The idea of fluency is something that I have grappled with for a while especially with the Russian language. I know that some people look at fluency in the sense of ease in the production of the language, while others have different ways of looking at it. I am curious how you personally define fluency?
My personal definition of fluency is to be able to converse naturally with a native speaker. That you could be dropped off in the country where your language is spoken and not need a translator.
Also, to hear anything in your target language and not have it occur to you that it’s in another language and no need for working it out in your head.
I agree with @PinAngel
Actually, I was thinking the same thing when I read the question.
Fluent is being able to talk with natives without struggling.
I almost never travel and I often do such things as speaking Spanish with a Polish man online in a hangout or speaking Italian with a German lady living in my own city. I also had an exchange in my neighbour city with a German language enthousiast alternating 100 % in French and 100 % in Spanish. I found all this kind of language usage very effective, but it has nothing to do with native speakers. What do you think of it?
In my view, fluency is the hability to understand and speak smoothly. As long as one does not feel too uncomfortable,overwhelmed by using the language in most of the situations that arise on a daily basis, we could consider this person to be fluent even though the person does not have an extensive vocab.
I think that any time you can converse easily in a language that isn’t your native language, that’s approaching fluency in my estimation.
I would agree to this defintion for 100 %. If you would only nail it down on contacts with native speakers, I would lose the game!
I think Tim Ferris’ definition is to be able to have a conversation for 30 minutes without referring to a dictionary. I mostly agree with that, which means I only speak my native language fluently.
For me, I can speak Spanish with some ease. I may not know a specific word, but I can describe around it. But if you ask me to talk about a specific subject, even if I like it, I would only do so on a basic level. My goal is to be able to give a 15-20 minute presentation in Spanish for next year’s conference. It will be on the history of tango music. But I’ll see how far I get.
I agree that for me it has a lot to do with how comfortable I am in speaking and being able to do so without getting too overwhelmed!
When you stop being unsecure and you kind of think in your head in this other language. You feel good, and are much more involved in elaborated communication, not just ‘practice talking’…
For me is really the ability to read any book in the target language. And if I am able to go a step further, I would see if I can grapple with poetry in that language too.
I agree with @PinAngel on this point. I could feel the stark difference between my Bahasa Melayu (C1~C2) and Vietnamese (B2) when I visit Malaysia and Vietnam for my master’s research exchange end of last year. While I have almost no problems understanding and engaging in discussions with the professors I’ve met in Malaysia, I struggled a little in Vietnam. I understood almost 75% of the discussions but had difficulties with some technical terms and advanced expressions. The important thing that made me felt I needed to work harder to get to C1 in Vietnamese was I couldn’t express myself as freely as I would like myself to. I had instances where what I wanted to express was too advanced and I had to translate what I wanted to say in my head from Korean to Vietnamese.
Personally, I don’t have a personal definition of “fluency.”
I used to read academic papers on language learning, and they would often refer to fluency as the speed at which a skill was accessible. Speaking without stuttering or making excessive pauses? That’s speaking fluency. Processing another’s spoken language at speed and being able to use the information received? That’s listening fluency. Et cetera.
Fluency could then also be judged as a separate aspect from accuracy. You could, for example, be a very fluent speaker, while not a very accurate one, in which case, you could probably hold a conversation with a native without too much issue. You could also be an accurate speaker, while not being a fluent one, in which case, you could probably travel a country where that language is spoken with ease. Of course, in any emergency situation, you’d want both!
This definition of fluency really stuck with me. It feels far more tangible and measurable than most lay definitions. It also makes more sense to me as a word, with fluid sharing the same etymology as “flow.”
@Rachel Hi Rachel, I think of fluency as a dependent on the motive from learning a language. What I’ve quoted here seems to support the way I think. Say that the objective was to be a translator; accuracy would be important and the definition might shift and might even include extensive knowledge of language, culture, and idioms…etc. On the other hand, if someone’s goal is to communicate easily with native speakers then the definition might take a different aspect and would rely less on accuracy and more on holding up the conversation.
Some time ago in another forum, I jokingly replied to a similar question that a really good level of language knowledge is when you crack a joke and the native speakers actually laugh because they realize you made a joke, rather than remain awkwardly silent, unsure if you made a mistake or really meant to say what you said.
That said, during the years I lived in Germany, I had several moments when I thought: “Now I can REALLY speak German”. But each time, I was to find out there was room for further development.
The moment from which I considered myself fluent in Russian was when I started to read a novel and I realized it wasn’t actually requiring an effort. Until then, a book had to be really, really interesting for me to bother to wade through a Russian-language text, but now I just take a book and read. It’s not like I don’t have to consult a dictionary every once in a while, but I don’t have to constantly strain to follow the text.
The 30-minute conversation rule doesn’t make much sense to me. Often enough, I find myself struggling to keep a conversation going in my native language – not because I need a dictionary but because I don’t know what to say. And when I talk to a Swede for 30 minutes or longer, mixing Swedish and Norwegian words all the time, he’ll understand me all right, but that’s not really being fluent in Swedish.
I agree with Jolien.
Especially in South Africa (with our 11 official languages) one would often talk to non-native speakers in one of the languages.
Fluency is thus the ability to have a conversation in a language, other than you own mother tongue, where you can easily hear and understand, as well as reply in that other language.