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Balancing Fluency and Accuracy





In a Seminar on
Balancing fluency and accuracy at a videoconference organized by the British Council recently, Penny Ur(Photo), English Language Teaching author, talked about some of the misconceptions of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT).Teaching grammar usually involves a Wren and Martin and a dictionary close at hand for ready reference, learning to identify parts of speech and cramming definitions of all kinds. In the early 1980s, many western countries adopted the communicative approach to teaching language that focused on getting learners to communicate rather than master the correct forms of language — which basically meant the Wren and Martin was packed away, and students were expected to use the language rather than just produce grammatically correct sentences. Though almost every teacher-training course still puts forth this approach, there have been some drawbacks. Students learning fluency without accuracy is one of the biggest threats. Fluency and accuracy are two factors which determine the success of the students in the future.

At a videoconference organized by the British Council recently, Penny Ur, English Language Teaching author, talked about some of the misconceptions of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). Penny, who has 30 years experience as an English teacher in primary and secondary schools, addressed
Six Tacit Myths of CLT.

The first one she tackled was the idea that grammar should not be taught explicitly in the classroom. Her argument was that
Some amount of explicit teaching was necessary to correct, explain and raise awareness about grammar usage. Students may talk and listen but unless explicitly taught grammar, they may not speak correctly. Penny said. Her solution to reaching a balance between communicative grammar and theoretical grammar was to set exercises that got students to concentrate on meaning as well as form. Instead of fill-in-the-blank type exercises, students needed creative exercises to encourage original thinking. As said earlier, Fluency and accuracy are two factors which determine the success of the students in the future.

She said.
Students should not be asked to learn lists of words. This is an over generalization of the communicative approach. Learners cannot be expected to pick up vocabulary merely from reading and understanding words in context. Successful learners of language use deliberate methods such as word lists or flash cards and do not rely entirely on extensive reading. Word lists and dictionary reference help learners to understand a word's various meanings. To get students to retain words, you need to do some conscious vocabulary building combined with extensive reading. She told the audiences in Chennai, London, Delhi and Israel.

Another aspect of CLT that she touched upon was telling students not to learn by heart. According to her
Memorizing chunks of language such as How do you do? and its proper response, idioms, phrases, proverbs and the rest, equips students with a readymade vocabulary of grammatical combinations that could be adapted to suit different situations. While clichés are terrible for writers, they're a good thing for teachers. They help learners to speak naturally and learn proper usage. She added that learning rhymes, jingles, songs and poems helped build vocabulary. By repeating rhymes or songs, children get a chance to be creative, play around with language and learn to enjoy it. I suppose I am very traditional in my approach to teaching, but the old methods are not all bad, especially when it comes to teaching English. She said. Of fluency and accuracy, this step addresses the factor of fluency.

Teachers are guilty of all sorts of hang-ups about classroom behavior. The Israel-based teacher and author said, drawing laughter from the audience. But they should not feel guilty about talking too much in class. Grammar is an arbitrary system, so
The more we talk the better it is because that's the only way non-native speakers can pick up language and grammar. She went on to explain that eliciting responses worked perfectly for subjects such as history and mathematics, but could be frustrating for students in an English class. If they don't know the meaning of a word or phrase, trying to elicit an answer makes them feel foolish. If they have no idea what the word dog is, what is the point of trying to get them to give you the meaning? Tell them what the word means and then make them use and discuss the word. Judging by the looks of intense concentration and periodical nods and murmurs of approval, most of the audience seemed to be in favor of her methods. Of fluency and accuracy, this step addresses both.

However, most teachers seemed to disagree with her view that
Translation could be used in the classroom to get a meaning of an English word or phrase across better. Penny did set out the pros and cons of using native language to teach English, but her conclusion was that translation could be used to give meanings while maintaining English as the basic means of classroom communication. Fluency and accuracy are two factors which determine the success of the students in the future.

The last myth she exploded was the famous one on
Group work is a good thing to do. The obvious benefits of group work are that it improves interaction in the classroom and teaches students to be independent. However, Penny said that group work was not necessarily good for language. Most students spoke English only in the classroom, she said, hence, while using it in class, they needed to be monitored. The main part of the lesson should be teacher-led so that students can be corrected when they talk. Group work is a value insofar as it leads to achievement of educational goals and should not be seen as a value in itself to teach language. Fluency and accuracy are two factors which determine the success of the students in the future.

Though she advocated rather traditional methods of teaching, she did not discount the importance of the communicative approach and told the teachers to use professional judgment while applying new ideas of teaching language. She said that English was becoming an international language with people learning it as a means to communicate, rather than to travel to the U.K. or the U.S. Fluency and accuracy are two factors which determine the success of the students in the future.

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