Academic journal article Kuram ve Uygulamada Egitim Bilimleri

Understanding Fluency and Disfluency in Non-Native Speakers' Conversational English

Academic journal article Kuram ve Uygulamada Egitim Bilimleri

Understanding Fluency and Disfluency in Non-Native Speakers' Conversational English

Article excerpt

What is Fluency?

Fluency has often been contrasted with "accuracy" in language teaching (Brown, 2003; Chambers, 1997), and in everyday life it often refers to a general "oral proficiency" in a given language, be it native or foreign. To Riggenbach (1991), fluency is a "complex high-order linguistic phenomenon" (p. 423) and to Fillmore (1979) it is the "ability to talk at length with few pauses" (p. 93). Lennon (1990), on the other hand, states that fluency is related to "producing speech at a native-like tempo" while Chambers (1997) describes it as "effortlessness". Lennon (1990) also makes a distinction between a "broad" and "narrow" sense of fluency; the former referring to "a cover term for oral proficiency" and the latter to "native-like rapidity". Although literature review does not indicate consensus as far as the definition of fluency is concerned, one would expect to see at least some of the following features in any account of fluent speech:

In fluent speech:

a. ideas flow smoothly with ease of production and without a break

b. language mistakes do not interfere with the message

c. pauses, hesitations, self-repairs are all part of fluent speech

d. speakers retrieve language forms automatically, without thinking

e. communication is effective

Briefly, fluent speech has smoothness, continuity and naturalness. A good way to explain fluency is, perhaps, to think of what disfluent speech consists of. In other words, how do we know that someone is not fluent while speaking in any language, that is, what marks disfluency in someone's speech? Many would agree that the frequent occurrence of long pauses and hesitations and over and untimely use of discourse markers in speech are some of the characteristics marking disfluency in a given language (Watts, 1989).

Accuracy and Fluency

As mentioned above, fluency is often contrasted with accuracy in language teaching methodology. The historical overview of the methods and approaches shows that often one is favored over the other. However, these two constructs are not mutually exclusive. They are complementary in the sense that proficiency in any language entails the presence of both, simply because successful language use is an orderly balance of both at the same time. Accuracy without fluency in speech often means inability to use the language competently and can cause undue strain for the listener. Fluency without accuracy, on the other hand, could lead to communication failure in many cases. Often, inaccurate utterances, either because of structural or pronunciation mistakes, may not carry much meaning and may impair fluency.

Conversational Phenomena, Discourse Markers and Fluency

Most research on fluency has involved monologic speech. In this connection, Wood's (2001) model of fluency and his definition of the construct emphasize the significance of pauses and the fluent runs between these pauses. Analyzing conversational fluency brings different variables into question such as discourse markers, back-channeling turn-taking and other phenomena that belong to conversational language. Discourse analysis of naturally occurring conversations in English also reveal other important features that may be related to fluency. Some of these are what came to be known as discourse markers or particles (Fraser, 1990; Özbek, 1995; Schiffrin, 1987; Schourup, 1985), hesitation phenomena and self-repairs (Cucchiarini, Strik, & Boves, 2000), or "small words" in general (Götz 2013; Hasselgreen, 2004). The mere existence of some of these markers such as I mean, you know, actually, well, erm... may make non-native speech more fluent. It is often observed that learners of English tend to use their native language markers in such cases or not to use anything at all mostly because they are hardly taught about them (Hellerman & Vergun, 2007). The important point to note here, however, is the fact that overuse of such particles even in native language may be perceived as speaker's being disfluent, inarticulate or uneducated even by those speakers who use them excessively themselves (Watts, 1989). …

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