What does fluency in a language mean?

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What does fluency in a language mean?

Postby Carmody » Wed Sep 04, 2019 1:58 pm

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Re: What does fluency in a language mean?

Postby Versus » Wed Sep 04, 2019 8:47 pm

Great explanation. This is exactly what I was looking for. Thank you.
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Re: What does fluency in a language mean?

Postby IronMike » Fri Sep 06, 2019 12:47 pm

Love this article, especially
Furthermore, friends and teachers tend to encourage L2 learners rather than discourage them, which may also contribute to inflated self-assessment [emphasis mine].

and
but I believe that the quickest, dirtiest fluency and accuracy “tests” are real-life situations with native speakers.

Yes. A million times yes.
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Re: What does fluency in a language mean?

Postby Cavesa » Fri Sep 06, 2019 2:46 pm

If we're quoting our favourite bits from this unusually good article, here are mine:

But Daniel Morgan, head of learning development at the Shenker Institutes of English – a popular chain of English schools in Italy – says that fluency actually refers to how “smoothly” and “efficiently” a second language (L2) speaker can speak on “a range of topics in real time”. While fluency may denote a degree of proficiency, it does not automatically imply accuracy – the ability to produce grammatically correct sentences – nor does it imply grammatical range.

How important are accuracy and grammatical range? That depends on the speaker’s needs. If they simply wish to converse in social settings, their focus may be solely on achieving fluency, but if the L2 is required for business or academia, accuracy and range are crucial as communications full of errors may be seen as unprofessional.

Yes. Please, let's stop underestimating accuracy. Wide range of grammar and vocabulary matters. An extreme example of fluency without accuracy is the Wernicke aphasia, I guess that illustrates the point.

However, the article underestimates it too, in the second part of the quote. "In social settings" seems to mean tourism or other superficial situations. When I am in social settings, I aim for accuracy too and perhaps even more than in the more professional or academic settings. Sounding natural, responding adequately to someone talking with both their brain and heart, joking not worse than in my native language, those are examples of things requiring a lot of accuracy. Let's stop pretending that "social settings" and "conversational fluency" = tourism or superficial lesson 3 like dialogues.

“Fluency is an abstract concept, so we assign observable variables,” explains Daniel Morgan. Two of the most reliable factors are “speech rate” and “utterance length”. Speech rate can be defined as how much (effective) language you’re producing over time, for example how many syllables per minute. Utterance length is, as an average, how much you can produce between disfluencies (e.g. a pause or hesitation). You could look at accuracy as being subsumed into fluency, in terms of grammatical accuracy, lexical choice, pronunciation, and precision.”

Anyone else is considering some sort of a measuring experiment?

Many learners, however, fall into the trap of assuming that because they are understood, their speech is “perfect”.

Just today, I was told by someone that Spanish is an easy language, because it is easy to learn enough to be understood. And C1 is just about learning the culture and nobody needs such a level :-D
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Re: What does fluency in a language mean?

Postby tarvos » Fri Sep 06, 2019 3:39 pm

In my time as a teacher, which is only a few years, I've seen such a wide range of skills that people have that I think fluency is something totally different than proficiency. I'll give you people an example:

I am definitely fluent in Portuguese. I have a wide vocabulary, I can produce responses on the fly, I can write messages on longer and more complex topics. But I am not 100% proficient. I misuse certain grammar structures, there's a clear influx of Spanish words in my Portuguese, and I don't have a perfect accent.

So if someone said: do you want to interpret this Brazilian's Portuguese, I would say "no thank you. I do not have the skill set to do that". But that doesn't mean that I suddenly have forgotten all my Portuguese - it's just good enough to do certain things, and when I speak Portuguese, my production flows in a fairly natural manner.

When I teach, I try to focus on those things that people need, not to become fluent, but simply to become better speakers. I have plenty of students that understand me very well when I speak, but make fairly basic errors in communication. Their problem is not fluency, but accuracy - so we work on accuracy. Others are very slow to speak, but are accurate in their communications - I would rather these people try to speak more, and show confidence when speaking (often hesitation is caused by perfectionism, and this is a good trait for proficiency but not for fluency, and you need both when you want to speak a language well).

It's for this reason I often get seen as fluent (because I confidently babble away), when I'm making simple and obvious mistakes. They're still there even when I speak Spanish, just to a much lesser degree and I'm much more able to mask it because I have much more experience.

Because of the spectrum, tailoring the classes to your students' needs and not forcefully trying to ram through a preset curriculum is a very necessary thing as a teacher. Adapt, and show you are correctly diagnosing the weaknesses of your students.

Fluency is an objective you must set yourself, but it's not the only one, and accuracy is another very important one. So is contextual information and semantic precision (rather than grammatical precision).
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Re: What does fluency in a language mean?

Postby IronMike » Sat Sep 07, 2019 2:48 pm

Very good point, Tarvos. I had a friend who was fluent in Russian, but listening to her was close to fingernails on a chalkboard: her endings were crap, her use of imperfective for perfective verbs and vice-versa, or creating new tenses (future of "to be" with a perfective infinitive) killed me. But you know what? The native Russians she spoke to understood her perfectly. She understood them perfectly. I took note of that, and stopped worrying too much ("over-worrying") about my endings or if I've picked the correct "to go by car" verb and just speak.
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Re: What does fluency in a language mean?

Postby hagestolz » Sat Sep 07, 2019 3:16 pm

As a low B1 learner of Russian, that gives me some hope!
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Re: What does fluency in a language mean?

Postby tarvos » Sun Sep 08, 2019 5:22 pm

As an aside, I was accepted into an interpreting course recently, and I *still* make small errors in Spanish every now and then. Keep in mind that these small errors in no way impact the clarity of my speech and the semantics of my utterances. And I'm a preeeetty good Spanish speaker. But even I might hesitate under pressure. And my speech will be slower in Spanish than in Dutch or even English.

Also, the thing about needing a C1 level is that that is very dependent on what you plan on using a language for. I aim to be an interpreter, so C2 Spanish is pretty much the minimum we can expect once I enter the workforce. Cavesa said that C1 is all about cultural references (I think she was exaggerating), but the truth is that C1 is a very high level and is only reasonably required if you plan to live in a country for a long time, do professional work in that language, or have a profession associated with the study of that language such as linguistics. For example, I could really not care any less about learning Portuguese to C2, because there's no point in spending THAT much time on a language I won't ever be asked to interpret and one that I don't plan on adding to my CV any time soon (although if the demand becomes really great I'd consider it).

For most stuff, B2 will do nicely.
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Re: What does fluency in a language mean?

Postby Cavesa » Sun Sep 08, 2019 7:58 pm

tarvos wrote:Also, the thing about needing a C1 level is that that is very dependent on what you plan on using a language for. I aim to be an interpreter, so C2 Spanish is pretty much the minimum we can expect once I enter the workforce. Cavesa said that C1 is all about cultural references (I think she was exaggerating), but the truth is that C1 is a very high level and is only reasonably required if you plan to live in a country for a long time, do professional work in that language, or have a profession associated with the study of that language such as linguistics. For example, I could really not care any less about learning Portuguese to C2, because there's no point in spending THAT much time on a language I won't ever be asked to interpret and one that I don't plan on adding to my CV any time soon (although if the demand becomes really great I'd consider it).

For most stuff, B2 will do nicely.


No, this is quite the opposite. I probably worded it wrong. Someone else had said that "C1 is just about cultural references" and I had totally disagreed with them. The claims like "C1 is not useful", "C1 is just culture", "C1 is just professional language" are simply extremely naive. And there are lots of other uses for such a level than just immigration.

Why I was mentioning it: to further illustrate how much we need articles like the one this thread is about. To further spread the truth that there are simply more steps between zero and perfection. This article is a very welcome alternative to the tons of myths spreading stuff we normally see.

We are simply seeing lots of extreme views on the internet. I'd say that the opinions are now weirdly moving from bad the "everything but fluency/perfection/at least C1 is not worth it", to even worse "touristy conversation is all that matters and the people aiming for more are wasting time". I'd say it is a sort of a defence reaction of many language learners against the truth of how difficult it is to get to those high levels
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Re: What does fluency in a language mean?

Postby tarvos » Sun Sep 08, 2019 9:00 pm

Of course C1 is useful. The question is whether it is always necessary and under which circumstances it is necessary. The returns above C1 become diminishing and we have a limited amount of time and not all of us care about learning languages as much as hobbyists like some of us here do. B2 is much more than tourist phrases and it's a very useful level if you need to use a language without necessarily working in it. The question could be whether 3 languages at C2 or 6 at C1 would be more useful; I would always pick the latter.
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