Keynote Speech 2: Fluency vs Accuracy. Part 1.

Key to English proudly presents a new Keynote Speech aimed at helping you with key aspects of pronunciation and speaking. These aspects are especially important because they will help you improve both your listening skills and your speaking skills. Our Keynote Speeches will also deal with other, more general aspects of learning and studying English. However,the main underlying theme will always be listening and speaking.

As I mentioned in the first Keynote Speechthe model is based on Standard British English, also known as Received Pronunciation,commonly referred to as BBC English or, depending on the historical moment, the Queen’s or the King’s English. This is the typical pronunciation shown in British English dictionaries using the International Phonetic Alphabet.

As I pointed out then, unfortunately for all you long-suffering English language learners this model is the least common way of pronouncing English and is only used by, at most, 4% of all native English speakers. A typical example of this problem the one I mentioned the other day is the word bath,which appears in the dictionary as ba=th but which most native English speakers, even in the UK, actually pronounce baeth.As I pointed out the other day, baeth is, in fact, a more logical way of pronouncing that word according to the pronunciation rules for the vowel letter A. The same happens with dance, which most people pronounce daens or with castle, which is usually pronounced caesl, due to that same pronunciation rule. But as I say, we’ll deal with that issue in a future Keynote Speech. In the meantime, just accept it; don’t try to fight it. Language, whether it be its pronunciation or its grammar, is always evolving and adapting to the needs of its users, which means it tends to simply. So it’s likely that that minority pronunciation ba=th will, one day, and probably sooner than later,disappear.

The transcript of today’s Keynote Speech will be available on the Key to English website.

Just to give you all a brief overview here, Part 1, today, will introduce the topic. In a future Key to English podcast Part 2 will explore,briefly,and in a very general way, how to become more fluent.

And Part 3 will provide you with some more specific ways of improving your fluency. In Part 3, I will ask Salvi and Javi to participate because it’ll be based on specificpronunciation work and it’ll be funnier sorry,I mean more interesting for our listeners if they can hear other Spanish speakers practising some of these aspects…

So, again, welcome to Keynote Speech Number 2: Fluency vs Accuracy Part 1. An introduction

One of the typical discussions among language teachersis whether to focus more on accuracyor on fluency. In other words, do you, as a foreign user of English, need to be or want to bemore accurate, that is, to make fewer mistakes when you speak or write? Or do you prefer to be more fluentin the use of English, in other words, speak more naturally, and not worry so much about making grammar mistakes, for example?In most cases, students don’t have the choice, because the emphasis on learning a language from course books and less on actually speaking it will tend to limit fluency.

On the other hand, language experts can’t even agree on definitions for accuracy or fluency,especially for the latter,which of course makes it harder for you, as a student,to decide which,if any, you prefer. But the consensus seems to be that fluency is the ability to speak “comfortably”, that is “confidently” on a wide range of topics even if you don’t necessarily know allthe corresponding vocabulary, for example, or your pronunciation isn’t perfect, whatever “perfect” means. Accuracy is easier to define as the ability to correctly apply the rules of English,including the correct use of grammar, vocabulary, spelling and pronunciation,and so on.

In some cases, your choice may depend on your profession.Lawyers,and engineers, for instance, may consider that their priorityis to express themselvesaccurately rather than fluently.On the other hand,artistic people or people who don’t need English for their work,may prefer to concentrate onfluency and not worry about how correctly,or accurately they speak or write.

It may also depend on your personality.In other words, are youmore concerned about how to get from A to B, effectively and efficiently ?Do you plan every detail of the journey?If so,you probably prefer accuracy. Whereas if you prefer fluencyyou probably tend to be more interested in just getting to B and don’t particularly care how you do so.And you probably enjoy the journey just as much as reaching the actual destination.

Another factor that might influence your choice isthat you can generally improve your accuracy by listening, reading and writing.In other words, by studying a language, especially in the traditional way languages are taught.

Fluency on the other hand can usually only be acquiredby speaking and listening, although reading does help to a certain extent.

And again, simplifying, and especially during the learning or acquisition process,fluency tends to be related with spending time in the country where the target language is spoken, while accuracy tends to be more related to studying a language in traditional settings,whether it be in a classroom or as self-study, in your own country.

Obviously, these are generalisations, and, as such, open to criticism,but an important point to bear in mind hereis that a person can become very fluent, regardless of how we define the term,with a very low level of formal studywhile another person, after many hours of studying and having achieved a high level of accuracymay not be very fluent. I’m sure you know of cases of a foreigner you’ve spoken to who probably hasn’t studied Spanish but can maintain a simple conversation without any apparent difficulty and the opposite case, of someone who has spent several years studying English but has difficulty speaking it.

Given that each person has different needs,and circumstances,there is no clear-cut solution to this dilemma.Ideally, and in the long term, it’s very much a matter ofstriking the right balance between both aspects. However, you, as a student –and we, as teachers–need to bear this in mind when carrying out the linguistic needs analysis.We will talk about this needs analysisin a future Keynote Speech.

Unfortunately, until you reach a quite advanced level, trying to be accurate and fluent at the same timeis actually almost impossiblebecause the monitors we use to control our accuracyare precisely the ones that inhibit our fluency.In other words, fluency benefits from risk-taking, precisely what we try not to do when we try to be accurate, applying the rules orthinking carefully before we speak.

OK, so that was Part 1 of this three-part series on fluency and accuracy.I’ll now leave it to Salvi and Javi to discuss what I’ve spoken about so far. And, of course,if they or any of our listeners out there have any questions about today’s Keynote Speech,I’ll be happy to answer them.

Bye for now!

Un micrófono con una flecha hacia un archivo de word indica una transcripción de un trabajo oral a su equivalencia escrita.