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Is it Fluency more Important than Accuracy?
If someone is fluent and accurate using a foreign language, he/she is closer to a native speaker way of speaking. During fierce debates about the way foreigners learn languages, different people have stated that fluency should be the main goal in teaching since learning a language is about communication. Therefore, they have said that getting learners to communicate rather than master the correct forms of language is the priority. In my opinion, fluency is not more important than accuracy since they go hand in hand in the process of learning a language.
First of all, the fluent-approached followers say that if someone can get out the English at a pretty good flow, the listener can make sense of most mistakes and understand what is being said. At some points it is true due to the fact that listeners pay attention to meaning and context. Moreover, there is not much hesitation and too many pauses that may cause barriers or a breakdown in communication. However, there are situations where listeners, especially native speaker, misunderstand or do not understand the message at all. Although they may overlook some mistakes because of the context, there are sentences that are unintelligible for them. In fact, wrong use of tenses and collocations lead them to imagine other things that cannot be elicited from the situation. It happens to me that I have had to refrain what I have just said, because some native speakers of English have not understood what I have meant with some words. For example, once I was talking to a Canadian guy about our national dance (Cueca) and I said, “conquer” meaning that the couple’s male character (Huaso) makes the female one (China) to fall in love with him. In his Canadian mind, he must have imagined that the “Huaso” was an emperor and the “China” an unspoiled land. He looked puzzled and I had to explain it again provoking his laugh. Consequently, developing fluency without accuracy betrays nonnative students.
Second, fluent followers state that an accurate user of English can easily make a grammatically correct sentence and still have it make no sense at all. Although it may occur, it depends on the person itself. The same may occur with a fluent speaker; somebody can speak so smoothly but his/her speech can be so meaningless that not even he/she understands it. It is quite likely that people who speak grammatically correctly make sense, since word selection is accurate conveying a clear message. Thus, utterances do not contain errors affecting the phonological, syntactic, semantic or discourse features of a language making it more understandable for the listener.
Summing up, as with most things a balanced approach is needed. A student who has fluency, but lacks accuracy, or has accuracy but lacks fluency, might not succeed in making him/herself clear. According to Penny Ur, a well-known English Language Teaching author, one of the biggest threats for foreign students is to learn fluency without accuracy. Therefore, teachers should manage to improve students’ accuracy and fluency, as these factors will determine the students’ success in the future. Foreign students must be fluent and accurate in order to be thoroughly understood and understand the English language clearly.