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How do you define fluency?

Accuracy vs Fluency - It may be a recurring question here on Italki, but it's really divergent among learners and specialists, I guess. Although there are a lot of articles with several points of view on the internet, and formal definitions in dictionaries, I would like to form a sound base regarding to such issue. I read a discussion here about polyglotism, and different opinions made me think more about this.


What's to be fluent in a language? Is that the capacity to understand and to be understood? Or is it the quickness and easiness which with you may be able to communicate in a target language? Or even the possibility to learn new things in a respective language without needing to resort to your mother-tongue?




Matheus, this has confused me. I'm glad that you bring it up. There are so many different ways in which the word fluent is used that it is difficult to know what someone means by the word unless you ask them specifically to explain what they think the definition is. 


I've heard the word fluent used so many different ways repeatedly and even the dictionaries are not clear on what it means to the point where I'm not sure what to think. 





I define it as a sections, if I know how shopping, using English that mean I'm fluent in this section , if I can talking about math very well in English that mean I'm fluent in this section. Maybe in different topic I can't talk fluently.

Yes, Dorothy For example, when can I say "I am fluent" in a language? When I am able to write a nice text? Or when I know a certain quantity of words and know how to express myself even with mistakes?


That's why I pointed on this question 'accuracy vs fluency', because I read that both are distinguishable. 


As I said, I want to understand more about fluency' characteristics.


Somebody here a long time ago posted a youtube video of a teacher explaining how he uses the word fluent, but I can't find it! It was interesting to me because he said that he bases his definition on what it means in speech therapy... be be fluid in the language. Being able to speak in a fluid and natural manner at normal speed in a way that does not slow down a conversation with a native speaker. He said that he thinks fluency is a different issue than what level you are at so he said that for some languages he is fluent at an intermediate level and some at a beginning level and that he never says that he is fluent at an advanced level because he thinks only native speakers can be that. 


I thought it was a very interesting take on the whole thing! XRIz's idea of having fluency in regard to particular subjects is also an interesting approach. 


I'd be interested to hear what some teachers and people that consider themselves to be experts here at Italki think about how the word should and should not be used as well as people like me who are just learners.  

Matheus, fleuncy is perfectly defined in dictionaries. Your troubles come with "in Language" part:) I am not that sure it's going to be any easier than defining 'good at drawing'.

though, neither 'fluent' nor 'native speaker' have exact matches in my native Russian. Don't you thing, their corresponding literal meanings affect their use in English? For the former in the context 'fluent in' we have either 'freely' or 'ranaway'/'cursory'/'running' in Russian. This 'running' word we use to translate English 'fluent'. Another expression with the same word is 'quick fire'. It _does_ affect my perception of concept:) Nothing about 'smoothness' here.

XRIZz, it sounds an interesting idea, but if we analyze the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, we can notice that in a certain level a person would be able to write about topics which interests him/her and keep being fluent in a language -- overall. But if we analyze your idea with Dorothy's answer (last), differentiating between level and fluence, then it makes a lot of sense. It is the same thing with our mother-tongue: we are "fluent" but we can't communicate about everything.

Though, maybe I'm wrong.
I've noticed little about smoothness in the definitions above:/ 
Though  m-w states clearly 'very well' and 'accurately', on which you seem not to insist...

K P, I guess I got it what you meant. That our native language influences in the target language, is that it?

Matheus, rather I mean that some of concepts aren't 'objective' or 'real'... and some of the concepts shouldn't be precisely defined, at least out of particular context.

I guessed that other meanings of this term ('feeling' of this word) affect your perception of concept in English. So why should we go strict?
But I may be wrong. What Dorothy says is pretty close to the Russian use.. while I was expecting English-speakers to lean towards 'ease'+'smoothness' (any linguistic incarnation of 'smoothness') rather than 'ease' alone.


Hi KP. The word fluent in English comes from the word in Latin meaning flowing. Here's one dictionary's definition of fluent:


spoken or written with ease:
fluent French.
able to speak or write smoothly, easily, or readily:
a fluent speaker; fluent in six languages.
easy; graceful:
fluent motion; fluent curves.
flowing, as a stream.
capable of flowing; fluid, as liquids or gases.
easily changed or adapted; pliant.


Ease keeps on coming up as part of the definition, but then we get into defining "ease". :)


I can speak with a bunch of 6 year olds with ease in Spanish, but I certainly wouldn't be able to speak with people at my own level of age and education and not miss some things and not have them know that Spanish isn't my first language and I would make some mistakes. I can't speak AS easily in Spanish as I do English. Ease seems like a relative word as does flowing. Some things flow easily and some things still flow, like lava. I guess my Spanish is more like lava. ha ha ha. 



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