Although oral proficiency is a central goal of the language teaching, too little attention has been paid to the complex of factors that underlie the fluent of speech. This problem may encounter most second language teachers and learners. I have chosen to write about factors affecting the second language learners’ fluency (SLLF) in order to increase teachers’ awareness about these factors and to enable teachers to improve second language learners’ fluency. Though there are different perspectives of these factors: sociolinguistic, psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic.
This essay is going to focus on the sociolinguistic factors in particular due to space limitations. The major goal, which is also the main question, is to identify the social factors which affect second language learner’s fluency. This will involve also some sub- questions such as: What is fluency? Are there different types of fluency? Do social factors have the same influence on (SLLF) or not? Theoretical background To answer the research question and the sub-questions, I will rely on different writings related to the subject such as books, articles and electronic resources.
Proficiency and Fluency One of the problems which faced many researchers is to define fluency accurately. Leeson (1975:136) suggested that fluency is the faculty of the speaker to create limitlessly many sentences following sound system, form and meaning requirements of a given natural language. Fillmore (1979:92) defined fluency as the capability to converse extendedly with little discontinuation and to be able to occupy the time with talk. Hammerly (1991:41) differentiated between three related concepts: second language (SL) competence, proficiency and performance.
SL competence is defined as knowledge about, and ability to use, an SL in terms of three components, these are, linguistic, communicative, and cultural competence. SL proficiency stresses survival in communicative situations, with lesser focus on the language. SL performance is the linguistic, communicative and / or cultural behavior itself. It is based on knowledge, how to communicate in it, and how to behave in the second culture. Cummins (1983) differentiated two types of proficiency. Basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) are the abilities necessary for verbal fluency and sociolinguistic properness.
They progress normally due to contact with a language through communication. Cognitive/ academic language proficiency (CALP) is comprised of the linguistic awareness and literacy skills needed for academic work. On the other hand, Pawley and Syder (1983:191) regarded native- like fluency as ‘…the capability to produce fluent stretches of discourse’. Lennon (1990, 2000) pointed out that fluency has two aspects. The broad aspect, fluency appears to be universal oral proficiency i. e. a fluent speaker has an outstanding ability or skill to use the L2.
The narrow aspect, fluency may be one of many constituents of oral proficiency; it is the listener’s feeling that the speaker’s speech outcome is easily produced in an appropriate and efficient way. Lennon (2000:26) proposed that fluency is a quick, flexible, precise, comprehensible, and effective reflection of thought or communicative intention into language. Moreover, Hedge (2000:56) stated that ‘… fluency means responding coherently within the turns of the conversation , linking words and phrases, using comprehensible pronunciation and appropriate intonation, and doing all of this without excessive hesitation’ .
In other words, it is the capability to put segments of speech together with lucidity and ease without difficulty , inappropriate slowness , or immoderate pausing. In addition, Faerch, Haastrup, and Phillipson (1984:168) listed three types of fluency: semantic fluency is linking together propositions and speech acts, lexical-syntactic fluency is linking together syntactic components and words, and articulatory fluency is linking together speech segments.
Social factors affect (SLLF) Beebe(1988 :43) pointed out that Gumperz, Fischer, Labov, Hymes and Fishman have established a change of focus from language as a formal system to employ cultural and social knowledge needed for speakers to comprehend and use linguistic components. Their views encompassed not only knowledge but also ability to put knowledge into use. Certainly, psychological and social factors are important for (SLLF) and possibly genetic ones. However, social factors have a major impact on L2 proficiency directly i. e. age, gender, social class, and ethnic identity and indirectly i. . attitudes. Age factor has two aspects: the psycholinguistic and the sociolinguistic . Age has received considerable attention from sociolinguists. Krashen, Long, and Scarcella (1979) presented proof for three conclusions about the connection between age, rate, and final achievement in second language proficiency. They stated that adults outperform children in syntax and morphology. Older children outperform younger children, as well. However, acquirers who were exposed to L2 during childhood achieve higher L2 proficiency than adults.
Schumann (1975) cited findings which support the claim that adult and adolescent learners are concerned with identity, less open to new people and customs, more suspicious of novelty, and more threatened by situations in which they might appear preposterous. Krashen(1982) took all this to mean that adolescents and adults have an affective filter made up of suspiciousness and concern for identity ;this filter removes comprehensible input from older learners’ experiences and eventually causes them to fall behind the child , whose open and less ego-involved identity will eventually lead to a more native speaker- like performance.
Chambers and Trudgill (1980) documented variants of /? / in the speech of different generations of speakers in Norwich (England). Chambers and Trudgill sought to explain these variants by suggesting that younger speakers are subject to social pressures from their peer group, while middle- aged speakers have less social networks and are more influenced by mainstream societal values. In older, retired people, social pressures lessen and social networks again become narrow.
Preston (1989:55-64) suggested that because children are not under the influence of social pressure and have not constituted their final identity yet, they are ready to participate in external norms. He argued that the threat to identity in older learners occurs in L2 proficiency, which may account for why many adolescents are resistant to L2 learning in foreign language settings. However, Ellis (1994) claimed that Preston’s argument doesn’t explain why adolescent learners progress more rapidly than younger and middle- aged learners. Thus, the age factor should be investigated in detail with the social context.
A distinction is often made between sex and gender . The former constitutes a biological distinction, while the later is a social one. However, some literature used sex and gender interchangeably when investigating social dimension. Labov (1972, 1991) stated that it is sex differentiation which plays a general role in language change. Moreover, sociolinguistic research has identified two distinct and obviously contradictory principles relating to sex differentiation in native –speaker speech: men use more non-standard forms than women, in steady ociolinguistic stratification and women use more incoming forms than men, in the majority of linguistic changes. Ellis (1994:202) explained that by assuming women are more sensitive to new forms and more likely to integrate them into their speech, but, when they become aware of the change, they are inclined to reject them. On the other hand, men may be less sensitive to new forms but once they have started to use them are less likely to reject them, perhaps because they are less likely to notice them. These predictions based on sociolinguistic theory are borne out by several studies.
Female learners generally do better than male (see Trudgill(1972) and Wardhaugh(1992) ). However, it is necessary to consider sex differences in fluency in relation to both what learners know (where women are generally superior) and how they use this knowledge under varying performance conditions (where men may sometimes prove superior). Gender is likely interact with other variables such as age, ethnicity, and, in particular social class. An individual’s social class is typically determined by level of education, income, and occupation.
It is usual to classify four groups: lower class, working class, lower middle class, and upper middle class. Olshtain, Shohamy, Kemp, and Chatow (1990) investigated the levels of proficiency in L2 English reached by 196 grade 7 learners in Israel. Skehan (1990) reported moderate correlations between the family background of 23 secondary school in Bristol and both language learning aptitude and foreign language achievements in French and German, with middle- class children outperforming lower-class.
Their findings claim that children from higher groups exceed children from lower socio-economic groups educationally. Thus, most studies investigating social class and L2 learning suggest that middle-class children achieve higher levels of L2 proficiency than working- class children when a program emphasizes formal language learning. However, when a program emphasizes communicative language skills, the social class of the learners has no effect. Moreover, Ellis (1994: 207) stated that there is a general agreement that ethnic identity can employ profound impact on L2 achievement.
It is important at individual levels and interactional factors of group membership. The influence on L2 achievement can take three possible forms: corresponding to normative, socio-psychological, and socio-structural views of the relationship. Research based on normative view of the relationship between ethnic identity and L2 learning, and accordingly fluency, seeks to establish to what extent membership of a particular ethnic group affects L2 achievement.
A socio-psychological view of the relationship between ethnic identity and L2 proficiency emphasizes the role of attitudes. The attitudes that learners maintain towards the learning of a particular L2 reflect their views about their own ethnic identity and those about L2 culture. A socio-structural view of the relationship between attitudes and L2 proficiency is evident in work which has examined the effect that ethnic identity has on the interactions between members of different ethnic groups. Language attitudes play a major role in this model.
It is worth mentioning that Gardner (1972) saw attitudes as affecting learning outcomes via motivation, whereas Giles and Byrne (1982) saw them as influencing learning via the nature of the inter-ethnic communication that takes place. To conclude, this small research has attempted to identify carefully and critically the social factors affecting second language learners’ fluency. Fluency is still multifaceted term and there is not a clear-cut definition of it. Consequently, it should be investigated to be defined accurately .
The research tried to cover some of the literature related to the topic in order to pinpoint the social factors influencing SLLF. Although quite a lot is known about the general influence of the social factors on L2 fluency and proficiency , it is not possible to make accurate predictions. This is maybe due to the social factors interact with other variables such as psychological variables. As a result, the research question may be reexamined in the light of the aforementioned sentences, namely, what social -psychological conditions facilitate the second language learners’ fluency?