To assess the level of English, several parameters are used, including writing, listening, speaking and comprehension skills. Knowledge of vocabulary and grammar are also two important aspects that every student should not neglect. Each institution that certifies the level of English has its own parameters and evaluation scores. Therefore, the way of evaluating is not unique and often overlooks a fundamental quality, fluency.
In the past, English teaching focused more on skills such as accuracy, knowledge of grammar rules and pronunciation. Today, this academic approach has changed slightly and there is a preference for enhancing aspects such as the natural flow of language, focusing more on knowing how to speak and communicate effectively. Today's learning techniques equally value accuracy, but by practicing rather than investing hours just studying the theory.
From the student's point of view, it is natural to wonder what to focus on in order to be able to speak at a level similar to that of a native speaker. But before giving you an answer it is useful to clarify the meaning of these two terms.
Accuracy is the first quality that both teachers and students focus on. When one is learning English for the first time, attention is often paid to the accuracy with which the language system is used. Being accurate means knowing the vocabulary, grammar and correct pronunciation. These characteristics are evident above all in written English, in the ability to know how to construct sentences correctly using tenses, articles and other parts of speech. Knowing how to write is extremely important both in the academic and professional fields and making mistakes in an essay or in the curriculum vitae could reveal a poor knowledge of the language, negatively affecting the student's career. Being accurate requires constant practice and gradual study, so teachers often monitor students' progress to verify their accuracy and propose exercises aimed at filling gaps and correcting errors.
Fluency is the ability to be able to speak with ease, without having to stop to find the right words or rephrase concepts. In summary, it can be said that it is the ability to hold a conversation, understanding what is heard, knowing how to respond and make oneself understood. It is a quality that implies knowledge of grammar rules and vocabulary, but above all the understanding of how these resources can be used to express oneself.
For a student it means that it is more important to be able to formulate your thoughts and communicate them, even if you make mistakes.
If accuracy is important for writing, fluency is essential for speaking, especially with native speakers. And this is also important in the workplace, especially for those professions that require interaction with foreign customers, such as commerce, tourism and international bodies. It is also essential for those who want to travel, because it allows you to have conversations with people from all over the world.
Modern teaching techniques aim to work more on this ability, since the improvements are more immediate and give the student the means to be able to use what they have learned immediately, thus encouraging them to continue studying.
Accuracy is important in learning English because it ensures that a clear message is conveyed, reducing the chances of misunderstandings and mistakes. Furthermore, it allows you to write correctly thus showing a solid knowledge of the language. But while grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation are indispensable components, they alone are not sufficient to be able to express yourself at the level of a native speaker.
Fluency involves the ability to speak and understand without too much effort and allows students to communicate naturally, without struggling to find words. Furthermore, unlike simple accuracy, it gives the ability to speak appropriately in various contexts, also using idiomatic expressions or linguistic nuances, acquired more with practice than with study.
While both are important, their priority depends on the goals of the student, who should try to achieve a balance between the two. Focusing on accuracy early in learning can help build a knowledge base, while gradually focusing on fluency can improve your ability to communicate naturally.
Therefore, while being precise is a key aspect, achieving a high level of linguistic proficiency requires a comprehensive approach that incorporates a natural ability to flow through language, acquired mainly through experience.
The methods for developing these two qualities are different. Active study, practice, and teacher review are required to be accurate, while sustained exposure to the language and consistent practice are required to be fluent.
In the first case, students improve through English courses, but they can devote themselves to studying independently by attending extra-curricular lessons or summer English courses. A bit like it is recommended in an Italian course, reading texts in English can also help to expand vocabulary, understanding of grammar and writing skills.
These methods can also be helpful in becoming fluent. But, to acquire the latter ability, it is recommended to expose yourself to the foreign language also through passive study or through immersion techniques. Passive study means being exposed to English in daily activities that are not necessarily educational, such as listening to music, reading books, watching films or finding a language exchange partner.
By immersion techniques we mean those occasions in which the student is in a position to be able to communicate only with native speakers, as in a stay in English.
A holiday in English, being full of situations and opportunities that encourage communication, offers the possibility to improve the ability to express oneself, to work on pronunciation and accent. This instills confidence in speaking and better confidence in one's own resources. During a stay in English, especially with a host family, students can practice conversation, exposing themselves to different dialects and idiomatic expressions that they can use to enrich their vocabulary and be able to speak fluently.