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?

Double Dutch

Dubbed

Hello again,

While on holiday in August I had the chance to drink a glass of wine with a Dutch couple. We spoke in English, although one of the couple was studying Italian and had a lot of difficulty in speaking it. She recounted how only that day in the supermarket she had asked the cashier ‘posso andare?’ instead of ‘posso pagare?’. The cashier was very confused by this of course, as one generally tends to pay before leaving the shop. She was highly embarrassed by this episode which she said she encounters regularly and which causes her particular frustration.

After a few minutes of small talk I was curious to know how it is that the Dutch speak English so well. They told me that they watch virtually all the films they see in English / original language with subtitles from when they are children. When children in The Netherlands go to see the new Batman / Spiderman and other non- Dutch films on a typical Sunday afternoon, they see them in the original language. Strangely, this doesn’t happen in the same way in Belgium,  where international films are shown in either French or Dutch and where the general standard of English is lower.

Applied linguist Kees de Bot has spoken on this subject with the BBC.

One Dutch applied linguist likes to speculate that there might be a correlation between language aptitude and intelligence. The reason why Dutch people have a reputation for being good at languages might be, therefore, that Dutch people are simply cleverer than other people. “Unfortunately,” says Kees de Bot, “the experience of having lived in that country for more than 50 years has made it absolutely clear to me that that cannot be the explanation.”

Instead, his research shows that the stereotype of the multilingual Dutch person isn’t entirely accurate. The Dutch aren’t amazing at languages generally; they just speak particularly good English. In fact, things really aren’t all that rosy for other languages in the Netherlands. The numbers of students taking French and German are in decline. University departments teaching other European languages are struggling to survive. Teaching minority languages such as Turkish and Arabic is no longer allowed during school hours. And other languages are hardly taught at all – just like in the UK. The main reason why the Dutch are so good at English, according to Kees de Bot’s analysis, is that English is highly visible and valued in mainstream culture. Most of the music Dutch kids listen to is in English and the films they watch are mostly in English. Most interesting, in my view, is the link between TV and being good at English. In the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, where proficiency in English is very high, English-language TV programmes are subtitled. In Germany, Spain and France, where fewer people speak English well, the TV programmes are dubbed.

Read the full extract on the BBC voices website.

Europe and Dubbing of Films and TV

The graphic on the left backs up what is stated in the article. Those countries in blue are those where English is more proficient and are the same countries where TV/ films are not dubbed (including countries in eastern Europe where proficiency levels are high with regard to English). The countries in red are generally less proficient in English and are those countries where dubbing is commonplace.

So to return to my original point, why did this Dutch woman communicate so confidently in English and so insecurely in Italian? The most obvious reason is because she had started studying English at a young age (this is also true of many Italians who aren’t so confident with the language, however). The most important reason is because she had been exposed to ‘natural’ English from a young age. And by ‘natural’ I mean television, music, cinema and so on. It’s generally not the type of language one comes across in schools.

The moral of this post; go on line and watch language clips, rent a movie, watch an English language program in the original language and don’t be discouraged if it’s difficult…it has to be. Then if you’re feeling really ambitious you can also decide to read a few pages of a book or some articles in English every week.

You can see in the video below why many English speakers have always disliked dubbing!

 

Vowels – iphone / ipad / i / i: / i.e.

a e i o u

Hello again,  

I wasn’t going to post this week as I’ve been up to my eyeballs, i.e. very busy.  I’m not going to do too much grammatical analysis on the following piece. The creator of the video goes through vocabulary which identifies not only vowels, but vowel sounds and diphthongs, which are a feature of English pronunciation. All the words you hear pronounced in the clip are not simply vowels in the written sense, but are the representation of the phonetic alphabet, as seen in the picure in the top left-hand corner of the post.  

Videos that I had uploaded from non-youtube sources in the past seem to have had compatability problems with the iphone and the ipad. This is because the iphone / ipad don’t display flash technology without specific apps. New apple devices come equipped with built-in youtube readers, yet this doesn’t apply to other sites like vimeo, which deals with better quality video. I’ve uploaded this video in an ‘iframe’ format and would be interested to know if this plays on iphone and ipad, as well as playing on other browsers. So all you iphoners, ipadders and i-something or other, do let me know!   

Thanks.   

Click on the ‘HD’ button to turn off High Definition and speed up browsing. 

My Blog

Questions...questions...?

Hello all,

Yes, you’ve guessed it…this is my new blog. As you’ll see from reading the ‘about’ section, the idea is to provide you with a platform from which to access language content. The idea was to get to grips with the technical aspect and then bombard you with language you may (or may not) find interesting. It took me 6 weeks to understand the technical aspects of the blog which meant that I was ready to upload content around mid October 2011…..or so I thought!
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A friend of mine involved in creative visual design recently observed that the use of facebook as a means of communication was creating more questions than answers. In terms of language content on this blog I’ve also encountered more questions than answers.
I’ve been ruminating on what content to put up online for about a month now, and I’m still no closer to an answer. Well, that’s not exactly true. Putting up content will be easy; getting you to actually watch, read and make use of it will be a wholly different matter. And that’s the part that I’m really interested in.
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I’ve decided to go with it regardless, in the hope that students will provide me with some answers. There are links and associated material on the various posts and pages, but it’s content that many of you are aware of already and don’t use that often. In fact, you only tend to use this content when I’m nagging you on a regular basis.
The text I’ve put in italics is language that you could / should find interesting and of benefit. I’ll try to keep it as natural as possible. Log it in your vocab lists and ask questions about it if unsure about meaning.
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The posts you see below are simply tests to see what kind of content I was able to play with. I’m going to leave them there so that I can start as I mean to continue; audio-visual material, with grammar and vocabulary reference.
Please sign-up, leave comments and remember that what you post is public….so get the spelling right!!
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Alan