Prof. Michael McCarthy is Emeritus Professor of Applied Linguistics, University of Nottingham, UK, Adjunct Professor of Applied Linguistics, University of Limerick, Ireland and Visiting Professor in Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University, UK. He is author/co-author/editor of 50 books, including for Cambridge University Press: Touchstone, Viewpoint, the Cambridge Grammar of English, Exploring Spoken English, English Grammar Today, Grammar for Business, Exploring Grammar in Context, Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy, Spoken Language and Applied Linguistics, Issues in Applied Linguistics, From Corpus to Classroom and several titles in the English Vocabulary in Use series, as well as The Routledge Handbook of Corpus Linguistics and more than 90 academic papers. He has done a number of radio broadcasts on grammar, including the BBC Radio 4 Today programme and BBC regional and local radio, and articles by or about him have appeared in The Times, The Guardian and The Observer newspapers. He has appeared on television programmes in China, Turkey, Korea and Saudi Arabia discussing language and language learning. He is co‑director (with Ronald Carter) of the 5-million word CANCODE spoken English corpus project, and the one-million word CANBEC spoken business English corpus. His current research involves the creation and analysis of spoken learner corpora in connection with the English Profile project, with special reference to the development of spoken fluency. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He has lectured on language and language teaching in 42 countries and has been actively involved in language teaching and applied linguistics for 47 years.
Spoken fluency revisited
Most researchers agree that fluency involves smooth, automatic production. However, evidence from spoken corpora suggests that fluency in dialogue also involves attention to the linking of speaking turns to create mutual ‘flow’. We discuss research aimed at an understanding of dialogic fluency and how it can be taught and assessed.
Teaching and assessment systems typically consider fluency in speaking to be one of the factors that determine a learner’s competence and level, especially at higher levels. Furthermore, examination systems, alongside level descriptors in systems such as the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), frequently mention fluency in speaking and attempt to define it and set tasks to assess it. But what is fluency? Most researchers agree that it involves smooth, unhesitant production, and that being able to produce language automatically is a key element in being fluent. However, evidence from spoken corpora suggests that fluency also involves a repertoire of interactive items, and attention to linking what you say to what other speakers say in dialogue to create a kind of mutual ‘flow’. How do we achieve this sense of interactive flow, and what sorts of things do learners need to master to achieve smooth dialogue? This talk reports on corpus-informed research for the English Profile project aimed at a better understanding of what fluency is and how it can be taught and assessed. I draw evidence from native-speaker and learner corpora, and argue that the interactive dimension of fluency is the fifth skill, over and above what we normally consider to be ‘speaking skills’.
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