What is the difference between accuracy and fluency?

Accuracy is the ability to use language correctly, without making mistakes with grammar or vocabulary. Fluency focuses more on communicating effectively and allows for mistakes as long as communication has been successful.

The accuracy versus fluency debate is one which all language learners will have had at some point, and one on which your view will change as your language skills develop. Personally, I strive for fluency as I believe that the odd mistake doesn’t matter as long as I’m understood, however I’ve met language learners who have been extremely focused on achieving accuracy before even considering fluency.

Your preference for accuracy or fluency largely depends on your learning environment. If you’re learning a language in school or university it is likely that accuracy will be of the upmost importance, as you will need it to pass exams or to move up to the next level. In educational environments, there is a focus on both written and spoken language skills, not to mention listening and reading, meaning that there is nowhere to hide when it comes to making mistakes!

If however you are learning a language in a more natural setting, such as living in the native country, then fluency will most likely be higher up in your agenda. In such a situation, spoken language skills will be the ones you use most and successful communication will be your main aim. What’s the use in kicking yourself because you can’t find the right verb formation when you can use the few words you know and be understood?

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Does accuracy lead to fluency or fluency lead to accuracy?

Some would argue that if you focus on accuracy early on, then you will build enough confidence to speak both fluently and accurately, therefore leading to stronger language skills. On the other hand, how can you improve if not by learning from your mistakes? If you can get past the initial embarrassment of making mistakes, you’ll find that you are more capable of chatting away in another language than you thought you were. Mistakes will be made, but your friends will pick up on these mistakes and teach you the correct way of speaking.