What is verbal fluency and why should it matter?

Dear Reader!

Have you ever thought about what does the term fluency or verbal fluency mean? How does that translate to our everyday lives and YOUR LIFE as a language learner in particular? In this short blog entry I’m going to put down a few notions that we need to consider when talking about language fluency and how to teach it.

In layman’s terms, verbal fluency is most often understood as the ease and smoothness of one’s speech or verbal delivery. This means, that the more speedier your verbal reply to any sort of verbal action is delivered, the quicker you’ll be seen by outsiders and are more likely to be labeled a fluent speaker of the language. However, we also need to bear in mind that it’s not only the speed of our reply that matters, but also the number, position and length of hesitations, weather filled or unfilled.

If your speech is filled to the brim with hesitations, like uhm, ahm, hmm and so on and this occurs frequently, then your oratorship is most possibly flushed down the toilet in a matter of seconds. But hey, heads up! None of us are born to be Cicero or Churchill. It is the struggle of climbing the hill to Mount Fluent Speech that makes us great speakers!

Now, in order to become an apt speaker of any language, you need to understand that fluency is a tricky and elusive term. If your goal is to achieve a native-like rapidity at “delivering your verbal bullets”, you need to familiarise yourself with the following terms and notions: cognitive fluency, utterance fluency, perceived fluency, speed fluency, breakdown fluency and repair fluency. Sounds like a lot to take in? Don’t worry. Let me walk you through the garden maze of all fluencies.

  • Cognitive fluency: the speed and ease/smoothness of how quickly one can build up their process of thinking and the likely utterance before actually saying a single word.
  • Utterance fluency: the speed at which one delivers their message. Usually measured in syllables or words uttered per minute.
  • Perceived fluency: the subjective assessment of the orator’s speaking skills and speech fluency, determined by the estimation and opinion of the observer.
  • Speed fluency: the number of words and/or syllables one delivers within a specific time frame and the speed at which said words/syllables are uttered.
  • Breakdown fluency: the number, length and position of filled and/or unfilled pauses in one’s speech. Here I need to notice that intermediate language learners often pause in the middle of an utterance and not at the end of a sentence or a trail of thought, like advanced or native speakers of the language are more likely to do.
  • Repair fluency: the number of false starts or re-starts, partial or complete repetitions one applies during a given section of their speech.

I hope this short explanation cleared the dust for you, dear reader, regarding verbal fluency and all other fluencies. Next time, I’m going to describe a few techniques and methods you can use to improve your spoken fluency, using fluency-oriented tasks. Until then, keep speaking!