When it comes to learning a new language, many people aspire to achieve “fluency.” But what does fluency actually mean?
For some, it means being able to communicate easily with native speakers, while for others, it involves enjoying books and movies in the target language. But does that mean the concept of fluency is subjective? Are there any methods to measure language fluency? How to achieve fluency?
In this article, we’ll explore what is fluency in language learning and how to achieve it. Join us to uncover the mystery of language fluency and learn valuable tips on how to speak fluently in your target language!
What is fluency
Definition of Fluency
‘Fluency’ comes from the Latin word ‘fluentia’ meaning “flow”. So being fluent in a language means flowing your speech and ideas like a river, without obstacles.
According to wikipedia: Fluency refers to continuity, smoothness, rate, and effort in speech production.
Merriam-Webster defines fluency as “the quality or state of being fluent” and fluent as “capable of using a language easily and accurately”
Although fluency is more often used to describe speaking and writing abilities. Research has shown a more detailed definition of fluency in all 4 aspects of language learning.
|thinking and speaking at the same time in a relatively natural speed with not so
many errors, so that meaning is understood by the listener.
|thinking and writing at the same time in a relatively natural speed, with a focus on
expressing meaning with a relatively average number of revisions.
|Reading and understanding English at a speed closer to L1 readers – about 250 words||Listening to and understanding spoken English, to the degree necessary, in different
situations. This implies that listening to friends, a university lecturer, the police, or a YouTube
video all have unique needs.
The IELTS speaking test defines fluency and coherence as “the ability to talk with normal levels of continuity, rate and effort and to link ideas and language together to form coherent, connected speech.” It also mentioned “The key indicators of fluency are speech rate and speech continuity.”
On social media, language learners have their own discussions about fluency:
- Fluency is when you can live your life completely in the target language
- Fluency is being able to understand jokes and idioms
- Fluency is thinking and speaking at the same time
- Fluent is knowing how to paraphrase
- Fluency is speaking quickly…
To understand what fluency is, we can also explore what it is not:
- Fluency is not having native pronunciation
- Fluency is not cluttering and stuttering
- Fluency is not 100% grammar accuracy
- Fluency is not speaking too slow
- Fluency is not knowing 9999 words…
So what’s the conclusion?
If we select some common keywords from the above definitions, we can roughly say fluency is the smoothness, ease, flow, continuity, effortlessness, and coherence in speech or language production.
Is it necessary to speak like a native speaker to be considered fluent?
Some may ask isn’t this definition too strict? It seems only native speakers can speak a language effortlessly and thus fluently. Then what’s the difference between a fluent speaker and a native speaker?
According to University of North Carolina, a native speaker is “more than fluent. He can also correctly and easily use colloquialisms, idioms and slang.”
A native speaker can not only use the language fluently, but also well understands the cultural aspects behind the language as they grew up with it.
Therefore, it’s not necessary to be 100% like a native speaker to be considered fluent. But a fluent speaker does sound like a native speaker.
How long does it take to become fluent in a language?
Long story short, the time required to become fluent in a language varies depending on a variety of factors such as the language’s complexity, previous language learning experience, study time and intensity, motivation, and personal aptitude. It can take several months to several years of dedicated study and practice to achieve a high level of fluency.
What are the main factors that influence language fluency?
There are many factors that can influence when and how you will reach language fluency. They can also be used to make specific language learning plans. Here are some common factors:
- Exposure to the language: The amount and quality of exposure to the language can greatly affect language fluency. Exposure can come from various sources such as listening to native speakers, watching TV shows or movies in the language, reading books, or speaking with native speakers.
- Motivation and attitude: Language fluency also depends on one’s motivation and attitude towards learning the language. A positive attitude and motivation to learn the language can help in improving language fluency.
- Aptitude and learning style: Some individuals have a natural aptitude for learning languages, while others may need to put in more effort to achieve fluency. Learning style also plays a role in language fluency, with some individuals benefiting from visual aids, while others may prefer auditory or kinesthetic learning.
- Language difficulty: It’s easy to understand that languages that are easier to learn, with simple grammar and pronunciation, may be quicker to become fluent in. On the other hand, languages with complex grammar, vocabulary, or unfamiliar writing systems may take more time and effort to reach fluency.
How to measure language fluency (ability)
Language Fluency Certification
One of the most common way to measure language level is CEFR, which stands for Common European Framework Reference. It assess and describe your language skills in 6 levels from A1 (beginner) to C2 (proficient). Here is what each level means:
- A1 (Beginner): Capabilities range include basic introductions and answering questions about personal details provided the listener speaks slowly and is willing to cooperate.
- A2 (Elementary): Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her past, environment and matters related to his/her immediate needs and perform routine tasks requiring basic exchanges of information.
- B1 (Intermediate): Can deal with most daily life situations in the country where the language is spoken. Can describe experiences, dreams and ambitions and give brief reasons for opinions and goals.
- B2 (Upper intermediate): Can understand the themes of complex texts on both concrete and abstract topics and will have achieved a degree of fluency and spontaneity, which makes interaction with native speakers possible without significant strain for either party.
- C1 (Advanced): Can understand a wide range of longer texts and recognise subtleties and implicit meaning; producing clear, well-structured and detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
- C2 (Proficient): Can understand virtually everything heard or read, expressing themselves spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, while differentiating finer shades of meaning even in highly complex situations.
Still unsure about your own level? Here is a quick placement test from Language Learning hub.
So where does fluency stand on the CEFR scale? While fluency is not exactly a strict linguistic term, most people tend to agree that reaching B2 level and up can be considered fluent. However, note that most language learners, especially self-learners, may have an unbalanced skillset, meaning they may be especially good at language input (listening and reading) while not so good at output (speaking and writing).
For Asian language learners, the CEFR scale may not be quite useful. After referencing and comparing different measurements, we have come to a rough conclusion for what is fluency in the 3 popular Asian languages on the LingoDeer app:
- Japanese: JLPT N2
- Korean: TOPIK 4
- Chinese: HSK 6
Apart from this commonly accepted framework, the quickest way to test your fluency is through real-life situations with native speakers. Can you smoothly hold conversations without struggling to find the right words? How well can you understand a film in your target language without subtitles? If you ask a native speaker to proofread something you write, how many errors will they find? So being fluent in a language means more than reaching certain levels in proficiency tests, the real test is in everyday situations.
What’s the difference between fluency, proficiency, accuracy, advanced
You may also hear words similar to fluency like proficiency, accuracy and advanced. While they are often used interchangeably, there are subtle differences among the terms as they have different focuses.
Fluency relates to the ability to communicate effortlessly, smoothly, and naturally in a language. It encompasses speaking, listening, and the flow of conversation. It’s mostly related to speaking.
Proficiency encompasses a broader range of language skills, including reading, writing, and comprehension in addition to speaking and listening. It’s a broader term that encompasses overall language competence. It includes not only fluency but also a deeper understanding of vocabulary, grammar, cultural nuances, and the ability to navigate different contexts and registers.
Accuracy focuses on grammar, vocabulary, and proper sentence structure. An accurate speaker pays attention to details and strives for grammatically correct and contextually appropriate language production. Accuracy ensures clear communication and avoids misunderstandings.
Advanced is a more genearl term that signifies a high level of language proficiency. It goes beyond intermediate levels and indicates a mastery of the language. Advanced learners possess the ability to express themselves fluently, accurately, and confidently in various contexts.
How to Achieve Fluency
How to achieve in a foreign language? This is probably one of the most commonly asked questions by language learners. Whether you’re an aspiring polyglot or just starting your language learning journey, achieving fluency is an exciting goal worth pursuing. In this part, we’ll show you 8 practical tips on how to achieve fluency.
Set Language Goals with Fluency in Mind
When setting language goals, keep fluency in mind as the ultimate objective. Break down your goals into smaller, manageable milestones. For example, aim to have a certain number of conversations per week, read a specific number of pages in the target language, or write a journal entry every day. Setting language goals focused on ultimate fluency will keep you motivated and help you track your progress effectively.
Focus on output-based learning
This means actively using the language by speaking and writing as much as possible. Practice expressing your thoughts and ideas in the target language, even if you make mistakes. The more you engage in speaking and writing, the more comfortable and fluent you will become.
Immerse Yourself in the Language
Once you’ve passed the beginner phase, consider adding a lot of immersion as it can help you develop a natural feel for the language. Surround yourself with authentic materials like movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, books, etc.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Consistent practice is key to achieving fluency. Engage in regular language practice sessions, be it through conversation exchanges, language meetups, or online language communities. Make use of language learning apps, flashcards, and language exercises to reinforce vocabulary and grammar. Remember, the more you practice, the better you’ll become, and the closer you’ll get to fluency.
Embrace Mistakes and Learn from Them
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Mistakes are a natural part of the learning process. Embrace them as valuable learning opportunities and stepping stones to improvement. Don’t let go of any opportunity to speak, listen, read, and write in your language. Record yourself speaking or ask a native speaker to check your writing. Always learn from your errors as this is the quickest way to improve.
Engage in Conversations
Don’t be afraid to speak. Attentively seek opportunities to converse with native speakers. You can find language partners, join language exchange programs, or chat in language groups. Real-life interactions will help you encounter varied vocabulary, idioms, and slangs that can’t be learned from textbooks. You can also gain confidence and feel more natural when speaking.
Stay Motivated and Enjoy the Journey
Maintaining motivation is crucial in your language learning journey. Find ways to keep the learning process enjoyable and exciting. Explore topics that genuinely interest you and incorporate them into your language study. Celebrate your progress and reward yourself for achieving small goals.
Can reading and listening help improve fluency in a foreign language?
Fluency mostly refers to speaking skills but language input can also help improve your fluency. Reading and listening are great ways to increase exposure to your target language, you learn new words and expressions and get used to grammar structures. By immersing yourself in foreign language media like movies and novels, you get to know how the language is used by native speakers and have a greater chance of using it correctly with ease when speaking.
Is it necessary to live in a country where the language is spoken to become fluent?
Living in a country of your target language is one of the quickest ways to fluency. But plenty of people have reached language fluency without ever going to the country. So it’s not necessary to go to a country in order to learn the language (it’s the other way around). Without living in the country, you can also use the above methods we mentioned to learn languages and speak fluently.
Thank you for reading our article about language fluency! This article is brought to you by LingoDeer, one of the best language-learning apps with 13 languages including Korean, Japanese, French, Spanish, etc.
LingoDeer is a great helper on your journey to language fluency. Structured lessons, plenty of practice opportunities, native speaker audio, real-life conversations… It’s a one-stop journey to achieve your language learning goals. Give it a try for free today!