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Fluency focuses on the flow of language. In short, consider the following points:

1: Sentences should be spoken smoothly and with few pauses.
2: Responses should be produced quickly in context of the conversation.
3: Students should participate in a conversation rather than react to it.

Fluency often is balanced by accuracy, or the correctness of the language. Both are important in the language classroom, with equal opportunity and attention given to both in order for students to use the language well. Just as a student who speaks very slowly is a problem, so too is a student who speaks with many mistakes. This article focuses on fluency and how to best incorporate it in the classroom.

There are a number of factors which affect fluency. To start, unfamiliar material results in less smooth, less quick language production. This is especially evident when the teacher first presents the target language (grammar or vocabulary). Students of all levels, when faced with new material, must process and practice it. A certain level of automaticity must be achieved before also gaining a level of fluency.

There is also the amount of information that students must first process. If students are expected to become familiar with new material, then longer, richer sentences may get in the way. For example, in a class focusing on the future tense as the target structure, let's compare the following sentences:

Example #1: I am going to see a movie.
Example #2: I am going to see a movie in the city this Saturday with my friends.

In the first sentence, the students have only one point on which to focus, namely the grammar. In the second sentence, the students have several aspects to juggle, which then reduces the familiarity with the language. An adequate level of automaticity cannot be achieved.

It's important to note that the entire lesson shouldn't be restricted to short sentences. However, on the initial practice of the target language, a singular focus is best. Students may be able to understand the language, but not be able to produce it well. Restrictive practice improves productive fluency. As the lesson progresses and students become comfortable and familiar with the target language, additional information like the second example can be worked into the lesson plan.

Response time is also a measure of fluency. If someone asks a question, and the student takes several seconds before giving any answer, this can be considered poor fluency.

Slow responses most often occur with lower-level students. They tend to translate questions into their native tongue, think of an appropriate answer, and lastly translate the answer from their native language to English. This takes time, a lot of time in fact. Yet even higher-level students may struggle with response times when faced with a difficult or unfamiliar topic, as well as with new grammar or vocabulary. Although higher-level students may not translate the sentences like their lower-level peers, it takes longer to activate the appropriate vocabulary and place the ideas in order.

Practice improves fluency for lower-level students. Following activities with more controlled practice, students next need meaningful and interactive activities. The more time students have to freely practice the language later in the lesson, then their fluency cumulatively improves class after class after class.

With higher-level students, speaking strategies are a must to limit the pause following a question. Students should be able to signal that they're thinking of an answer. Fillers like "um" and "ah" fill this need, as do "just a moment" and "I hadn't thought of that" and "Oh, that's an interesting thought."

Lastly, students need to be able to participate in a conversation. When students simply ask and answer questions, without adding detail, supporting information, tangents, or additional questions, then this is merely reacting to the conversation. The below example wouldn't be considered fluent, even if spoken with perfect grammatical accuracy:

Student A: What are you going to do this Saturday?
Student B: I'm going to see a movie.
Student A: What are you going to do on Sunday?
Student B: I'm going to study for the English test.
Student A: What are you...

Such conversations are common at the lower levels, but some detail can still be added if the teacher explicitly and repeatedly gives attention to this point. The teacher needs to set clear goals that the class works steadily towards, such as creating longer, richer conversations.

At higher levels, the same reaction to a conversation may occur with difficult subject matter. Topics focusing on the environment or cross-cultural exchange are two examples. Speaking strategies again offer some help, as students gain time to select low frequency words and phrases needed for the subject matter.

However, students may lack knowledge on the topic in their native language. A far less rich discussion follows as a result. The teacher can assign preparatory homework, perhaps with the students doing some research on Wikipedia. The teacher may also stick to a topic for several lessons, thereby giving everyone the chance to learn about the subject and also adequately use its ideas. Projects like presentations and video reports are also options.

In conclusion, fluency is a very important aspect of the language classroom. Students should not only acquire the grammar and vocabulary necessary for communication, but should also be able to use the grammar and vocabulary smoothly and quickly. Fluency is the flow of language in a conversation, and the language classroom should incorporate activities to allow students ample opportunity to build their fluency skills.