Understanding Fluency: The Basics

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Do you ever wonder what someone means when they say they are fluent in another language? How can you know when you cross the line from “un poquito” to fluido?

As an examiner, I evaluate fluency by assessing the fluidity and cohesion of an English students’ speech. By fluidity, I mean the ability and willingness to produce longer utterances with a minimal amount of pausing. When analyzing cohesion, I look at whether or not what was said makes any sense. If you have taught ESL/EFL, I’m sure you have met students, or even native speakers for that matter, who can speak with great fluidity at length but without much of a point.

Fluency can also be defined more generally as the speed at which certain concepts or language items can be accessed by the learners. In this sense, fluency can be applied to more than just speaking. It can also be applied to the other three skill areas: reading, writing, and listening.

As an English language teacher, we need to allow for fluency practice in each of these skill areas, especially for more advanced learners. Since speaking activities are what students and teachers most enjoy, I am going to devote several future blogs to these types of activities.

Below are a few ways to practice fluency for reading, writing, and listening.


Choose a story that contains few terms that are unknown to the students. If there are any words that are new, write them on the board. Read the story to the students each day, starting slowly. Each day, read a bit quicker and also erase a few of the new words off the board. Eventually, you’ll be reading quickly and the students will be accessing the concepts more quickly as well. As an adaptation, allow the students to dictate the rate at which you read.


The same can be done with reading. Ask the students to read a text several times over several days. Each time you can either set a new reading task or keep track of how far they get in the text at the end of a set time limit. Theoretically, they should be able to get further in the text after each reading under the same time limit.


Again, a similar approach can be taken with writing but instead using the amount of words produced as a measurement. Each day give the students a writing prompt and a time limit. Keep the time limit consistent. Also keep a record of the number of words produced in their text, and be sure to compliment them on the content of the writing. As the focus is on fluency, you don’t have to bother as much with error correction.

August 23, 2012