If I asked you which is more important when you get your hair cut—the hair stylist or the pair of scissors, what would you say?


My guess is that you would say both.


So that’s what I say when someone asks me about fluency (the ability to speak and write easily in English) and accuracy (speaking and writing with correct grammar, knowing when to use the simple past and when to use the simple present, etc). They are both necessary in mastering English.


So if you ask me what comes first fluency or accuracy? i would say it depends on which level you are of your english. if I had to choose one or the other for beginning or intermediate students, I would say working on fluency is more important. Now, this is just my opinion; other teachers may think differently.


I believe when you’re first starting to speak in English—or any foreign language for that matter—it’s important to just get talking. You have to be brave enough to spit out the words, learn to pronounce them and start putting them together in sentences. When you start creating sentences, you will learn to become more accurate naturally.


Think about it: How can you correct a student (accuracy) if the student can’t speak (fluency)?  I’d much rather listen to a student test out new vocabulary and expressions even if the grammar is wrong. This is far better than if the student takes an hour to get out one grammatically correct sentence. At the beginning of learning English, it’s the number of words that you use to express yourself that gives you a sense of achievement and pride. Of course, as you want to sound more like a native speaker, you will need to become more accurate.


A long time ago when I learned French in high school back in the U.S., the language teachers believed that the most important thing was grammar. So I learned French grammar very well—even to this day I am proficient. But I can hardly speak a sentence of French because no one cared about my fluency—only my accuracy.


So get those “language scissors” out and start cutting and experimenting. The styling will come later.


And remember the following:


  • It’s usually easier to become more accurate in a language. Fluency is harder to master, so that’s what you should focus on at first.
  • Do you understand more English than you can speak?  Don’t apologize for that; it’s normal! It’s just like a child learns a language by getting a whole bunch of words in his head and then only after that, starts to use them. In fact, it’s the way you learned your first language.
  • Tip to increase your fluency: Practice using new vocabulary right away in sentences.
  • Tip to increase your accuracy: During a conversation in English, ask a native speaker or an advanced ESL student to correct a grammar mistake in one sentence. But only one. If you expect them to constantly correct you, they won’t want to speak to you very often. And here’s something interesting: When you’re corrected outside the lesson or classroom, you’ll remember the correction better.


Hero Image (In Conversation) by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (CC BY-SA 2.0)