“Speak, speak, speak!” That should be the motto for any beginner language learner. While, of course, your learning goals can differ and you might want to put more emphasis on other aspects of a language, speaking is, for the majority, the most important part. And sadly, there is no way to practise speaking through improving the other three language skills (listening, writing, reading), so you really have to put in the effort to see improvement on that front.
When you first start speaking a language (and, actually, also much later), you’re going to make mistakes. But by no means should you let that deter you from trying. That’s why it’s vital you learn the mantra “fluency over proficiency” and keep repeating it to yourself whenever you feel like you’re messing up.
What is fluency anyway?
In simple terms, “fluency” means how well and “fluidly” you can convey information in your target language. In this sense, quantity definitely beats quality in language learning. With the “fluency over proficiency” approach, speed and efficiency are prioritised, but that doesn’t mean that you can just produce any word salad and count that as being fluent. As per definition, (at least some) information needs to be conveyed to your speaking partner, meaning that you can’t just string words together and consider the task fulfilled.
Why choose fluency over proficiency?
In essence, the aim of this approach is to encourage people to stop worrying about the mistakes they might make in their target language, and instead focus on simply trying to communicate with other speakers.
In this sense, you’re also mimicking how children learn their first language, which is a technique that is gathering more followers in language learning circles. Much like a child, you’d be focusing on trying to get your point across, without worrying about the minor details.
This approach has some obvious benefits: you’re focusing on real-life communication, getting over the fear of making mistakes, and successfully conveying your thoughts. Additionally, fluency is an important part of being a charismatic speaker in any language, much more so than accuracy.
Will it really help?
Sure, with a few caveats. Fluency is most beneficial in everyday communication, where what you’re saying is much more important than how you’re saying it. Speaking with confidence and fluency is also a vital part of performing well in most oral exams.
However, proficiency is indeed also important in some particular situations. For example, in academia and other areas where you must be very selective about how you’re conveying your thoughts, using precise vocabulary and grammar.
What if I’m still afraid to speak?
Naturally, fluency doesn’t come overnight. Like any skill, you need a lot of practice and good strategies to really master it. Luckily, we’ve previously covered the topic of how to gain confidence in your speaking skills. Another easy way to improve your fluency without anyone to talk to is to simply use your inner monologue as speaking practice – this way you can build up your courage before embarking on the scary path of actually speaking.
Conclusion – Fluency is more beneficial in everyday life
Of course, proficiency is also important in language learning. Eventually.
First, however, you should focus your efforts on fluency and being able to communicate with people in your target language. This will help you out more in your everyday life than worrying about getting grammatical minutiae in order.