The 11 Fluency Activators

June 13, 2018 - By 

What’s the best way to learn a foreign language?  At some point as a language learner that question is going to come up. And then the search begins for the best method.

Anyone with the slightest bit of experience learning languages knows It’s easy to find a company or person promising a secret method to take you to fluency.

We all have different personalities, learning styles, available time, preferences and resources. To think that a method exists to make everyone’s language learning dreams come true is laughable.

That’s why here here at Zero To Fluency we don’t have a method.  Instead what we have are core principles that when internalised allow you to create an approach to language learning that’s best for you.

We call these principles The 11 Fluency Activators.

There’s a lot to be said about each fluency activator, so this article is merely an introduction.

We’ll go deeper into each one in upcoming articles here at Zero To Fluency.

Let’s jump right in!

Fluency Activator 1: Motivation

You’d better have strong reasons for learning your chosen language because it’s what’s going to keep you going when things get difficult. No motivation means no motion. No progress. So before thinking about how you’re going to approach learning that language you should stop to think about why.

Weak reasons for learning a foreign language might be:

  • I like the sound of the language
  • It would be “cool” to speak that language
  • Learning that language would make me look smart.

These reasons aren’t strong enough to keep you going when things get tough.

Here are some strong reasons:

  • It’s essential for me to speak this language for travel
  • I love the culture the language belongs to and learning it will allow me absorb more of the culture.
  • My partner’s family speaks the language and If I want to communicate with them I have to learn it.

It’s easy to see how these motivations will encourage you to keep going when things become difficult. So remember: before thinking about how to learn a language, think about why you want to learn in the first place.

Fluency Activator 2: Appropriate learning resources

When learners fail at language learning they tend to blame themselves rather than the approach they’ve  taken of the material they’ve used.

You’ll want to make sure the material you’re using is appropriate for your language level and the goals you’re trying to achieve. An appropriate learning resource is also engaging, clear, something you actually want to use and covers grammar and vocabulary that’s not too advanced for you.

Finding this kind of material can be challenging because most language learning resources focus on grammar, which is important but for most people boring. On the flip side, if you jump into native material that’s too advanced, you’ll feel frustrated, learn very little and most probably give up. The last thing you want to do is give up, so It’s important to carefully select the material you use for learning.

Fluency Activator 3: Regular contact

Speaking a language fluently is a skill,  and like all skills, it’s one that improves with practice and atrophies without.

Schools assign one or two hours of foreign language practice per week, so most people grow up with the expectation that that is what it takes to learn a language fluently.

The reality is that reaching fluency and developing automatic comprehension requires regular contact with a language. Ideally every single day. Even if it’s only for 30 minutes.

Fluency Activator 4: Effective goal setting

This is nothing new. You’ve heard it a million times before and there’s a reason for it: goal setting, when done correctly, will unlock all of the untapped potential you have trapped inside of you.

What’s your goal?

If you’re bad at goal setting you might say something like:

  • “Speak English fluently”
  • “Improve my accent”
  • “Write better emails”

These are terrible goals because they aren’t specific, measurable, realistic or time focused.  In other words, they aren’t S.M.A.R.T goals.  

Here’s goal setting done correctly:

  • “Have a 15 minute conversation in English next week about my holiday last year, without using my native language”
  • Read a new book every 2 months in Spanish.
  • Publish a new post on my blog in Portuguese every 2 weeks.

Now we’re talking. We can measure the success and/or failure for each of these goals. As a result they’re actually helpful for improving our language skills.

Make sure you’re always setting effective goals. When you spot that you aren’t….start!

Fluency Activator 5: Consistently leave your comfort zone

It’s common for learners to report hitting a plateau in their learning when they become intermediate or advanced. This problem is almost always because the learner is not leaving their comfort zone.

When you get started with a language everything is new so you constantly cover new ground and push yourself out of your comfort zone. As you go deeper into your learning however, it becomes easy to select articles that are simple to read and stick to conversations that are familiar.  

You need to constantly challenge yourself with material that’s slightly above your level. You should make a point of practicing grammatical structures you haven’t mastered and use new vocabulary you’ve been recently exposed to. Talk about topics you’ve never spoken about.

If you don’t do these things, you won’t improve. It really is as simple as that.

Fluency Activator 6: Variety and quantity of listening

Before a bunch of words and sentences come out of your mouth fluently, you first need to have them in your head. That’s why you have to listen a lot to the language you’re learning.

Listen to people speaking with a variety of accents on different topics. If you do this enough your mind will absorb the melody of the language, your accent will improve and you’ll notice a big boost in your speaking skills.

Children spend years listening to a language before they say a word. As adults, we don’t have this luxury of time, so we can’t and shouldn’t spend years listening before we start to speak. What we should do however is listen to a wide variety of content in the language and do this a lot.

The level of English is extremely high in countries where English movies and TV series are watched in their original version. Citizens of these countries spend years listening to real English. What’ the result?  Spectacular English. You too can get the same result in language learning by going through the same process.

Fluency Activator 7: Variety and quantity of reading

Spoken and written language are not the same. You may not have noticed, but most spoken interactions cover a limited range of topics and vocabulary. For example, your daily routine, the weather, hobbies, family and work.

If you want to deepen your knowledge of a language you’ll have to get exposure to a range of topics that go beyond small talk. While this is possible through spoken communication it’s easier to get this exposure through reading. This is the same in your native language as well as a foreign language.

Writers must think, organise their thoughts and select vocabulary that best captures the essence of their ideas. If you spend a lot of time consuming distilled thoughts, your ability to communicate will dramatically improve as your mind absorbs the structure and vocabulary of what you read.

Fluency Activator 8: Variety and quantity of speaking

If you want to improve your speaking skills you have to speak a lot. That’s obvious, right?  

Why then do most learners get little to no speaking practice?  

There are lots of reasons ranging from a lack of opportunities and time, not feeling confident or ready to speak, and so on. But none of those reasons change the fact that It’s important to speak regularly, on a wide variety of topics,  to improve your speaking skills. This point can’t be stressed enough.

We must also highlight that speaking is not enough for activating fluency.

There are 10 other fluency activators in this list and you may have noticed that speaking is fluency activator number 8. That’s because input is necessary before output.  If something is not in your mind, there’s no way for it to come out of your mouth.

Fluency Activator 9: Variety and quantity of writing

Learners don’t usually invest time in their writing skills, because it’s often considered less important. After all, the main reason most learn a foreign language is to speak it with people, not write it.  

Nevertheless writing has a special role. Even for those who want to focus primarily on speaking.  It’s a great way to practice form and correctness because you have more time to think, so your mistakes are easier to spot and correct –  especially when you become advanced.

Spoken language is harder to correct because it happens in real time. When speaking we often just want to get our ideas across, so interrupting is usually inappropriate. Writing has none of these problems

You can quickly become conscious of your errors and weaknesses through writing. Any improvements you make in writing will eventually carry over to you speaking skills too.

Fluency Activator 10: Feedback

No matter how talented or hard working you are you’ll need to get feedback to refine your languages skills. Not only do some things go unnoticed if they aren’t pointed out, but receiving feedback speeds learning.

Seek to get feedback on your use of vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. This can be from either a teacher, friend or stranger. Bear in mind though that feedback comes in many shapes and sizes. Some of it can be incredibly helpful and some of it unfortunately not.

Pay close attention to who’s providing the feedback and take it all in with a grain of salt. It’s not uncommon for natives to disagree on correct and incorrect grammar. What’s considered a mistake to one person may not be to another. However one thing is certain: without feedback your learning will be slowed down and some mistakes will go unnoticed.

Fluency Activator 11: Regular review cycles

Repetition is the master of learning. Why then do so few students review what what they’ve learned?  Whether it’s an article, audio file, grammar point or feedback received, you should make some effort to review it.

Repetition occurs naturally as we interact with a language so we don’t need to obsess over this. We do have to acknowledge however that most of us have commitments and responsibilities that make it difficult to get adequate repetition through natural exposure. So it’s important to create opportunities to review what we’ve learned so our learning is efficient.

The best way to review material will differ based on the content and your preferences. Reviewing can be as simple as reading over your notes, or it could involve some sort of electronic repetition system. What matters most is that you do it.

In closing

And there we have it, The 11 Fluency Activators: core principles and essential elements for effective foreign language learning. We’ve only scratched the surface today. We’ll be going deeper into each fluency activator here on on Zero To Fluency, so make sure you sign up to get notified of our new updates.

  • Milder Mendoza June 19, 2018 at 09:41

    It is amazing how in a few words you cover up everything that I learnt in years, totally agree with you, it is so useful, keep up what you are doing, God bless you, from Nicaragua CA.

    • I’m glad to hear you found the article useful Milder! Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment 🙂

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    I'm David Mansaray -
    a language learner and teacher here to help you learn a foreign language from zero to fluency, without travel.

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