What is fluency?

Starting to learn a foreign language, we all dream of speaking it fluently. Have you ever wondered what it means to be “fluent in a language”? If we turn to Google, we will find the following definition: “To be fluent in a foreign language means: to be able to speak and express one’s thoughts easily and accurately.” But in what situation? For example, I speak English, and when traveling in England I will definitely be able to express easily my thoughts: ask for directions, order food, and have simple conversations with the locals. But can I just as easily give a lecture in English on organic chemistry, for example? For such a conversation, I do not speak English fluently enough. You can speak fluently on certain topics that are more meaningful to you but not have a sufficient level for others. Therefore, speaking of fluency in a language, we must take into account context, and it will help you to formulate your goals clearly when learning a foreign language.


How to achieve “fluency” in a language? Most likely, answering this question, you will say that you need a lot of practice in the language you are learning because practice makes perfect. But to achieve fluency in a language, you need to not only practice but to do exactly what you need the language for. After all, when you want to drive a car, you do not just practice driving, you drive a car, gaining experience and the ability to drive a car quickly and confidently. So instead of an abstract “language practice”, focus on using the language in the contexts and situations in which you will need it. If you want to watch movies freely in a foreign language, watch movies; if you want to write articles, then write articles.

By the way, the term “fluency” is not found in standardized tests; instead, the term “proficiency” is used. That is, fluency in a language cannot be measured by tests, it can be determined through successful communication in a particular situation. In addition, “fluency in a language” is determined by the speed and accuracy of its use. You have probably noticed that public figures, such as politicians, speak in completely different ways. Some people speak more slowly, some people speak faster, others make mistakes, and someone’s language is just perfect. And we cannot just say that one of them does not speak the language fluently, but calm and correct speech will give the impression of a confident command of the language, which is much more important.

As you can see, absolute fluency in a language is quite an abstract thing and needs to be contextually defined.

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