It’s the biggest buzzword in all of language learning. If you don’t have it, you want it, and if you have it—well, you’ve made it!
For some, this word simply means capability, an ability to listen, speak, read, and/or write in a language without much difficulty.
For others, the word implies mastery, nothing less than complete dominance of the language in nearly every aspect, at a level comparable with any native speaker.
With such a range of possible meanings and implications, it is impossible for us to discuss fluency without first defining our terms.
For the purposes of this article, let’s divide upper-level language skill into two parts: fluency and proficiency.
Fluency is the lower of the two skill levels we will discuss here. If a learner is fluent in his or her target language, then she knows between 5,000 and 10,000 words in that language. We will say that this corresponds roughly to the B2 level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
Proficiency is, for our purposes, the higher of the two skill levels. A proficient learner has near-complete mastery of the language, and can be said to know more than 10,000 words in his or her target language. On the CEFR scale, proficient learners can be considered at the C1 level or beyond.
To explore these terms in more detail, let’s look at them in terms of the four major language skills: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking.