Every person studying a foreign language wants to know it well, speak fluently without concentrating on vocabulary or grammar, thinking about WHAT to say but not HOW to say it. Well, becoming a natural at anything necessitates some form of automaticity. In this article, we will discuss the main pedagogical implications of automaticity and provide activities that can develop it.
Does «automaticity» mean «fluency»?
Automaticity is defined as the quality or fact of being performed involuntarily or unconsciously, as a reflex, innate process, or ingrained habit, for example, walking, swimming, cycling. It is the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details; this is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practice.
For language learning, automaticity is characterized as a more efficient, more accurate, and more stable performance of the language. It is the process of speaking with language patterns and skills which have been developed through long-term, frequent practice of speaking skills. However, speaking cannot be completely automated as it is intended to be used in endlessly changing communication situations. Therefore, automaticity is often linked with fluency in language learning.
Automaticity and fluency are sometimes used interchangeably but they are not the same. Automaticity comes with a great deal of practice and leads to accurate and fast speech using the formulas and patterns accepted in the language. Fluency as such is defined as the ability to speak or write a language easily, well, and quickly. In this respect, fluency can be regarded as a further level of language proficiency as opposed to automaticity. Fluency is mostly about the way of how well/smoothly the speech is processed and how connected it is.
Pedagogical implications of automaticity
Automaticity suggests that the more often an activity is done, the more automatic it becomes. So, when a process becomes more automatic, less attention is needed and attention can therefore be given to other processes or tasks.
Promoting automaticity in learning will allow students to process information quickly and accurately which will in turn help with fluency.
All automaticity proposals are based on the idea that extended practice under particular conditions and circumstances will increase fluency by developing automaticity. The challenge with using extensive drill and practice activities, however, is that they are usually boring for students and that reduces motivation and interest. The job of the language teacher is to incorporate activities that promote automaticity in a way that provides an opportunity for transfer to new situations, real-life communication and materials that relate to students’ interests.
Activities that can promote automaticity in the classroom
It takes time and consistent work to develop automaticity through a set of activities. Here are some tasks which will be of great help to develop automaticity and fluency.
Review activities involve going over what has been covered in previous lessons. When skills and concepts are reviewed, they become an integrated part of the learner’s developing skill set. Review activities also provide a means for the teacher to assess the learners’ grasp of the material and spot mistakes that can be corrected before moving on to the next topic.
Practice is an especially important part of learning a language. It takes a couple of times to repeat the new material or be exposed to it to be integrated into the student’s skill set. Teachers need to develop a repertoire of practice activities so that students can practice in different ways and not become bored or unmotivated when learning concepts.
A recycling activity is something that is done from unit to unit so that student memory can be activated. For example, at the beginning of a new unit, the teacher may give a refresher quiz from previous units but may use new contexts in order to see if students are able to transfer what they have learned to new situations.
All the mentioned activities are of great help while developing automaticity and fluency. The teacher’s role is to provide students with consistent and purposeful practice.