Sunday, February 21, 2010

25 ways English native speakers define fluency in a foreign language

Here is a list of ways to tell if you are fluent in your foreign language. Actually, I just made this up for fun.

  1. I can speak more in your language than you can speak in mine.
  2. I can answer 20 questions about myself that are always asked of me whenever I meet a new person on Skype, and I always get complimented on how well I speak.
  3. I don't need a translator to get around the country.
  4. My friends always understand everything I say.
  5. I can talk around words that I don't know yet.
  6. I have completed Pimsleur III.
  7. I majored in the language at my university.
  8. I used to live in a country where the language is spoken.
  9. I sometimes get asked to interpret for customers who don't speak English.
  10. I can hold a conversation entirely in the language.
  11. I stopped buying language textbooks/courses a long time ago.
  12. I'm better than all the other students in my language class.
  13. I got a job because I speak the language.
  14. Whenever I need to look up a word, I always use a monolingual dictionary.
  15. People mistake me for a native when I answer the phone.
  16. I can read a novel in the language with only the occasional use of a dictionary.
  17. People no longer switch to English when they talk to me.
  18. I have 2 friends from the country and they both agree I'm pretty good at their language.
  19. I am good enough to communicate my ideas on foreign TV shows. 
  20. I can read newspapers and books with ease and understand conversations or watch TV.
  21. I have studied thousands of words and can conjugate any verb.
  22. I had a 2-hour conversation in the language with someone who couldn't speak any English.
  23. My tutor told me I was fluent, so I guess I am.
  24. I could survive in a country where the language is spoken if I had to.
  25. My psychic said I would be fluent by this time, and she should know.


  1. Not a bad list. Aside from ones like "My psychic said.." I'd say that a combination of all of these traits would make up for being fairly advanced in a language, for sure.

  2. I'm not so sure if I agree. I think these 25 things are definitely a result of being fluent in your target language, but they are also results from just being pretty good at your target language. I don't think that fluency is an automatic result of even the sum of these 25 things.

    I can check off over half of the things on the list and I'm nowhere close to being fluent in my target language. It's interesting to think about how one would know if they where fluent in a second language. I think there is a fine line drawn somewhere and it takes a more delicate analysis to decide where it's at.

  3. I am pretty sure that most of these were jokes. He did say "I just made this up for fun."

    Nathan Cain

  4. I absolutely love #17 and can't wait for the day that people stop doing that to me!! That has got to be the most annoying issue I have living in Japan.

  5. Well, it actually looks like a serious list...but, you could also say, "Because I think I speak better than I actually do" - that's mine...

    Anyway, we're collecting your language faux-pas at Up Your Bottom -- post some of them there...


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