Fluency isn’t just a speaking skill!

“I need to improve my fluency!”

I teach a lot of IELTS Workshops. When I hear students say this, 99% of the time they are talking about their speaking fluency. Speaking fluency is your ability to smoothly communicate your thoughts and not have to stop. You know if a person isn’t speaking fluently when they regularly translate, repeat themselves, pause a lot, and correct their grammar mistakes. This is important to note. If you don’t speak fluently, you might have trouble getting a Band 7 on the IELTS test.

Fluency of speaking is well known to most language learners. However, many of us don’t think about fluency for the other skill test areas in IELTS – reading, writing, and listening. Even though it is most commonly a feature of speaking ability, to do well on language tests like IELTS, you really do need to be fluent in all these tested areas. Imagine, for example, someone who has to stop and think about language when listening – that’s a lack of listening fluency. How about someone who has to check their translation dictionary often when reading – that’s a lack of reading fluency. And what about someone who stops to think about the spelling of words and essay structure when writing – you guessed it – that’s a lack of writing fluency.

We aren’t going to look at speaking fluency in this blog. There is enough information out there about this! Let’s then take a closer look at fluency for these other skills.

Fluency in Reading

If you watch a fluent reader, they turn the pages quickly, and they are rarely interrupted. The fluent reader is focused. He/she is thinking about the past, present, and future of the text he or she is reading. The fluent reader doesn’t stop to check his/her phone to translate. The fluent reader thinks about what he/she has already read to understand what he will read later. The fluent reader can correctly guess the meaning of words by just reading in a careful and focused way. Do you get my point yet? So, two things. When you read, make sure you are very focused and are thinking carefully about what you read. Second, don’t stop and check your phone to translate! This will make you lose attention and forget what you already read. So, get lots of reading practice and follow these tips.

Fluency in Writing

As you now know, the IELTS writing test is only sixty minutes, so being a fluent writer will help you score higher. This will give you more time to meet the 150 and 250 word counts for Task 1 and Task 2, respectively. It will also leave you some extra time to proof-read your work at the end. Test-takers often can correct spelling and grammar mistakes to maximize their score during this proof-reading.

Here are some tips on how to write more fluently. First, when you practice, use the same conditions as the test. To do this, have a Task 1 and Task 2 question ready, use a pencil and paper, and time yourself for sixty minutes. This will help you improve your fluency and push you to write faster.

My second tip is not to use your phone when you write. I see many test-takers preparing while using their phones. Put it away and turn it off! You can’t use your phone during the exam and it makes you a lazy, less-fluent writer. If you push yourself to think of the words rather than relying on your phone, not only will your vocabulary improve, but your writing fluency will improve too.

Fluency in Listening

Sometimes when I teach an IELTS preparation class, the students will tell me the audio track is too fast. Then, they will ask me if we can pause to give them more time to listen. If this is like you, you probably need to improve your listening fluency. Unfortunately, you can’t ask the IELTS invigilators to stop the audio on test day. So, how can test-takers improve their listening fluency? The biggest mistake I see during preparation is that people waste a lot of opportunities outside of class. What do I mean by waste opportunities? There are two things. First, people don’t listen for English when they have the chance. Second, they translate too much. Let me explain more. Every time you have the chance to listen to English, you should. This is how you will improve! When you watch a movie, watch it in English. When you talk with a classmate, talk to each other in English. Translating is the other big problem. Turn the subtitles OFF when you watch movies and TV. Don’t translate everything you hear when you are in class. Push yourself to understand the English. So yes, not translating so often, and getting more listening experience will certainly improve your fluency skills. 

In conclusion, improving your fluency is improving your English. You will find that when improving your listening fluency, your speaking fluency will improve. Likewise, when you improve your reading fluency, your writing fluency will improve. They are all inter-connected. And they are all part of this crazy thing we call the English language! Best of luck preparing and best of luck on test day. 
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