How do some students achieve fluency when studying under traditional non-communicative methodologies, while other students study in communicative lessons and struggle to achieve fluency? This was the paradox presented in a Webinar I attended yesterday, by Jeremy Harmer, put on by the TESOL International Association. It’s an interesting question. Jeremy put this question out there on Twitter, and from his responses came to the conclusion that it is a result of:
1. students consciously using their own intellect to process their experiences. This can be, for example, listening actively; concentrating to figure out what is being said. Or watching a TV show and having imaginary dialogues in your head with the characters. Using this ‘inner voice’ is a powerful tool for building fluency. So as teachers, we can give the students time to rehearse and use their inner voice, or can duplicate activities where they interact with characters in TV shows, or photos, for example.
2. the ‘rush’ students get when they speak well. The logical extension of this is to create situations in which students are comfortable to speak and have the maximum chance of success. So give students ‘rehearsal’ time before reading aloud or expressing complex ideas, for example.
3. the ability to recall vocabulary in lexical chunks. So rather than teach isolated words, teach ‘chunks’ of language that are often used together, such as “in my opinion’, ‘Have you ever been to …?” etc. A key factor for students to internalize these chunks so they can recall them instantly when needed is repetition.
So the teaching challenge is to find ways to give lots of repetitive practice, but in a way that is meaning-based and engaging for the students. And to create activities that are not just communicative but require students to use their cognitive skills to process the language they use. Interesting food for thought …