Fluency in Languages

Welsh Language

Dwi’n dysgu Cymraeg ac eisiau medru  siarad yn rhugl un diwrnod / I am learning welsh and want to be able to speak fluently one day.

As I have lived in Wales for a number of years, I continue to try to become fluent in the language. I have taken several examinations, and attend a weekly class (when I have the time). In addition, Bangor University (my employers) provide me with one-to-one sessions with a Welsh language tutor (Jenny Pye) to engage in conversational sessions.

Both my wife  and son are Welsh speakers and I am learning not only for them but also to show respect for the customs and language of the Welsh people (my adopted country).

Fluency is essentially the type of performance we associate with true mastery of any area, it is the accuracy and speed of performance we commonly associate with sports, but which is as appropriate (if not vital) for any learner to possess in academic areas. I will discuss fluency in more detail in future posts but if you are interested in reading about this area before then, this is a fantastic first paper to read Binder, C. (1993). Behavioral fluency: A new paradigm.  Additionally there is a link on the right hand side of the page to Carl’s entire site at fluency.org


One of the tools that are used in Precision Teaching are SAFMEDS (Say All Fast Minute Everyday Shuffled) cards. Just to be clear, this does not mean that all of PT revolves around SAFMEDS; they are just one of the available tools. SAFMEDS can be effective used to become fluent in vocabulary and verb patterns. On one side of a card you have (for example) the English word, on the other the Welsh. You would begin a timing by shuffling the cards (and setting the timer), then you would work through the cards silently reading the English (stimulus) and then saying out loud the Welsh word. As you go through the pack you put all of the cards you say the correct response to in one pile, and all the cards you get incorrect (learning opportunities (LO) or not yets) in a separate pile. NB: This same procedure can easily be applied to other academic skill areas (for example, maths with problems on the front (2 X __ = 26) and the answers on the back (13).

When the timer goes off, you then simply

  1. count the number of corrects and LO cards and plot them on a Standard Celeration Chart (SCC);
  2. taking into account the length of the timing so as to  convert the count of both corrects and LO back to a count per minute scores.

The data over a period of a few days will give a distinct picture of the learner’s progress–and these learning pictures each have suggestions as to what intervention might help the learner progress more effectively towards the set goal (everything we do has an appropriate rate that we should be able to perform at–for example, we should be able to See-write numbers (random) at 150-100 digits per minute. For more AIMS see the attached file from Rick Kubina, 2002). The secret being that you then mark where the intervention began (on the SCC), and continue  to observe the intervention’s effectiveness by watching the data. If the data shows a pattern of improvement–continue; if the data do not show improvement, make another change

So essentially, Precision Teaching (which is poorly named) is a way of measuring academic performance which then allows timely decisions to be made for each learner, about what interventions will help a learner to progress toward a pre-defined AIM and whether they are on course toward that aim. Owen White described this process so well, so I quote him here:

“Essentially, in order to be responsive to the pupil’s needs the teacher must be a student of the pupil’s behavior, carefully analyzing how that behavior changes from day to day and adjusting the instructional plan as necessary to facilitate continued learning. Precision Teaching offers a set of procedures designed to assist in that process (White, 1986, p. 1).”

Mental Case application

In addition to PT methods, I have been using an app for Macintosh, iPad, and iPhone called Mental Case. A good friend of mine was kind enough to tape almost 2,000 pronunciations of Welsh words. Whilst the Mental Case app does not allow my performance to be timed, it does allow me to be given cards more often for which I give the wrong response, and (more importantly) allows me to hear and model the pronunciation for all of the Welsh vocabulary.


Links to the Binder article and the online information to John Eshelman’s SAFMEDS instruction are hyperlinked within this post.

White, O. R. (1986). Precision teaching-precision learning. Exceptional Children, Special Issue, 52(6), 522-534. Retrieved from https://education.uw.edu/sites/default/files/areas/edspe/white/docs/White_PT_PL%28small%29.pdf