Folium: Is Speaking a Language Different From Being Fluent via MentalFloss

Folium: Is Speaking a Language Different From Being Fluent via MentalFloss

Folium: Is Speaking a Language Different From Being Fluent via MentalFloss


I am under the impression that to be fluent in another language means that you speak it as well as, or almost as well as, your native language. But what does being fluent in another language actually mean? Is speaking a language different from being fluent in a language? Many people seem to think so. Bill Howard identifies what it means to be fluent in a language.

“The whole area of language knowledge is quite subjectively and loosely defined.”MentalFloss

Bill says that it is probably safe to say that the readers of his article are fluent in English, either due to the fact that it is their mother tongue or because they have achieved a high level of education in the language. Many of these english speakers would also define their fluency as knowing a language perfectly. But that would mean that they know the language to the very core. Knowing english not only lexically and grammatically but even phonetically. Well if this is the case – then I’m not a fluent English speaker. I don’t know every aspect of English grammar and I certainly don’t know every word in the English language.

Have you mastered all aspects of English lexically, grammatically, and phonetically?

Linguists generally agree that you achieve true foreign-language fluency when you switch from “controlled” to “automatic” linguistic processing. In other words, you can use the label “fluent” (and enjoy all the bragging rights that come with it) when you’ve mastered a foreign language so completely that you speak and understand it effortlessly and automatically. But it can be hard to assess just how automatically you process a given language. There are a lot of words in English that I still don’t know even though I’m a native English speaker, but I have more than enough language to describe what I mean.

There are a few different ways that I think are legitimate in determining whether or not you are fluent in a language. The first is if you’re able to speak the language without making mistakes – even when you’re multitasking. After having become fluent in a language I can say that being able to multitask and speak in my native language is hard. But this is truly a test that will see if you can still speak the language when multitasking. The second test is that you’re able to eavesdrop on native speaker conversations. After having spoken Spanish for so long it was impossible for me to come to the United States and not listen in on latin speaker’s conversations and understand every word they were saying. The last test to see if you really are fluent in a language is if you can dream in it!

“Indeed, if you have a dream in which you speak your target language, this shows that you’ve internalized the language enough that it has invaded your subconscious.”

Bill finishes up his article telling us that we shouldn’t feel discouraged if we aren’t technically fluent yet in a language, it takes time. If you are just starting, select a basic self-study text. Focus on memorizing the dialogs, basic grammar, and vocabulary. Concentrate on completing that text before branching off into other books. Also, read the texts out loud to get comfortable pronouncing the new language.

Julie Martin
LEAF Editor & Contributor