Fluency and accuracy in language learning is like chicken and egg in folk tales: no-one can decide which comes first but it doesn’t stop them from arguing.
So which approach should the classes follow?
Both, of course.
I start classes at the language school with genuine chat and unless the student has a question, or I can’t understand what they want to say, they don’t get corrected.
Gasp, no correction? No correction. Yes, they make mistakes, yes, they use simple words but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they communicate in another language, they use it for their own purposes, for topics that are important to them, not to the book.
The goal of this part of the class is purely to give them a sense of success: to make me understand what they want to say. This solidifies what they already know, improving their fluency over time.
The next part pushes the students outside of their comfort zone. My expectation here is higher: they are to practice grammar, vocabulary, they need to follow sentence structure as accurately as their level allows. It’s where learning takes place, where new expressions, rules are discovered and understood.
At the end of the class, we generally play a game that takes a lighter approach to understanding the new knowledge and again, mistakes are not pointed out in this part. We’re not aiming to be perfect here, we’re just having fun with the language.
When the class focuses on accuracy, it is not only at the expense of fluency but more importantly, of self-confidence. Speaking a new language always comes with mistakes, there’s no other way. It is our responsibility to make sure our students are fine with that and are open recipients to corrections without feeling inadequate. It’s a gentle balance that changes with every individual and the classes need to respect that.
My biggest pet peeve is native speakers feeling superior to language learners. It’s easy to forget that English did not come to them naturally. They’ve put a lot of work into communicating with you in your language instead of their own. I believe everyone needs to be respected for that, especially from their teacher.
This little rant was brought to you by Facebook of course 🙂