3 Things No One Tells You About Fluency

​Many people shy away from using the word “fluent” to describe their foreign language skills. It seems to be one of those elusive dangling carrots that we, as language learning rabbits, always seem to be in pursuit of and never seem to be able catch. 

​This is because a lot of people (both language learners and multilinguals alike), have the wrong idea about what it means to be “fluent”. By refusing to identify as a "fluent" speaker, many multilinguals downplay their skills this way. This can send the wrong message about your proficiency level. If you want to send the right message, you must first understand what it really means to be fluent. Here are 3 things no one tells you about language fluency:

  1. Fluency does NOT necessarily mean native or near-native skills. Many people assume that fluency = near native level. That couldn’t be further from the truth. On the most basic level, fluency means that you can speak a language easily and well. This can be done with only a core vocabulary of the most commonly used words. It can be anywhere from 1500-5000 words, depending upon the language. You don’t have to know every single word in the target language, because natives don’t even know all of them. The important thing is that you can speak with ease and you can use context clues to extrapolate the meaning of new words used by natives in conversation.
  2. There are levels to this. There are different degrees of fluency. There are those who can communicate with ease. They usually have achieved upper B1/lower B2 comprehension. Then, there are those who communicate easily and articulately, who have usually achieved upper B2/lower C1 comprehension. There are also those who communicate near native level to native level (upper C1/C2) comprehension. Which one are you?
  3. Fluency is relative. Keep that in mind, when talking to people who don’t speak your target language. For example, when a person, who does not speak German, asks me if am I fluent, I always say yes and never hesitate. Why? Because in my opinion (and the opinion of many Germans), I am. I can do many daily routine things without the assistance of a language dictionary. I can go to the store, I can ask for directions, I can go on a date (see one of my previous posts on dating in a foreign language ‘cause I’ve went on plenty), I can listen to podcasts, watch TV, talk to people, etc. I’ve even worked for a German company and have worked in German language working environments! I’m a whole lot further along than the 82% of Americans who don’t even speak a foreign language. So are you.

Even if you have a modest vocabulary of 1500-3000, how easily you can communicate (understand and speak) determines your fluency level. I hope this gives you something to think about regarding your language level. So, stop saying you’re not fluent and own your fluency.
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