Monday, January 09, 2012

speaking fluently vs. being fluent

Guess what?! They are different. That's right! In case you have never thought about it before, "being able to speak fluently" and "being fluent" are 2 different things. You have probably never seen this argued before, so I hope to clearly explain this as well as to cover what fluency really is.

Speaking fluently is something that every fluent speaker should be able to do, but every person speaking a foreign language fluently is not necessarily fluent in the foreign language. Speaking fluently can be accomplished with practice speaking. That means that from the beginning, you could be speaking fluently even if you only know a little of your target language. But a person with an extremely limited knowledge of the target language could not be considered fluent in the language even if he speaks very fluently.

You see, speaking fluently comes from knowing exactly what it is that you are saying at the moment. Speaking fluently means you are not constructing sentences and figuring out how to put into words what you want to say. You already know how to say it and so it comes out of your mouth with no problem.

You can do that with memorized sentences, or with well-used sentences. If you go around using the same sentences all day, every day, those sentences are going to be easy to spout out. If you have no reason to be using any sentences, such as a person with no one to talk to, then just repeatedly saying them or practicing them will have nearly the same effect in the long run. You end up with a bunch of sentences that you can speak fluently.

And that does not necessarily leave you at a disadvantage. No. It creates a wonderful advantage by making people think you are a fluent speaker which means they will speak to you without changing to English. That in turn gives you more practice and more opportunity to use new sentences.

I think you definitely have to speak fluently before you can become a fluent speaker. But then, when do you actually become fluent in the language?

I do not feel that just having the ability to get by on your own without an interpreter or a dictionary means that you are fluent. Hanging out with people all day speaking only the target language does not qualify you as fluent. This is something you can do while you are not yet fluent. You can struggle here and there a bit while still remaining in the target language and everybody is enjoying your mistakes.

Being fluent has a much broader definition of abilities. You should be able to express yourself and speak with ease in any situation. You should be able to easily understand anything you hear or read. It should all be so easy to you and you never have any fears about being in a situation where you must speak the language. Whether it would be a job interview, being interrogated by the police, or consulting with a bank employee about refinancing a home loan. Whatever the situation may be, you'd call it easy because you understand easily and you speak easily. Therefor, you can communicate with ease.

But just because you're not fluent yet, doesn't mean that you can't say you speak the language. Speaking a language is not the same as being fluent in a language. So feel free to say, "I speak good Macedonian" or whatever. You don't have to be fluent in your target language to get a job working in an environment that uses only that language. Although, most employers would like you to already be fluent, they certainly don't pay any extra for language skills. The more fluently you can speak, the more likely they are to think you are fluent.


  1. This is the definition of being fluent that I would hold myself to before I ever told anyone I could speak "X" fluently.

    Well, almost... I don't expect to ever feel comfortable being interrogated by the police :-)

  2. I can't speak fluently in any language. :o)


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