Fluency – It’s Not just for the Speaking Test!
Fluency. It’s a common issue many IELTS test-takers complain about. During my IELTS workshops, I always hear participants saying that they need to improve their fluency. Almost every time, these students or test-takers I speak with are talking about speaking fluency. Speaking fluency means your ability to speak smoothly and thoughtfully without stopping. Clear signs that someone isn’t speaking fluently are frequent pauses, lots of repetition, and a tendency to self-correct. If the pausing, repeating, and self-correcting happen during your IELTS speaking exam, your Fluency and Coherence score will probably be below a Band 7.
So is fluency always a speaking skill? Actually no. Fluency is a skill needed for all four IELTS tests – Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. And the key point here is that they are all connected. Improving fluency in one skill area will improve your fluency in another. For example, if you improve your listening fluency, that will help your speaking fluency. If you improve your speaking fluency, that will help your fluency in writing. Let’s take a closer look at each individual skill and see how this happens.
As we said above, it may seem strange to think of fluency for skills other than speaking. However, when doing the IELTS reading test, you are going to have to read fluently as well. Reading fluently means to be able to read a text without stopping and thinking about the meaning. In other words, if a reader has to struggle to understand lots of words and is often translating, this is not fluent. Two of the key reading skills for IELTS are the ability to skim and scan. Skimming is reading a text quickly to get the main idea. Scanning is reading a text quickly to get specific information. Reading quickly while skimming and scanning successfully are being a fluent reader. Two tips you I suggest to improve your reading fluency, are to read a lot in your free time, and to avoid using a dictionary. Not only will this build your reading speed, but also reduce your habit of translating too much.
As you probably know, you only have one hour to complete the IELTS writing tests. If you aren’t a fluent writer, this may be a problem. A successful writer on the IELTS needs to be fluent. When sitting the writing test, you have to be able to think about complex problems, like an essay question, then put your thoughts onto the paper. If you aren’t able to think clearly in English, it will be difficult to also write clearly. The rule here is similar to speaking fluently. When you are preparing or studying English, it is really important to also think in English. If you are thinking in your language and trying to translate everything, then it will be difficult to write fluently. A good way to practice this is to take a few minutes before you start writing and think about what you are going to write (in English!). This will make the thinking and writing happen easier while you write. Another tip is to write more often. Grab a pencil, some paper, some interesting essay topics, and practice writing some essays. This will certainly improve your skills. Try it out!
Because you will only hear the audio recording on IELTS once, it is really important that you can listen fluently. If you stop listening and try and translate a keyword, or if you lose your attention because you’re trying to read the test book, then you might have problems. Listening fluently means understanding most of what you hear, and also remembering what you hear. Again, a tip here is not to translate. Translating wastes a lot of time and then you forget the English and only remember your language. Another tip is to listen to English often. Listen to English radio, TV, movies, and people. And to repeat the key point, if you translate or try and understand each and every word, you’re not improving your fluency!
As most of us know, you need to speak fluently to score high on the IELTS exam. But how can we improve it? We know what NOT to do – self-correct, repeat, and pause a lot. But how can we improve this? The key is the same as the other three skills. Think in English, and practice often. When you are on the bus, speak to the person next to you. When you are at the library, chat with a classmate. Join a club and speak a lot of English. Hang out with friends who can’t speak your first language. You get the idea!
There you have it. Fluency isn’t just for speaking. In fact, all the fluency skills are connected to each other. You are going to need it for all the exams on IELTS test day. So, how are you going to practice your English fluency skills this week?