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Defining language fluency
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hoops330 Offline
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Defining language fluency
How does one define fluency?
12-03-2011 06:52 PM
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joehoya Offline
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RE: Defining language fluency
Dude, that is almost like asking how one defines pretty. There are super long threads on language boards about this topic, with absolutely ZERO resolution as to what it is.

On the low end, some folks claim to be fluent in a language if they can carry the most basic conversation (ask for directions, order food, etc). On the high end, some folks claim that fluency means that you speak the language at the level (and accent) of a native speaker. Personally, I think both definitions are bullshit.

Let me offer another option for you. Rather than thinking about fluency, focus on what you want to be able to do in the language. For instance, my goal in Spanish was to be able to casually talk to women with close to the same level of comfort on the normal bullshit topics we talk about with women as I have in English. My Spanish game is rapidly closing in on my English game. I wouldn't be surprised if in two years it is easier for me to talk to and run game on women in Spanish than in English.

Another thing to realize is that it becomes easier to set goals in your language progression the more exposure you have to actually using the language in question. I don't know if anyone else experienced this, but my langauge learning journey in Spanish and French has been a constant series of momments when I feel I have finally gotten really proficient in the language, shortly followed by experiences which expose the huge gaps in my competency, leave me humbled, and drive me to improve.

IMHO, this is because native language speakers adjust the level of conversation based on what they perceive your competency is. If it sounds like you can barely string 4 words together, they will take great effort to speak slowly and use small words. If it sound like you have some skill, they will ramp up the level of their conversation in both pace and complexity.

One great test for me regarding my listening ability is to listen to two native speakers have a conversation with each other and judge how much I understood and how easily I understood them. It is a truly humbling experience to talk to a chica easily in Spanish and understand everything she says to you, only to have her turn around and have a brief conversation in Spanish with her friend at her normal rate of speech and hardly understand anything.

Whatever path you take good luck on it. Learning foreign languages has been on of the most valuable things I have ever done in terms of improving the quality of my life and my experiences.
(This post was last modified: 12-03-2011 07:20 PM by joehoya.)
12-03-2011 07:20 PM
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Timoteo Offline
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Post: #3
RE: Defining language fluency
I think that a non-native speaker never really reaches full fluency. They're ALWAYS in a state of learning, no matter how much they continually improve. Your pronunciation and understanding will never reach that of a native speaker, simply because you'll never capture the accent and inflections that a native has, particularly for a language like Portuguese. The pronunciation is MURDEROUS for me. It's only something that can be commanded by someone that's been immersed in it from a very young age, and it simply becomes natural to you. I think a non-native speaker can reach a high level of COMPETENCY in a foreign language, but hot fluency. Just like there are aspects of English that are confusing for a non-native like subtle humor, ephemisms and other aspects that aren't part of the textbook teaching of a language, it's hard for us as English speakers to pick up those things in other languages unless you're immersed.

Spanish is a good example with regards to capturing the SPEED of a language. I grew up around Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, and listening to them talk to each other is maddening! It's like machine gun fire, and I wonder how they can understand each other, let alone someone who has Spanish as a second language. You end up picking up a word or two, and making a strong guess about what they're saying...HA HA!

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12-03-2011 09:50 PM
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369eyedea Offline
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RE: Defining language fluency
I hope it's okay to bump an old thread with a kind of auxillary question.

Here is a question for anyone who has achieved a near native fluency in a foreign language:
Are the benefits of moving from the B2 stage to C1 / c2 stage worth the great efforts one would have to put in to reach these higher levels?

For example, at the moment I have around a B2 level of spoken Russian, and I wonder if I will get much more net benefit from getting to the higher levels. Roosh mentioned somewhere that he had stopped studying Russian because more study did not result in more utility.

Has anyone got to a level where they can slip into group conversations with native speakers seamlessly, and was it completely worth the hours with the books and media? We all aim for the best version of ourselves, but time is so valuable.

I can more or less understand talk about everything i want to with Russian, but a social group of Russians becomes a problem given the speed and slang they use.

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(This post was last modified: 10-26-2015 05:07 AM by 369eyedea.)
10-26-2015 04:54 AM
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The Beast1 Offline
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Post: #5
RE: Defining language fluency
I think being able to describe advanced topics in depth to someone who doesn't understand it in their native tongue would be a good litmus test.

Explain nuclear physics, internal combustion engines, gene theory, space, etc.

I'd define that as the basis of fluency right there.

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10-26-2015 05:01 AM
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Geomann180 Offline
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Post: #6
RE: Defining language fluency
Thread necro here is encouraged, actually.

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10-26-2015 07:02 AM
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aSimpNamedBrokeback Offline
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RE: Defining language fluency
(10-26-2015 05:01 AM)The Beast1 Wrote:  Explain nuclear physics, internal combustion engines, gene theory, space, etc.

Or the nuances of race and politics. Even highly intelligent native English speakers from the UK, Australia, and Canada don't seem to know what they're talking about when they speak on the U.S.
10-26-2015 07:24 AM
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Carolinian Offline
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RE: Defining language fluency
I think it's worth it, if you're already at a B2 or high intermediate level why would you stop learning now.

I can't speak about Russian, but I've been learning spanish for 3 years. For the first year I learned the basics and became conversational in the language, the last two years have been marked by long frustrating plateaus, and it seems like I'm regressing, but that's just the process of learning. It's all seeping into my brain.

I would make it a point to tell native speakers to talk with you as they normally would with their friends or family. It helps your listening comprehension tremendously along with podcasts, also read as many news articles and books as possible as this is the best way to expand your vocabulary.
10-26-2015 08:00 AM
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General Stalin Offline
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Post: #9
RE: Defining language fluency
There are defining descriptions of what the different levels are language proficiency are, but the utility of learning a language is almost reverse asymptotic. As you get better the benefit becomes more minute, specific, and nuanced.

As was said, I don't think you can ever be as fluent and comfortable with a language as someone who grew up speaking it as a native-tongue, but learning it as fluent as possible would benefit you if you wanted to, for example, be able to read and explicate literature and poetry. Be able to pickup on hidden meaning and abstract ideas and discussions. Be able to effectively argue and debate and idea. Basically stuff that you would be expected to do in a college level English/creative writing course.
10-26-2015 09:21 AM
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Quintus Curtius Offline
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Post: #10
RE: Defining language fluency
Good question.

The US Department of State (Foreign Service) has come up with a ranking scale to describe proficiency levels:


0 - No Practical Proficiency. No practical speaking proficiency. No practical reading proficiency.

1 - Elementary Proficiency. Able to satisfy routine travel needs and minimum courtesy requirements. Able to read some personal and place names, street signs, office and shop designations, numbers and isolated words and phrases

2 - Limited Working Proficiency. Able to satisfy routine social demands and limited work requirements. Able to read simple prose, in a form equivalent to typescript or printing, on subjects within a familiar context

3 - Minimum Professional Proficiency. Able to speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations on practical, social, and professional topics. Able to read standard newspaper items addressed to the general reader, routine correspondence, reports, and technical materials in the individual's special field.

4 - Full Professional Proficiency. Able to use the language fluently and accurately on all levels pertinent to professional needs. Able to read all styles and forms of the language pertinent to professional needs.

5 - Native or Bilingual Proficiency. Equivalent to that of an educated native speaker. Equivalent to that of an educated native.


https://careers.state.gov/gateway/lang_prof_def.html

The US military has a roughly similar scaling system, and foreign language proficiency pay is awarded based on test scores in listening and reading proficiency.

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(This post was last modified: 10-26-2015 10:27 AM by Quintus Curtius.)
10-26-2015 10:26 AM
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ElFlaco Away
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RE: Defining language fluency
In language teaching, 'fluency' refers to the ability to speak at a normal pace and without unnatural pauses. It is contrasted with 'accuracy', which is about whether grammar rules are observed, whether appropriate vocabulary is used, and so on. It is quite possible to be high on the fluency scale but low on accuracy, and vice versa. It's a useful distinction.

Like the US Foreign Service scale that QC mentioned, the Common European Framework of Reference (CREF) defines language competency levels. CREF recognizes six levels ranging from A1 (basic competency) to C2 (near-native competency). Although the definition for each competency level is necessarily vague, there is testing and certification available internationally for the major European languages, including English. So when someone has had their language skills certified at the C1 level, it does represent a major difference in skills compared to someone else who has only B1. If your main interest is conversational, don't bother with formal study after reaching B2. At that point, you'll learn more just by using and consuming the language.
10-26-2015 11:59 AM
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Rawmeo Offline
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Post: #12
RE: Defining language fluency
Based on the scale above, I'd consider myself:
French - 5
English - 5
Thai - 3.5
Spanish - 1.5

I think the state.gov scale is pretty accurate. Full proficiency in a language takes years to achieve.

A good defition of "fluent", IMO, is when you are able to use the language as a means to learn other academic areas.

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10-27-2015 02:15 AM
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General Stalin Offline
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RE: Defining language fluency
(10-27-2015 02:15 AM)Rawmeo Wrote:  Based on the scale above, I'd consider myself:
French - 5
English - 5
Thai - 3.5
Spanish - 1.5

I think the state.gov scale is pretty accurate. Full proficiency in a language takes years to achieve.

A good defition of "fluent", IMO, is when you are able to use the language as a means to learn other academic areas.

Next level: using a language to learn another language.
10-27-2015 09:13 AM
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mammal Offline
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RE: Defining language fluency
I consider "fluent" someone who makes no more grammatical errors than a native with low education (a high school dropout.) I think you can be considered if you have a slight accent (which gives away your native language) but not an accent that makes people need to repeat what you said.

Fluency also varies in 1) speaking, 2) hearing, 3)writing, 4) reading (going from difficult to easy.) In languages with cases (slavic, germanic, etc.) you may have a hard time using the right case and in languages with grammatical gender will often make mistakes in assigning the pronoun for that gender.

IMHO the only way to achieve fluency (or even proficiency approaching that) is to speak with native speakers A LOT. Not something you can get froma book or course.
10-27-2015 01:37 PM
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elRey Offline
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Post: #15
RE: Defining language fluency
There are a lot of yardsticks to measure fluency. I think a comparison to your native language is not fair - especially if 1) you started learning the foreign language later in life (let's say later than 13 or 14, but this is very arbitrary) or 2) if you are actually very good at your first language and thus have a strong command of peculiar vocabulary.

You need to set the bar high enough so proficiency is indeed there, but also not too high so as to exclude people who legitimately speak the language very well but do not meet certain criteria perhaps due to the manner in which they learned the language.

Wikipedia sets what I think is a very reasonable yet solid definition of fluency: "Language fluency is used informally to denote a high level of language proficiency, whereby language usage is smooth and flowing, as opposed to slow and halted. When it comes to communicating in more than one language fluency is certainly desirable, but it is not essential for communication to take place. You can communicate with a native speaker if you have only a mild proficiency in English, but being truly fluent in the language offers many advantages, particularly in the business world."

The key points: "Smooth and flowing, as opposed to slow and halted", "fluency is certainly desirable, but it is not essential for communication to take place"

I think a fair guide would be: can you generally speak in a smooth and flowing manner without the need to often pause to think?

If the answer to that question is yes, then you are fluent. You may not know what the word for magazine or bracelet or cupboard is, but you can definitely still be fluent in a language is you are not struggling 99% of the conversation.
10-30-2015 07:43 PM
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void Offline
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RE: Defining language fluency
Fluency is contextual. Being fluent in daily life, is not the same as being fluent in your profession.

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10-30-2015 08:24 PM
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Nascimento Offline
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Post: #17
RE: Defining language fluency
A few levels you have to go through in my experience:

Can you understand a local?
Can you be understood by a local?
Can you do both of the above consistently?
Can you understand locals talking amongst themselves (consistently)?

From that point onwards, it's diminishing returns. Though it doesn't hurt to refine your skill as you go.
(This post was last modified: 11-01-2015 07:32 AM by Nascimento.)
11-01-2015 07:31 AM
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