What on earth is fluency?

June 23, 2011

Right, as I was browsing through job opportunities a couple of days ago, I noticed that many required fluency in one or several languages.

What puzzles me is that fluency is a very vague word in term of knowledge. What is fluent? Does it mean mastering as your native language? Or being able to hold a general conversation and make yourself understood?

I tend to think of fluency as the stage where you can fool native speakers that you are one of them. But this is probably a lot higher than most people’s standards. Actually it probably does not really work that long; there will be a moment you are going to let a mistake slip.

So how do we know whether we are fluent? Tough call. There are actually many factors to consider:

  • Grammar
  • Word power
  • Syntax
  • Writing skills
  • Speaking skills
  • Speed

And these are only a few.

Furthermore, we can wonder whether anyone is potentially fluent in its own language. Who masters to the last word of obscure terminologies, such as law, geology or ichthyology? No one does.

In a nutshell, fluency does not exist. Let’s apply to those positions, no matter what language they expect me to be fluent in. I just hope I will understand the questions.

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