Accuracy v fluency

06/02/2012 21:23

Accuracy and fluency


Teaching good English is the key to functional literacy. By this I mean what is necessary in terms of language in order to obtain our daily requirements.

The Englishman at home listens to his walkman, watches television, uses the internet, and says `Thank you` in the supermarket before he leaves with his groceries. He knows where everything is and doesn`t have to ask where the bus or the cinema is. He has an `environmental knowledge` and is `functionally literate`.

The English language student, on the other hand, needing a Headway textbook, has to know where the bus stop is to town; then the student needs the number of the bus; and when the driver tells them they have to have the correct change, the student has to go to the newsagents, and the person there tells the student that they have to buy something in order to obtain change - and then the student doesn`t receive the correct change needed for the bus and has to buy something more…

Knowledge of the environment is `functional literacy`. Good English is dependant on accuracy, that is, accuracy of approach towards what is needed, which is `fluency` in functional terms. But it means very little in terms of communication - other than Q&A and apposite vocabulary and grammar.

Being functionally literate in linguistic terms is both the bane and bonus for a student living in another country who has a conflict over whether they are there to function - or to work – because functioning is not working; it`s environmental acquiesence. If the environment wants more from us it`s called work.

The problem for ELT is that students think they want to work but prefer `functional literacy` because that is able to seem like work for them, whereas work is actually educative insofar as it is societal cooperation and, therefore, what the student really needs is to be parental and societal. To be a teacher is what they need to be but what they want to be is a child because they want to `play`, which is why they prefer `functional literacy` whereas they need `functional accuracy`.

Functional accuracy is `fluency` in terms of work, which is what we make language do. It works for us, and we work with it. Consequently, students begin with the achieving of functional literacy, which may be defined as Q&A. The ability to obtain one`s needs without work.

IELTS is a good example of the focus on functional literacy. There is no minimum passing grade and each institution sets a different level for success, which means literacy remains functional rather than the level of accuracy that is fluency (functioning as a doctor, lawyer, etc.).

Teaching good English is important because it`s necessary in order to obtain what`s required and even to give instructions, which is what employers are about; the need to have people understand you well enough to give them orders. Employers have to be functionally literate, whereas employees may need to have functional accuracy (those who prepare burgers in McDonald`s or the person who does your laundry).

The teacher-student relationship is that the students perceive themselves as the employer, and so don`t aspire to functional accuracy. It`s enough if the teacher accepts orders and the students learn Q&A. They don`t learn employability. They learn `employ` (the teacher), which is why they stop at functional literacy (giving orders and having questions answered). They don`t seek to be employees, and the teacher-student (employee-employer) relationship reinforces the perception that they don`t have to be employed, for example, in learning functional accuracy – fluency in terms of societal input (car mechanic, road sweeper, etc.).

The classroom environment sustains the perception that the students are employers (and some are), but functional literacy is the goal and not functional accuracy (becoming a civil engineer or a bus driver).

Teaching is in fact what students want to do. Because they want to raise a family. However, if functional literacy is the goal, work isn`t. The aim is `play`, that is, to learn Q&A and give orders. Working actually requires education, that is, `functional accuracy`, which is studying to achieve a level of knowledge useful for work - and family. But that requires teaching functional accuracy, which begins with good English and requires error correction at points decided upon by the teacher.

Error correction is the most difficult aspect of teaching, because it requires wisdom. When a student is attempting accuracy in terms of fluency he/she makes mistakes. If the student is to achieve fluency, mistakes have to be corrected. If not, students will repeat what they see as communicative. `I am go.` is comprehensible `pidgin` English but it isn`t more than functional literacy within the sphere of those who comprehend it.

What is understandable as `communication` can function as a virus. I may understand, but the group with whom I am interacting is the only group I can interact with. `I am going.` widens the pool of interactivity and more complex expressivity further widens my pool of experiential activity. But, unless, I am correct in speech, which only begins with functional literacy (Q&A and orders), I cannot achieve functional accuracy (politician, veterinarian, etc.). This is why correct speech and error correction is important.

Students want `bad words` and `idiom` as well as `slang`, but this is codification and not communication. If we want functional literacy, we want Q&A and orders. Functional accuracy is different. It`s communication in code. That which lawyers and doctors use, or that used by rap musicians and soccer commentators.

Language teachers correct in order to prevent a virus from replicating itself in a way that prevents functional accuracy from actualization. `I am go.` needs to be corrected to `I am going.` The notion that `bad` means `good`, which Michael Jackson popularized, only makes sense within a street culture that is delimiting in terms of functional literacy – because it isn`t accurate.

Functional accuracy is the teaching of good English in order to be useful in terms of work and family. Bad is not good because it`s functionally debilitating to assume so – it`s language as a virus, which the teacher removes by means of apposite error correction.

Inhabiting a different culture is simple. As an Englishman I can get by on `Thank you` (in terms of `functional literacy`). Education isn`t necessary in order to function. What you need is environmental awareness (where the bus stop is, or how much milk costs, for example) - and money.

Tel: 0036 70 5182849

Budapest, Hungary


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