So, you’ve been searching online and everywhere about how to become fluent in Italian. And, surely, you’ve seen plenty of tips out there. Tips of the “do this / do that” kind of style. And you convince yourself that you have to do more and more to become fluent in Italian. That fluency is your finish line and that, once you get there, you can finally say that you can speak Italian. But what’s fluency, actually? Have you ever thought about it? In this article, we’re going to see what fluency really is and what you can do to become fluent in Italian. Ready?
Fluency means using what you know in the best possible way. Now, before you jump to the wrong conclusions, let me clarify. Fluency is not just related to speaking, but it’s related to listening, reading, and writing too. Along your learning journey, you will learn new things, and it’s important that you become fluent in them. In other words, you need to make them become automatic before you jump to the next ones.
So, this is the definition of fluency that we’re going to talk about here. Please, don’t confuse it with speech fluency, which is the one that seems so popular out there on the internet. Let me clarify.
We can define speech fluency in two ways:
- the ability to be fast, accurate, and say complex sentences (broad definition)
- the ability to speak fast, pause just when needed, and make effort to repair hesitations (narrow definition)
In this article, we’re going to look at fluency as the ability to “go fast” and we’re going to see how to do it straight away even when you think that you don’t know much. Remember that it’s important to make what you learn become automatic.
There’s more. Fluency is not an end goal, as you can imagine by now. It’s only one part of your Italian course.
When you’re learning Italian, whether you do it on your own, with a private teacher, or at a school, your course has to include four important parts:
- focus on form
Many people make the mistake of thinking that fluency is the final part of their language course. But it’s actually one-quarter of the whole course. You will need to do fluency activities all along your course and not just at the end.
So, in a nutshell…
- Fluency helps you make better use of what you know
- Fluency should form one-quarter of your whole Italian course
- You can work on your fluency right from the very beginning of your learning journey
- You can work on fluency activities at any moment of your Italian course, not just at the end
What fluency is not
Now that you know what fluency is, let’s see what fluency is not. Even though I’m sure you have it figured out after what I told you.
Fluency is not an end goal. And, if you think that you have to reach it in order to be a successful Italian learner…. well, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Because you will only be chasing something that you can actually do and have right now. And because, no matter what you do, it will never be enough for you. So, instead of thinking of fluency as the final step, think of it as a tool to strengthen what you know and move forward.
Fluency is also not just related to speaking. You can become fluent in listening, writing, reading, and speaking of course. Just because speaking is the most popular skill, it doesn’t mean that you can become fluent only in that one. The other skills are important too and they’re what makes your learning more complete and your confidence stronger.
How to become fluent in Italian
Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: how do you become fluent in Italian? What should you do?
First of all, remember that any fluency activity (for all the four skills) needs to:
- put a little bit of pressure on you. You need to go faster than you would normally do.
- have materials that are easy for you
- be focused on the message
- involve a lot of practice
No matter which skill you’re working on: these are the four features of a good fluency task.
Here, we’re going to see a simple and practical exercise to work on your speaking fluency.
An Italian speaking fluency task
This exercise is called 4/3/2 and here is how it works:
- choose a topic that comes easy to you. A topic that you can already talk about, where you already know the words.
- talk about this topic for 4 minutes
- repeat your talk one more time, but this time try to fit your speech into 3 minutes
- speak again about the same topic and try to fit everything into just 2 minutes
Research has shown that with this exercise, not only do you become more fluent, but you also improve your grammar. Because having less and less time to speak helps you become more fluent (a.k.a. faster). And having to repeat the same idea helps you become more accurate and build more complex sentences.
To sum up…
Fluency means making the most of what you already know and you can work on it right from the very beginning.
Even though many people out there claim that fluency is an end goal, it’s actually not. Fluency should make up one-quarter of your Italian course and there should be room for it from the beginning to the end of your course.
When it comes to fluency, everybody immediately thinks about the idea of speaking fluently. But, to be exact, fluency applies to reading, listening, and writing too. Speaking just happens to be the most popular skill, but there is so much more than that.
If you want to become fluent, in any skill, you need to have a little bit of time pressure on you, use easy material, focus on the message, and repeat the same task a few times. These are the qualities of a good fluency task.
The 4/3/2 technique is a great technique to boost your fluency and have you speak more accurately.
Now, I would really like to know…. are you going to try this technique? I’m curious to know how it goes.
Coombe Christine, Mohebbi Hassan, Research Questions in Language Education and Applied Linguistics: A Reference Guide, Springer Texts in Education, 2021
Nation Paul, What Should Every EFL Teacher Know?, Compass Publishing, 2013
Nation Paul, What do you need to know to learn a foreign language? School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand, 2014
Nation Paul, Newton Jonathan, Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking, Routledge, 2009