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Boost Your Speaking Fluency with "4-3-2"

A simple fluency activity

Fluency is the ability to “[make] the best use of what is already known” (Nation, 2014:11).

To become more fluent, you don’t need to learn more language. You need to practice using the English that you have already learned, no matter how limited it might be. I explained this in my previous article.

But how exactly can you do this? 

In this article, I’ll show you a simple fluency activity called “4-3-2” and explain how it can help you improve your speaking fluency.

It’s easy, it’s short and you can even do it every day on your own.

The original version of “4-3-2” should be done in a group of 4 people, so you would need to have 3 friends who would like to do it with you. 

If you don’t have 3 friends who are learning English, no worries, you can adapt “4-3-2” so you can do it by yourself. 

“4-3-2” explained

Image of a stopwatch
Photo by Veri Ivanova on Unsplash

“4-3-2” is a speaking activity that requires you to give the same talk to a different person with less time to do it each time.

There are four steps.

Step 1: Choose a topic you can talk about without too much difficulty and spend a few minutes preparing a talk on this topic without making notes.

Step 2: Set a time limit of 4 minutes, press start and give a 4-minute talk about the topic to one of your friends. Your friend must not speak, interact or ask questions. She will give her talk to you after you’ve finished giving yours.

Step 3: Once the time is up, stop talking, change partner, and give the same talk. But this time you have 3 minutes to give the same amount of information.

Step 4: After 3 minutes, stop, change partner again, set the timer to 2 minutes, and give the same talk to your third friend. After 2 minutes, stop talking.

End of the activity.

If you don’t have 3 friends  who are learning English, no problem. Keep reducing the time available (4 minutes, then 3, then 2) but talk to yourself

Is this really an activity that can help you improve your fluency?

Yes, it is. 

Linguists and researchers tested it many times and found that it works (Thai & Boers, 2016; De Jong & Perfetti, 2011; Ghasemi & Mozaheb, 2021).

I’ve used it many times with my learners too and it has never failed.

There are 4 reasons why it’s effective.

4 reasons why “4-3-2” is an effective fluency activity

After years and years of research into second language acquisition, Paul Nation, an internationally recognized scholar in the field of linguistics and teaching methodology –  a man much smarter than me – found that if you want to become more fluent, you need to do speaking activities that require you to:
 
  1. use language you’re familiar with.
  2. focus on giving the message, not practicing specific grammatical structures or vocabulary.
  3. speak at a faster than usual speed.
  4. produce a large amount of output.
(Nation, 2007)
 

“4/3/2” meets all these requirements.

1. You use language you’re largely familiar with because you choose a topic that’s not too difficult for you to talk about. 

The first time you give the talk you might need time to think about what words to use and how to structure your sentences, so your speech may not be fluent.

The second time you do it, however, you have a better idea about what to say and how. Giving the talk becomes easier so you’ll sound more confident — and fluent. 

The third time it gets even better.

2. You will focus your attention on the message. You’re not giving a talk to practice the past simple, the present continuous, or vocabulary around holidays and travel. 

Your attention is directed more toward meaning than form.

And if you do “4-3-2” in a group, you have a different audience every time you repeat your talk so you will want your friend to get the entire message as clearly as possible before the time is up.

3. You’ll speak at a faster than usual speed. Reducing the time will put you under pressure. You can’t waste time on thinking about grammar and words. You need to get to the end of the talk before the timer beeps!

4. You’ll produce a large amount of output. You’ll be speaking a lot: 4+3+2=9 minutes. 

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Final thoughts on “4-3-2”

“4/3/2” is a fluency activity you can do every day to improve. Ideally, you would do it in a group to get the most out of it, but you don’t have to. 

It can become one of the self-study practice activities that you do to improve your English.

You can do it in under 15 minutes sitting on your couch and you just need a timer or a stopwatch to make it work. 

For a more detailed and academic explanation of “4-3-2”, see this.

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I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to ask me all the questions you want about “4-3-2”. 

I’ll be happy to help you.

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References

  • De Jong, N., & Perfetti, C. A. (2011). Fluency training in the ESL classroom: An experimental study of fluency development and proceduralization. Language Learning, 61(2), 533–568.

  • Ghasemi, A. A., & Mozaheb, M. A. (2021). Developing EFL Learners’ Speaking Fluency: Use of Practical Techniques. MEXTESOL Journal, 45(2), pp. 1-13.

  • Nation, P. (2007). The Four Strands. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 1(1), pp. 2-13.

  • Nation, P. (2014). Developing fluency. In T. Muller, J. Adamson, P. Brown, & S. Herder, Exploring EFL Fluency in Asia (pp. 11-25). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Thai, C., & Boers, F. (2016). Repeating a monologue under increasing time pressure: Effects on fluency, complexity, and accuracy. Tesol Quarterly, 50(2), pp. 369-393.

Fabio Cerpelloni is an English language teacher, writer, author, and podcaster from Italy. You can find out more about him and his work by clicking on his glass of beer in the photo.