick. Fluency, tick. Right?

Well, not quite. As I monitor their fluency tasks, I hear incorrect language; language that they have proven in many tasks that they understand well. Furthermore, language that they should have mastered at a much lower level (e.g. “my sister has 10 years”). I deemed these mistaes unacceptable at their level, they had developed bad habits and they needed ironing out.

My solution? I start each class with a short warmer taken from a much lower-level course book and if they breeze through it then fine, it was good practice but if mistakes are cropping up then it’s time to whip them into shape. The merging of accuracy and fluency is one of the last stages of language learning and my group are prime candidates.

So I thought I would share one of these activities:

Decide which tense you would most likely use to answer questions which begin:

–          What do you usually…?

–          When did you last…?

–          Do you enjoy…?

–          How long have you…?

–          Where would you…?

–          How long ago…?

–          How interested are you..?

I put these on the board and students told me the correct tenses. I then handed out small pieces of paper, and in pairs, students had to complete each question, one per piece of paper. This set of questions was then handed to the pair next to them. This pair had to first, check the questions and decide whether they were correctly constructed and then, once satisfied, asked each other the questions. They would then go round until each pair got their original questions back. Meanwhile, I was monitoring the accuracy of their responses.

I must be honest, I had only planned the activity up to the pairs writing the questions, the rest of the task came organically and thankfully, was a success. I think it is a key skill that students are able to self-correct but also, be able to correct their peers. I was quick to point out however, that they should not look for mistakes where there aren’t any because some of the questions were already perfectly constructed thus instilling a little more faith in their language knowledge.

I don’t expect students to put newly-learnt structures into their spoken language straight away but when it comes to those bad habits, they need to be ironed out.

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