How to Reach Fluency Using Formulaic Language? The Case of AFL Learners at the Elementary Level

By Hala Yehia Abd El-Wahab
Submitted to Session P3600 (Arabic Language Acquisition, 2013 Annual Meeting
With the increased interest towards employing the communicative approach in teaching foreign languages, fluency is given more attention from researchers and foreign language teachers. According to Simensen (2010), fluency was viewed as a function of temporal variables of speech, namely, the rate of speaking and the number of words or syllables uttered between hesitations. Moreover, Wood (2009) also observed that formulaic sequences, multi-word phenomena such as collocations, idioms, phrasal verbs etc. proved to play a role in the production of fluent speech.
While investigating the different teaching approaches aiming at developing fluency and spontaneity in foreign language teaching, the researcher adopted the approach which focuses on classroom practice and recommends teaching students how to use ‘small-words', set phrases and longer segments of language in the same manners of native speakers. Simensen (2010) favored this approach and further explained that the justification is obvious: to develop in a user of a foreign or a second language a proficiency which allows him/her to gain time to organize his/her thoughts, find appropriate linguistic expressions, etc. without interrupting the flow of language.
To gain fluency for AFL learners at their elementary level, the present pilot study was carried out in a modern standard Arabic class which consisted of twelve AFL learners. The researcher applied the first six principles, originated from the seven principles proposed by Kellem (2009: 9 -11), namely, 1) incorporating repetition, 2)increasing the speaking time, 3) preparing before speaking, 4) using familiar and motivating topics, 5) ensuring appropriate level, 6) imposing time limits, and 7) teaching formulaic language, i.e., adding collocations, idioms, and so on".
Each student was asked to talk about him/herself for about 4-5 minutes using vocabulary and grammatical structures covered. Students' presentations were digitally recorded. The same procedure was applied on another twelve students in another elementary AFL class, while employing Kellem's seventh principle (the use of Formulaic Language) as the main variable in the teaching process of the two AFL classes. Analysis of the results of both groups showed that the second group produced more fluent speech. This might be attributed to the use of Formulaic Language as it is easier for students to retrieve longer segments of language than to search for individual words and formation of grammatical structures. Findings of this study would raise the awareness of AFL teachers and curriculum designers of the importance of Formulaic language and its impact on different language skills.