The importance of being “grammatically” earnest….

Of course that, while grammar is important for the IELTS test, it is only one of the four criteria that the the examiners are looking/listening for. The others being Lexical Resource, Pronunciation, and Fluency and Coherence. I mention this today because often I find that students are fixated on being grammatically correct, sometimes at the expense of fluency. What do I mean by this? Well, if you consider how much time it takes to internally translate from your language into English, then construct a sentence, then mentally check it for “correctness” it takes twice as long as it should and you will be left floundering for words.  Obviously, this is not desirable so what can you do? First, let’s consider what do we mean by “fluency” I take it to mean the ability to speak at length without hesitation and without having to think of what words to say and the correct structures, etc. This very important skill can be mastered with a little practice if you follow the tips I am about to share with you.

First thing to do is to forget grammar, well not forget it entirely, but don’t focus on achieving correct sentence structure at the expense of fluency. If you want to pass examinations or if you spend a lot of time writing in English, then study grammar. However, if you want to be fluent in English, especially for the speaking part of the test,  then you should try to learn English without thinking about grammar too much.

The thing is that to become fluent, as I mentioned above, you need to be able to speak without pausing to think of the correct words and sentence construction. If you try to translate what you want to say from your own language into English, as many people do, you will become slow, hesitant, and fail to achieve fluency. You may have experienced this yourself, maybe you were in an international group with everyone speaking in English and you had something to add to the conversation, but by the time you had translated it from your language into English and formulated it correctly, the conversation had moved on and your contribution was now irrelevant!

Ideally, of course, you want to be able to think in English but until you can do that then what you need to do is to have your own “internal phrasebook” that you can use for every situation.

What I mean by this is simply that you need to learn and study phrases instead of trying to speak in correctly constructed grammatically accurate sentences.The thing is when people speak they use phrases or “chunks” instead of sentences. We can think of these “chunks” of language as ready-made phrases such as collocations (words that commonly go together) like‘rich and famous, densely populated’ etc; phrasal verbs,‘get up, log on, run out of’; idioms like ‘part and parcel, make ends meet’, and social formulas such as ‘see you later, have a nice day’ etc.

It is easy to see why many students are not fluent. In the traditional EFL classroom, grammar is taught as a priority, not these language ‘chunks’ which students can use almost immediately while speaking. If speaking is taught in the classroom, it’s usually just to practice the grammar!

So what can you do? Well, you need to interact with “natives” as much as possible, of course, and listen to what they say and memorise their expressions. Again, as I have mentioned before, the internet is a very good resource if you don’t have the time or the opportunity to meet natives socially. There are many videos online where you can learn such phrases, and there are always films and TV shows to watch and imitate. For those of you in major cities, there are many social gatherings where you can meet natives and other English speakers and practice your speaking while learning some new language at the same time. I strongly suggest that you make use of these opportunities if you really want to achieve your fluency goals and score well in this part of the marking criteria.

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