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Promoting fluency and accuracy through planning, telling, transcribing and noticing by Scott Shelton

The importance of planning

Howarth (2001) like Kay (2001), advocates time for planning before speaking although he warns that students may put up resistance, feeling that it is unnatural and something that native speakers would not do. Bygate (1994) argues that:

When teachers encourage speakers to anticipate what sort of language they will use in a given situation, this is very similar to what second-language users will do in real life.

However, I agree with Howarth (2001) when he cites many instances when we do indeed plan before we speak. Not only second-language users do this in real life, but also native speakers of any language do it as well when they want to take extra care with what they say. Among these instances are, extended monologues (making a presentation, a speech, giving instructions and story telling, and so on). Other examples of this are potentially important or potentially unusual situations such as job interviews, making a complaint, proposing (marriage), telling a lie, and others. The resistance put up by students to the idea of planning time could easily be quelled by pointing this out.

Howarth (2001) also makes the case that preparing to speak naturally encourages interlanguage development. Based on the research of Skehan (1994) he suggests that by not allowing planning time for initial lexicalization and jumping instead into the performance, or syntacticisation stage, the learners chances of successfully completing the analytical, relexicalization stage are reduced. This may be an important factor in why many such learners struggle to achieve fluency, the reason being that they are trying to operate a syntactic constructional system, which is not operating at real-time speed.

In other words, by setting the stage through encouraging students to plan what and how they are going to say something will provide them with the template they will later use in analyzing and noticing the language used, providing them with a personalized, meaningful place to start improving from.

Similarly is the case of those who learn without instruction who become highly fluent but due to lack of focus on grammatical form, never syntacticize, or achieve a high level of accuracy. These may be the fluent-but-fossilized students that were mentioned before. Through use of communicative strategies and a bank of lexicalized chunks at their disposal they are able to communicate their message effectively. However, because of their lack of attention to form, or the perceived need for better form, these learners do not achieve the sophistication or complexity of the native speaker they want to emulate.

Planning time, Howarth (2001) explains, can provide opportunities to experiment with developmental language and aid real-time processing in the long run. Planning time can help reduce the amount of planning necessary while speaking and in that way increase spoken fluency. Accuracy can also be increased by a small amount of planning time but it is suggested that more time will lead to more errors. But as the learner is experimenting with interlanguage, in this way the extra time may encourage use of more complex language, suggesting that the errors may be positive signs of development.

Planning before speaking would then seem to be both valuable in terms of promoting fluency, accuracy and as a result, introducing additional complexity to the language system of the learner. It is clear then, that providing students with not only time to plan, but something to plan for, is an important part of the process of language and language learning that teachers need to be aware of and provide opportunities for through the use of appropriate tasks in the classroom.

Focusing on form

Planning time may be a useful tool providing the learner with what he or she needs in order to gradually make the shift from simplistic, hesitant speech to a more fluent flow of discourse. However, as Batstone points out (1994:229) a lack of a focus on product could lead to a procedualization or relexicalization of grammatically impoverished language. This focus can take different forms, such as nonverbal teacher correction on the spot (hot cards) or a general overview of important errors the teacher has noticed after the initial task. It might also be done by the students themselves, recording themselves and listening afterwards for areas to improve upon. An important point, because without some kind of feedback on form, fossilization is likely to occur as the learner is not aware of his or her mistakes and the errors get repeated and internalized.

Repeating the task

As in Kay's (2001) model previously mentioned, Howarth's (2001) model also calls for task repetition. In this second model, however, task repetition is called for after an initial analysis is done with a focus on form. Monologues are mentioned as good tasks for repeating as they hold up better to being told again due to their intrinsic interest and are often improved the more times they are told. They are well suited to planning and repeated tellings, and by extension, language development opportunities, and using them can be done easily and effectively in the language classroom.

Cook (1993:138) is quoted as suggesting that:

Repetition of language learnt by heart may actually fuel language acquisition since such language is providing the mind with something to work on.

In Bygate (1996), task repetition is shown to increase the variety, complexity and fluency of students' language.

Task-repetition may also lead to changes in learners' use of the language system, to increased fluency, and perhaps to increased awareness.


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