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?

Counting Sheep … conditionals … and grammar rules …

'..if I'd (had or would?) known ..I'd (had or would?) have gone..'

How/ do / grammar and numbers / go together? It’s part of my job to analyze language, yet I sometimes have to remind myself that I study it too. I’ve been a student of Italian for many years now, and my approach to the language has always been an attempt to make sense from chaos. This is due to the fact that we usually have an endless number of possible grammatical combinations and lexical structures from which to choose, every time we open our mouths, or put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard as is now more often the case).

Making the correct grammatical and vocabulary decisions, while at the same time trying to pronounce correctly, speaking at a speed that is acceptable and, last but not least, giving the impression of actually enjoying the experience, is daunting to say the least. However, it should be our ultimate objective in terms of 2nd language learning. Attaining perfection in a 2nd language is particularly difficult. Striving for it shouldn’t be.

The following video deals with numbers and common language associated with adding (plus, add), subtracting (minus, less), multiplying (by), dividing (divided by, into). What it also reminded me of was the often exasperating experience of attempting to turn all those grammar rules and all those words into something coherent, satisfying and correct.

For conditionals info. go here;  http://www.englishpage.com/conditional/conditionalintro.html

What / is / your / question? What / do / you / want / to know? How / would / you / like / it pronounced?

Q & A

Questions are the keys to conversation. It’s a tricky area due to the use of auxiliaries in English. We usually structure the question in English in the following way;

Question word / Auxiliary / Subject / Verb / Object or Complement

The person speaking in the clip has a standard south of England accent, well, that which you’d come across in and around the Greater London area anyway. Pay particular attention to the pronunciation (or non-pronunciation) of the ‘r’ after vowel sounds. You can see from the dictionary links with phonetics that the American dictionary includes the /r/ sound yet the British version includes it as an option (r). I’ve marked some examples under the video itself. You can check those against US pronunciation of the same word.

Click on the ‘pronunciation’ button beside the phonetic text when the dictionary opens.

Ever wondered (have / you / ever wondered) where a question might take you? UK /ˈwʌndə/ – US /ˈwʌndər/

Why / do / cats / purr? UK /pəː/ – US \ˈpər\

How / can / we / turn / garbage into energy? – UK /ˈɡɑː(r)bɪdʒ/ – US /ˈɡɑrbɪdʒ/

___ / Can / robots / change / their mind? – UK /ðeə(r)/– US – /ðer/

Explore the impossible. UK /ɪkˈsplɔː(r)/ – US – /ɪkˈsplɔr/

The moon was once a pie in the sky.

You have the power (UK /ˈpaʊə(r)/) – US (/ˈpaʊər/) to change things for the better (UK /ˈbetə(r)/ – US /ˈbetər/)

To find the answer – UK /ˈɑːnsə(r)/ – US /ˈænsər/

On reflection

Run… or reflect..

Hi all,

I suppose Happy New Year would be a good place to start seeing as it’s the first post of 2012. So it’s back to school time again and I’ve been thinking about the blog and content. Having done a few lessons and having had contact with some students, I was thinking about the theme of reflection, particularly with reference to language acquisition and use. The start of the year usually means the start of the running season..running for work..running for family..running for sport…running to get to English lessons on time.

Before we start running again, take a moment to think about your English. Are you happy with your level? Do you think you can improve? How can you improve? How can you develop fluency? How can you improve your comprehension? How can you be more precise? Is your teacher pushing you to be more fluent and more precise? Is your teacher helping you to realise your ideal of where your English should be at? If not, why not? What are your specific language objectives this year?

Have a think about the questions above, try and answer them and discuss them with your teacher. Tell him/her what you want and be realistic about how you can achieve those goals.
The video clip you are going to see is from a guy who decided to give up his job, travel the world, take photos, and put together a splendid time-lapse photo montage for us to enjoy. There isn’t any dialogue given that the theme is reflection. And strangely enough, do you know what struck me most about the images captured in the piece? The frenetic running from place to place…even on holiday…go figure!
https://vimeo.com/34400428