The idea of “fluency” is subjective, so everyone has their own definition. Let’s take a look at why that can be a problem and how you can go about defining fluency for yourself.
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The official definitions of fluency are:
- The ability to speak or write a foreign language easily and accurately.
- The ability to express oneself easily and articulately.
So, would someone be considered fluent if they can speak about a wide variety of subjects, easily and accurately (getting their point across without misunderstanding) yet makes tons of errors in the process? What if someone can have a perfect conversation but can’t read a basic text? And what about the person who has only studied the vocabulary of football, and thus can have a perfect conversation in the “football” context but couldn’t manage a conversation about cats and dogs? Context is important when considering fluency and context is dependent on the individual!
Thus, when you think about fluency, consider the following aspects: writing, reading, comprehension, speaking and context.
Since the definition of fluency is dependent on the individual, and many people base their goals on the basis of fluency, a problem arises. We hear people say. “I became fluent in a week, month, or year” and set our goals based on their definition of fluency. Then when we don’t meet our goals based on our definition of fluency, we lose confidence, begin to question our natural ability, and in the worst of cases, lose motivation and quit. So, if you are going to set goals using fluency (your definition or someone else’s), get specific:
- “I want to be able to survive causal conversations on the street” vs.
- “I want to have meaningful one-on-one conversations” vs.
- “I want to thrive in group conversations at the bar” vs.
- “I want to attend a conference on medical devices” vs.
- “I want to give a speech on innovations in the medical device industry,”
are all very different fluency goals with varying requirements regarding time and strategy. So once you’ve chosen a specific fluency goal, how do you reach it quickly? Well, that depends on your goal — which is why it is important to determine it before beginning your studies. If your goal is significantly based on speaking, you better be spending more of your practice time on that area (shameless Freak-Speak plug) than you are on reading comprehension.
Regardless of your goal, there will always be situations that you aren’t fluent in. But that goes for native speakers, too! Even in your native language, you probably aren’t fluent in the context of particle physics or the particulars of dog breeding — because you have never studied that vocabulary. So be specific and realistic when setting your goals and then choose the right strategy to reach them. Good luck!
Natural Ability, Goals, Confidence, Motivation, Time, Strategy, Freak-Speak