As we said in our last article (if you missed it go check it out here!) there are two different approaches in teaching a second language: focus on forms and focus on meaning. The first one has the positive side of focusing on accuracy, the second one on fluency.
A teacher of mine, who used to make us speak a lot during classes, used to say: “Fluency comes before accuracy”; with this statement she wanted to encourage us to speak without fearing judgement.
Now, one might easily argue with that, and there are endless studies that show how one can be pretty fluent while lacking a lot of grammar knowledge. On the other hand, the approach of this teacher – gradually and under her supervision – led to a side effect: being able to think directly in the second language we were learning without having to translate a thought from our first language and the most natural acquisition of that language’s structures and categories.
We could say that “being fluent” means to be able to speak a second language without struggles, with confidence, with a correct pronunciation and after this, ideally, with correct syntactic, morphological, and verbal structure; “accuracy”, on the other hand, indicates a great grammar and lexical knowledge even though one may stutter a little bit while speaking. Generally, accuracy plays a greater part in reading, writing and comprehension, while fluency helps in everyday situations in which a person is required to speak and communicate.
Getting to the heart of the matter: what are, nowadays, the best tools available to improve fluency?
Listening and repeating are not so recent approaches for teachers to help their students with comprehension, pronunciation and grammar knowledge; after all, to listen and to repeat is also how we got to learn our first language so it is reasonably considerable as the most natural method for the brain.
Once again technology comes in handy since not only in school, but also when practising on their own, students have access to never-ending resources to apply this method.
Listening to music, but also movies and audiobooks provide a more native-like listening exercise, allowing to develop a more refined capacity of decoding linguistic inputs, meaning “the linguistic material to which a learner is exposed”, VALENTINI (2016). Moreover, according to Professor J. Lertola, to watch programmes with subtitles provides a double stimulation (visual and aural) that brings many benefits in learning a new language.
Furthermore, a study from Southern Oregon University, for which a group a children was divided in three subgroups and each one was guided in learning with different means (listening, reading, listening while reading), has shown that kids learned best when just listening to stories; this way, on the one hand they had to pay close attention, however, on the other hand, they could take their own time in processing input and information while also needing to quickly memorize what they just heard.
In the end it is funny and yet interesting to observe that to learn a language, it is useful to feel like a child again, to listen and to repeat as we do with kids when talking really slowly and then asking them to repeat what we just said.
Sitography and bibliography:
- Journal of Literacy and Technology Volume 20, Number 2, 2019 D. Jabloski – Ph.D Southern Oregon University (http://www.literacyandtechnology.org/uploads/1/3/6/8/136889/jlt_v20_2_jablonski.pdf)
- L’input per l’acquisizione di L2: strutturazione, percezione, elaborazione, 2016 A. Valentini – Università degli Studi di Bergamo