Is it truly possible to become fluent without living in the country of the used language?

Hey guys, I know there are many videos of what “Fluent” means, and what it means to “know” a word etc etc. But surely it’s not truly possible to become fluent in a language without living or having lived, in the country of the language for a long time. For example. In Danish. I can express certain things fluently, or in other words, I can say,read and understand certain things in Danish without even having to think about it, it just gets processed so quickly i don’t have to think about it, presumably because I’ve come across certain words so often it just sticks. But words in English like (and please don’t attach much significance to these random words I choose): practical, adaptable, subjective, agile, etc. are words that I don’t necessarily come across every day , and I certainly don’t use them every day but over my life time I’ve heard them enough and seen them in context enough to understand their meaning pretty much spontaneously.

This then made me think that surely words in Danish that correspond to these types of words I couldn’t possibly memorize or maybe even “know” to whatever degree one may think “know” means unless I was in Denmark completely surrounded by them as opposed to trying to “learn” every word I come across which because I know I’m not going to remember seems some what pointless. Sorry if some parts of the post, I haven’t worded greatly. Would be interested on your thoughts everyone :slight_smile:


It’s not so much LIVING in a country that’s the issue. It’s the amount of passive contact with and active use of the language that counts.

I’m not a fan of Benny Lewes. But I noticed one of his Youtube videos where he is cruising down a canal in Amsterdam with a really cute little number from Spain. She mentioned that she was working in Amsterdam to improve her…English.
(It’s really true - see the video! Interview with an au-pair in Spanish, along Amsterdam canals - YouTube )

I just didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this! But it proves the point that contact with native speakers, or living in a country where the language is officially spoken is not hugely important. Hearing and using the language a lot is.

i agree that hearing and using is, but surely the only way to hear it enough to pick up words that you’d need to know to be classed as “fluent” but not necessarily use them very often, would be where you’re in an environment where you are hearing this language basically 24/7, and surely that would only be in the country where the language is spoken or in a household where the language is spoken a alot. p.s I’ve seen that video too and she’s is rather nice looking :stuck_out_tongue:

I think what your suggesting may have been more true maybe 10 or 15 years ago but the Internet now provides so many opportunities to immerse yourself in your target language without visiting a country that it is spoken. I guess actually living in a country your target language is being spoken does remove a lot of the choice you may have in the matter. If you go out to public places your just going to be exposed to the language whether you want to be or not. So with that in mind, I think it is probably possible to become fluent without ever even visiting your target language’s country but I think it would require a lot more deliberate effort on the student’s part.

Also to add to Rank’s point - I’ve found native Japanese (my target language) speakers to talk with where I live and I live in a rather rural area that isn’t very diverse.

Yes I agree it would require a lot more deliberate effort, but don’t you think it would require a ridiculous amount of effort, possibly more than half your day being spent trying to immerse yourself in your target language?

Plenty of people have become fluent in a foreign language without ever being abroad. I’m one of them. It’s just a matter of exposure and dedication. If you put in the effort consistently and for long enough, you will achieve fluency. Your passive vocabulary will always be larger than your passive one, and that’s true also for native speakers of any language. If you want to READ fluently, you have to read often enough, if you want to SPEAK fluently, you have to speak often enough, there’s no escaping that.

Hi all, first post …

Without worrying about what fluency means I think you need to draw a distinction between fluency and knowing every word and turn of phrase which are needed in all possible situations. I suppose that is the difference between being fluent and bilingual/native speaker.

You can be definitely be fluent without living in another country, but equally there will be situations where you will lack the vocabulary to express yourself well as you will never have been in or come across that situation. For example, you could be fluent in english, (and never having lived here) never been exposed to specific vocab due to having your car MOTed. There will always be something you do not know, but I don’t
think it matters and certainly not in regard to fluency.

I too have achieved fluency in a language over the last 3 years without going abroad to study. It all has to do with the amount of content you expose yourself too, for instance, all of the “uncommon” words you listed in your first post I can recall in an instant in Italian, and I definitely didn’t have to go to the country to learn them. What I DID do was listen to hours and hours of their talk radio, read about 20 novels and countless blogs, news articles and Wikipedia articles, and of course speak with Italians I’ve met here in The States and over Skype. The funny thing is it didn’t even really consume my life either. I just switched the normal tv / radio / blogs / books / news that I read from English to my target language. I still have time to work 40 hours a week, workout every day, play golf, raise my son, clean the house (which gives me even more listening time), compete (and win) in Judo, etc. Language input is the key, lots and lots of language input. I’m working on my third language now. Its a lot of fun, I’ll take a trip to Mexico or Spain or some other Spanish speaking country as a treat to myself AFTER I have become fluent in that language as well. Then it will be on to language number four…

Many people seem to learn languages fluently without going abroad. The internet is a very powerful tool for this. However, I do think that for putting the finishing touches on your language, nothing will really substitute for being surrounded by native speakers 24/7.


What you say is true. However the mere fact of having lived in a country where the language is spoken would by no means ensure that you would know the vocab for every rare situation - at least, not unless you lived there for a VERY long time! (I speak from personal experience here; I’ve spent some time living in Germany, but I’m certain that there are still plenty of situations where I could be thrown for want of a particular specialist word!)

Having said that, being completely surrounded by your target language is never going to be bad for your progress, of course…

(BTW I also think there is a difference between passive and active fluency.)