Fluency--a working definition and how to get there from a musician's perspective

I recently heard a polyglot describe fluency as meaning the ability to speak on a wide range of topics with ease, while the native listener feels comfortable speaking with you using normal vocabulary at normal speed. I think this is an excellent <em>description </em>of a person who has achieved fluency, I don't feel it really explains what happens in the learner's mind that fluency occurs.  A working definiton is important because it will guide us in our study approach.

Personally, I view fluency as the ability to connect words, phrases and idiomatic expression without hesitation in an infinite (or seemingly infinite) number of ways. This level is achieved by jazz musicians when they can improvise over any chord progression and spontaneously connect musical ideas in a way that makes musical sense.

When I was at earlier levels of musical development, I could play my solo over a chord progression only one way. As I learned more, I had two or three ways to play my solo. Later ten ways. Finally my development hit the "flash point", when I could interchange and recreate ideas spontaneously without hesitation over any chord progression. This is fluency. 

So the idea in langauge aquisition is to arrive at this point. To that end, we need a large arsenal of different ways to express our ideas. Breaking that down into its bare elements, we need hundreds if not thousands of short phrases that we practice over and over until we can execute them without hesitation.

Jazz musicians accomplish this by learning "licks" off records and then playing the lick in all keys. Language learners, if they want fluency quickly, need to memorize a lot of short phrases and practice saying them over and over. Try learning lyrics to tunes, or memorize clips from TV commercials, or just take examples out of your dictionary. 

When you can connect the dots, and, without hesitiation, connect and reshape those phrases, you will be fluent. You will know when it happens, because you will be able to freely express yourself in new and interesting ways that will be different every time. So really, and language learner is nothing less than a jazz musician using a different communication system! Cheers,

Jan 1, 2016 4:11 PM
Comments · 1

Wow, a very interesting and intriguing definition of fluency! I am struggling to find a good definition and this is really the best, that I've read recently. :-D

January 3, 2016