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Friday, May 14, 2010

Unspoken sacrifices in proficiency and fluency battles

Language fluency is defined as a high level of language proficiency. Proficiency and fluency are related but composed of distinct skills, such as reading, writing, comprehension, and speaking. Well, we are in the middle of reading for a first grader.  I remember my mother teaching me how to read. It was difficult and frustrating at time. And it is frustrating for our son. Everybody praises the benefit of bilingualism but few talks about the suffering before the blooming.  It is not easy when reading fluency becomes the Holy Grail. It requires a lot of patience, and encouragement. Personally I do not like the timer. Instead of telling children that reading is like a beautiful cross running trail. We condition them to sprint to the finish line. They will eventually enjoy the scenery but they have to sprint first. I know that fluency does not meaning proficiency. How fluid is fluid enough, fluent or proficient enough?

This reading journey awaked a lot of my memories. So I called my mother. I was wondering how difficult it was for her to teach us French. To my surprise, she confessed restraining herself to speak Kirundi at home. She knew that we were overwhelmed and frustrated. And it sadly helped us. Speaking less Kirundi was a difficult choice for her. After the first three years in France my mother reinforced Kirundi at home. Our parents exposed us to our community and many cultural events. However the lack of fluency made communication exhausting intellectually and emotionally. I know that my mother did it for us. Back then I did not understand why she would talk to any random compatriot but us. Kirundi became a background melody that I had to tune out in order to reach proficiency and reading fluency in French. And when I was trying to tune in, I was lost, confused, and frustrated again. It was a constant battle that affected my self esteem, and my identity. I realized the unspoken sacrifices made by our parents to ensure our success. It is like letting go a piece of your soul. That’s why I am holding on to teaching him French. I want him to know me. So he will never have to tune out.  English reading proficiency will take time  because he was rocked to sleep with Kirundi, Wolof and French lullabies.


  1. Right on re: fluency. Of course, the most popular reading fluency program is Read Naturally. Although there is much that is “right” about Read Naturally for some students, there is much that is also “wrong” about this fluency intervention program and how it has been applied in our schools. Check out Read Naturally to learn 1. a brief overview of the program for the uninitiated 2. the controversies regarding the program’s research base and 3. the pros and cons of the program from the perspective of an MA reading specialist who has personally used Read Naturally with students and also supervised Read Naturally intervention programs at several elementary schools.

  2. Hello Mark! Thank you for your comment. I really appreciate. Reading Naturally is a good approach but it is very expensive. We are currently using Ticket to Read®. It is helping a lot and it is very affordable. I will definitively order your Phonemic Awareness and Phonics Toolkit. It will help me understand “his phonological awareness or decoding deficits”. He is gaining confidence as a reader. I will consider the timer again at the end of the summer. Thank you again for your help!!



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