Why do we talk? What is fluency?

Fluency

Fluency

It’s been what seems like ages since I last posted; about 6 months, which in the blogging universe translates into light-years. It’s been an interesting period. I’ve finished some courses, started some others and have been quite involved in testing students this year, both younger learners (13-17 years old) and adults (23-53 years old).

I’ve been reflecting a lot on the work I do, the objectives I have both for students and myself , the results I want students to achieve, and how those results can be differently interpreted by others, depending on certain testing criteria.

My attention has always been drawn to the definition of ‘fluency’ in 2nd language learning. Thornbury put it like this; ‘various researchers, working in a cognitive tradition, attempted to characterise it in measurable terms. Thus, Ellis and Barkhuizen (2005), following Skehan (1998), define fluency as “the production of language in real time without undue pausing or hesitation.”

I was reminded of this again while watching the excellent BBC documentary ‘Why do we talk?’ which tries to understand how we learn to speak primarily our first language and then others. The finest minds in the world haven’t yet been able to answer this question. One thing that sticks out from watching the documentary is the way children are analysed in the acquisition of their (our) first language.

I suppose my question is this; if the process works so naturally and so well in the 1st language, why do we work in the opposite direction in the study of the 2nd language?