top of page

On the journey to fluency and spontaneity


Nobody could claim to have come up with an ideal method of teaching MFL. Many modern languages classrooms may believe in communicative language teaching, a broad functional approach based on the recognition that students need to develop their ability to communicate in the target language and not just possess a passive knowledge of vocabulary, structures, and grammatical rules (Maxwell, 2019).


However, there are some methods or approaches, if you like, which work better than others and they are often a combination of methods working in symbiosis in the classroom’s unique context as each classroom, department and school is different.


My main goal as a teacher and linguist is to enable all my learners to experience success in language learning, to make learning a language accessible for all children and to build their confidence and self-efficacy. Over the years of my teaching, I came to realise that when my students claim whether they can or cannot ‘do’ German, they are really implying whether they can or cannot speak it.


So, what is spontaneity and fluency? How do we define them?


Fluency means speaking easily, naturally, reasonably quickly, without having to pause a lot. It is ‘the ability to link units of speech together with facility and without strain or inappropriate slowness or undue hesitation’ (Hedge, 2000). The speech of learners who are not fluent is characterised by ‘ frequent pauses, repetitions, and self-corrections’ (Hedge, 1993).


Spontaneous speaking is unscripted speech which either initiates or responds to a speech. It is the learner’s ability to perform and respond to conversation without planning their responses or speech. 

To become a more fluent speaker is an important goal for a majority of language learners, so it is our role as teachers to enable our students to develop fluency and spontaneity in their speaking.


How can we support our learners in developing their speaking fluency?

The accuracy of the language can be affected as learners increase their fluency. Accuracy necessitates knowledge of ‘pronunciation, vocabulary, word formation, grammatical structure, sentence structure and linguistic semantics.’ (Hedge, 2000). 

These two often lie on opposing sides of the weighing scales: as one goes up the other goes down. 


I have observed that some of my learners who become increasingly more fluent in their speech are less accurate in their grammar as they pay more attention to the meaning instead of to perfectly grammatically accurate utterance/speech, thus increasing the speed of their speech and decreasing hesitation and pauses. 

I believe, we should encourage our students not to worry about making mistakes in circumstances where spontaneous and fluent speech is more important than grammatically perfect speech. We should manifest self-control when correcting our students during tasks that are created to promote speech fluency.


We know that fluency improves when language knowledge becomes ‘automized’ (Thornbury, 1999), when the learner can produce the language without consciously thinking about it. The process has become automatic

One way we can support our students in this process, is to teach them ‘chunks’ (idiomatic phrases) of language, such as ‘ there is, on the other hand, in my opinion etc.’ – lexico-grammatical approach (Conti, 2019) where building blocks of language learning and communication are words and words combinations. 

These already ‘pre-made’ phrases are then stored in our brain as whole and can be retrieved relatively quickly and effortlessly thus reducing hesitation and increasing the speed and fluency of the speech.

In our department, we use sentence builders to introduce new language. Our students learn pre-made chunks first, which they later, after a lot of deliberate practice and retrieval practice via EPI sequence (Conti), independently manipulate for their own output.


Planning is crucial. 

Teaching and modelling of the chunks, automatic retrieval of lexical items, deliberate practice, LAM/RAM tasks planning. 

Being clear about the focus of the task: pronunciation, grammatical accuracy, syntax, fluency, spontaneity, complexity…?


We use the same type of tasks repeatedly (task repetition). This is beneficial in two ways: it cuts down on time wasted in terms of giving instructions and explaining the tasks and it also improves fluency (Bygate, 2015, Conti, 2019). The speaking tasks are sequenced from planned and structured (scaffolded) to unplanned (spontaneous) speaking practice. It is important to create an environment where learners feel safe and secure, and which reduces the anxiety of speaking (Conti, 2019).

The main focus of my teaching is to develop my students’ communicative functions to develop their fluency in speaking.

My go to repetitive communicative tasks, I organise to develop greater fluency are:


  1. board games

  2. speed dating

  3. marketplace

  4. the 4, 3, 2 technique

  5. dice games

  6. oral presentations

Shared resource. Adapted from G.Conti

For more task ideas, see The Language Teacher Toolkit by S. Smith and G. Conti.


To become fluent in another language as we know, demands a lot of time and practice. We can try and re-create purposeful ‘real life’ activities in our classroom, however, the switch to ‘real’ fluency and spontaneity, considering the restrictions of the classroom setting, resources, and teaching time available, is not so easy to achieve by the time our students reach their GCSE examination. 


Fluency often requires full immersion in the language which can be achieved by staying in the country of the TL for a prolonged period of time. 

From personal experience, it is possible to develop fluency if the learner has a regular (I would say, almost daily) contact to a native speaker, which provides opportunities to communicate only in the TL, watch TV in TL and read in TL. It requires a lot of self-discipline and motivation. 

For some of our students, this level of fluency might be difficult to achieve and reach during the 5 years of language learning in the U.K. educational system. We have to be realistic as to what is achievable within the walls of our classrooms! We are not bad teachers if some of our learners struggle with fluency! Spontaneous and natural response is often one word answer and not an extended paragraph talk!

However, through our delivery, we can build students’ confidence and self-efficacy, foster love of language learning and prepare our students for their further language studies at the college and university or just simply facilitate their joy of being able to converse in another language, thus enabling them to discover different ways of life and become a well-rounded global citizen.


As always, I would love to hear your views and opinions on the topic.


References:


3 Comments


Guest
Nov 28, 2023

I agree with the colleague above. I have recommended your blog to a newly promoted colleague who is going to lead her own department. All your entries are useful and interesting. Thank you.

Like
Replying to

Thank you so much. Happy, you find it useful.

Like

Guest
Nov 28, 2023

I always enjoy reading your blog posts, the insights I get are truly inspiring to an ECT. Thank you.

Like
bottom of page