How to help students speak more fluently?

this question comes from my experience with one of my Italian learners. He is a bit like me: he likes to find the appropriate words and spend quite a lot of time looking for them. His Italian is quite correct, but the problem is that he speaks too slowly. What could I do to help him get more fluent?

If I think I know the word for a concept or whatever I am trying to say, I will spend a little bit of time looking for it. However, I rarely have all the words that I would need to express myself the way I do in English, so I just open my mouth and try to let the conversation flow and, if need be, describe the word instead. Sometimes, I just use a modified version of the English word. I find people do this all the time in Finnish (particularly youngish natives).

It’s surprising how many students really don’t know what fluent should feel like.

The process of creating a complex sentence with all the right words can indeed take time and reflection. However, it can’t be left at that. The next step is to make that sentence flow. If that step doesn’t happen, he’ll never know what it feels like to express that sentence with fluency and he’ll just move on to the next laboured sentence. Fluency is basically the speed at which the brain can plan ahead, as you speak. It’s something you need to train for.

After your student has created a sentence that took a lot of effort, make him repeat it a few times until it flows better. While this is obviously not something you want to do all the time in a lesson, you can show him what he needs to do when he’s on his own. Perhaps he could also learn a few sentences, or even a paragraph or 2 by heart, and recite them as naturally as possible, without pauses, just to allow him to see what it feel like to utter entire sentences without breaks.

I’m personally a big proponent of self-talk. When he’s on his own, he should try to prepare for what he’s going to tell you orally. He can take all the time he needs to create the sentences – orally only if possible – and he can look up all the words he needs without any pressure, but the next step is to go back on that sentence and contentrate on uttering it as if he said it naturally in the real world, repeating it many times if needed – again, there is no pressure if he does this when he’s on his own.

Peter, my student usually knows all the words he needs, it’s just a matter of organizing them faster into a sentence.

Alexandre, merci beaucoup pour tous ces conseils!

Do you mean that he speaks too slowly because he pauses to think of the words he wants to use, or because his general rate of speech is too slow?

Maybe both, but I tend to suppose that he makes pauses to find the right word in the right form.

I totally agree with what alexandrec said. That’s always been one of the key parts of my own way of learning languages.

I like this game for practicing fluency:

use a deck of cards. They randomly choose a few cards and they have to answer the question, speaking fluently without pausing or thinking too much about what theya re saying or mistakes they are making.

I award 5 points if they talk for 1 minute or more,
4 points for between 45 & 60 seconds
3 points for between 30 & 45 seconds
2 points for between 15 & 30 seconds
1 point for less than 15 seconds
0 points for no answer

the points make it more fun like a game and i think makes it more likely that the students will try to talk for the entire time instead of just giving up, because most students’competitive side kicks in when games are involved in learning. They feel less self-conscious and see it more as a fun activity. It’s good to play in a group but you could also play in a private lesson.


It sounds interesting. I’ll play the game at work with my workmates.


In my opinion it’s one of the most effective method of practicing speaking I’ve ever encountered. I’ve also played this game, although I created my own “deck” - I just cut out small pieces of paper and wrote on them key words such as “family”, “politics”, “football”, “school”, “chocolate”, “UFO” and plethora of others. The rule is that you should talk about any associations you may have with the given key word and you shouldn’t stop for longer than a few seconds. I remember my friend speaking about chocolate in German for 3 or 4 minutes and believe me, it was a great fun! :slight_smile: All associations, reflections, memories, anecdotes (even made up!) are welcome.

For self-study, I believe it’s a good way to practice fluency if you know you can already say something in the target language, because then you can talk at length about all kinds of associations you may have. It’s worth to give it a try. If you are a teacher and you want to improve your students’ fluency, be sure not to interrupt them during their impromptu talk. The aim of this exercise is to promote fluency of speaking, you can deal with any errors later on.

Alexandrec’s method also sounds interesting and I believe it may work for others, but for me repeating sentences didn’t bring much results, I’m afraid, apart from being able to reproduce the given sentence only :wink: But maybe I just did it wrong.

@JannaM, thank you for letting me know this game.

I will try the same thing when learning other languages.

Thanks Janna, that’s great. I will definitely try it out. I can really see how this kind of practice would help.

Yes, I think one of the most useful things we can do in class is give students a safe environment to practice speaking in, and also provide them with activities and exercises that will help them to do so. Fluency games like the one Janna described are simple and fun, and can really help students.

I suspect that Steve will say that he would not enjoy that sort of game :slight_smile: but a lot of people do enjoy activities like that - provided that they feel relaxed and comfortable.

I’m not so much thinking of a classroom, but even just doing this on my own or with a partner. I think this would be more useful than repeating phrases, and that it would be great for intermediate learners. A good way to get one to ‘talk’ about a variety of topics.

Yes, you can do it on your own. You could even record yourself and keep it for reference. It’s probably better with a partner as you can ask the person if they could understand what you were saying, and they can encourage you to not give up too early.