learning languages: what is fluency?
One of the things I come across a lot is the question of fluency. When can you say that you are fluent in a language?
There are a lot of different viewpoints on that topic. Some people feel that if you can order at a restaurant in a foreign language and operate on a tourist level, you are fluent. Others feel that they need a near native command of a language to be truly fluent. There is no real answer and it is a bit of a matter of personal interpretation. To me fluency implies that you can speak without a lot uhming and ahing, as in that you can speak fluently, but not necessarily have mastered the language.
The Common European Framework divides learners into three broad divisions that can be divided into six levels:
- A Basic User
- A1 Breakthrough or beginner
- A2 Waystage or elementary
- B Independent User
- B1 Threshold or intermediate
- B2 Vantage or upper intermediate
- C Proficient User
- C1 Effective Operational Proficiency or advanced
- C2 Mastery or proficiency
So what does this mean now? As far as I’m concerned fluency is somewhere around a B2/C1 level, probably closer to C1. My own personal benchmark is when I am able to rearrange a sentence in my head quick enough to not have any noticeable pauses in the conversation. What I mean is this. Often when speaking in a foreign language I am not sure about something. I may have forgotten a verb ending or a proposition, but I can change the sentence quickly into something I know and without an noticeable pause or the uhming and ahing when trying to think of the right word.
For example if I want to say ‘Last night at/in the restaurant I…’ and I’m not sure if it’s ‘at the restaurant’ or ‘in the restaurant’, I could just change my sentence to ‘Last night we went to a restaurant and I…’ because I’m sure that after ‘go’ there is always ‘to‘. That to me is fluency, I know different ways to express myself and I can pick one that I’m sure about in the shortest amount of time. I also think this is a very important skill.
What about you, when do you consider yourself fluent?