How to Teach English: Fluency versus Accuracy

Fluency versus accuracy is, doubtless, the one issue that affects each and every English as a Second Language teacher. Indeed, more than any other, it is this question that, regardless of their level, location, or leanings, English teachers return to over and over again. After all, this issue gets to the heart of how to teach English because it questions the way they measure success as educators. Is mastery, as fluency advocates believe, demonstrated by the “communicative ability” to clear (but inexactly) express ideas or, as accuracy advocates content, by a formal knowledge of grammatical rules?

While the former is ideal for students who are able – and wish to demonstrate their ability – to perform functional tasks in English, the latter more closely corresponds to the traditional ideal of language fluency. As you can imagine, this issue can affect almost every aspect of a teacher’s instructional style in the classroom, meaning that in order to compare English teaching styles you must come to terms with this question.

Such certainty may be elusive but it is important. After all, the differences between just two methods of English language teaching – Grammar Translation (which puts an emphasis on accuracy over fluency ) and Audiolingualism (which focuses on the opposite) – can dramatically affect how and when teachers make corrections.

If you are trying to encourage students to get a flowing rhythm to their speech it can be discouraging to them to be constantly correctly for accuracy. Similarly, many would contend that there are many grammatically correct sentences that, nevertheless, are senseless. For example, both “good” and “green” are adjectives but it would be illogical to say “Have a green day!” By contrast, few would argue that truly bad grammar stands as a significant impediment to free expression in any language and, thus, the debate continues. In the end, then, perhaps a solid resolution is less important than the simple fact of awareness: knowing the perils of extremism can help you compare English teaching styles and, ultimately, help your students.