What is fluency?
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, ‘when a person is fluent, they can speak a language easily, well and quickly’. We would, therefore, imagine a fluent speaker of a language to be somebody who is able to speak at length on a variety of different topics, without needing to stop and think very much about how to say something. Unfortunately, there is no quick way to become fluent in a language – it will always involve a lot of time, effort and motivation!
Why is fluency important for the IELTS Speaking test?
The IELTS Speaking assessment criteria covers four main areas of speaking. The first of these is Fluency and Coherence. According to the descriptor, ‘fluency and coherence assesses how well you can speak at a normal speed without too much hesitation. It also includes putting your sentences and ideas in a logical order and using cohesive devices appropriately so that what you say is not difficult to follow’
Of course, how fluent you need to be depends on your target band score. If you need a 6.0, the descriptors state that you are ‘willing to speak at length, though may lose coherence at times due to occasional repetition, self-correction or hesitancy’. However, if you need a 7.0, you will need to ‘speak at length without noticeable effort or loss of coherence’. If you are aiming for a 6.5, you will need to demonstrate some details from band descriptor 6.0 and some from band descriptor 7.0.
What challenges might a you face in developing fluency?
As I mentioned previously, achieving fluency requires time, effort and motivation. This is worth considering before you start to prepare for the IELTS exam. If you have the time to develop a good level of spoken English first, then you are likely to feel more confident about taking IELTS and achieve a higher score. However, many students have a limited amount of time to improve their general English before taking IELTS, which can make fluency a particular challenge.
One barrier to developing fluency in English is the lack of opportunity to practise speaking outside the classroom. It can be difficult to have the discipline to practise with somebody who speaks the same language as you and it may be hard to find somebody who does not, particularly if you’re preparing for IELTS in your home country. However, doing additional speaking practice is essential to improving your fluency.
A further barrier is anxiety around speaking another language. You may know the language well, but when faced with a real-life communicative task, you become nervous and struggle to say what you had planned. This happened to me when I was travelling by train to Montreal and I wanted to buy a snack from the refreshments trolley. I’d studied for a year at a French university, but I couldn’t remember the simple language I needed. My husband managed to order for us, and the woman said to me – ‘don’t worry – he can teach you French’. My husband still loves telling that story!
Three top tips for boosting fluency
1. Find your perfect speaking partner
This could be a classmate, housemate or neighbour. You could also try an online language exchange via Skype. Once you’ve found your perfect speaking partner, think about typical IELTS topics and practise speaking about these. You could use IELTS preparation resources, but authentic resources such as newspaper articles can be just as effective.
Top Tip! Try to keep speaking for a long as you can. Make sure your speaking buddy knows not to interrupt you.
2. Make sure you keep talking
When you practise speaking for fluency, you should aim to keep speaking for as long as you can. It’s therefore important that the person you are practising with knows not to interrupt you to correct mistakes. Instead, ask them to give you some general feedback at the end of the conversation.
3. Use strategies to buy time
If you need some time to think of what you’re going to say, there are a number of useful phrases that you can use to give yourself some thinking time. For example, you can use phrases like ‘let’s see …that’s a difficult question’ or ‘I’ve never really thought about that, but …’. Practise using these when you are doing speaking practice and they will start to come to you more naturally in conversations.