What does being fluent in a language mean?

Hi, I wrote the text below. You can read it and tell me your opinion about. I will have a native record this text. Then, I will put it in LingQ (TheDoctor’s podcasts)

What does being fluent in a language mean?
Hi Jarda,
I thought of you because you have been interested in languages for some time and I don’t know anyone who has improved in a language as quickly as you. As you know, I am studying languages at UWE and I have to research an interesting topic about languages. Maybe you could help me with my research. The topic is “What does being fluent in a language mean?”. I have already asked some people and heard many interesting opinions. You know, I haven’t given it any thought before. Also, I would like to ask you if you think that you are fluent in English.
Write back to me soon.

Hi Harry,
Thank you for your letter.
It is a really interesting question. There is an Irish guy on the LingQ forum, he claims that he can learn and become fluent in a language from scratch in three months. Unbelievable, isn’t it? He brought about debate on the question of what being fluent means for him. He can speak many languages, but according to native speakers in the languages that he can speak he makes many mistakes and sometimes does not even make sense. Ever since I read his post, I have been asking people about this. Let me tell you the opinions that I’ve read and my opinion as well.
First of all, you should realise that you will never know everything in a language you learn. You will never even know everything in your native language. When somebody speaks in Czech about a specific topic, for example economics, politics or medicine, I don’t understand them. It is as if they are speaking in a different language. I don‘t understand because I‘m not interested in it at all. There are many topics that I have no clue about. So, I don‘t expect to understand everything in a language that I‘m learning. In my language I usually talk about things that I am interested in or about common topics. So I don‘t learn these things in a language that I study.
The next thing that I wanted to point out is about speaking without gaps and pauses. Think about it carefully. Even though a native speaker in their language does it while talking it is quite natural. Sometimes we need to think about our thoughts and what we want to say or otherwise we would be talking nonsense. We shouldn’t speak like people from a textbook’s CD that we usually hear in schools. They just read the text and do not improvise just as everyone does in real life.
Thinking about pronunciaton and intonation, is it really so important? Think about the question “what does being fluent mean?”. Being fluent does not mean speaking like a native, or imitating the pronunciation of a Brit or an American. It is not about that at all. You can pronunce it with a different accent as long as you are understood by the majority of people. People have many different accents anyway. I know that some people prefer to work on their pronunciation and intonation from the beginning. I didn’t do that and I hadn’t thought about my pronunciation before. Now, when I’m able to express my thoughts I can work on my pronunciation more, but I don‘t think that to copy a native speaker’s pronunciation would make me more fluent. Although, I should be speaking in a manner to be understood. By the way, I would like to share a good example. My friend from Germany has been living in the Czech Republic for 10 years and he can speak perfect Czech, to express everything he wants, although his pronunciation is not clear and every Czech native speaker recognises that he is a foreigner. Although I dare say that he is fluent in Czech.
The next interesting thing to point out is grammar rules. There are always many rules to learn and many exceptions as well. Is it really necessary to know everything about them in order to become a fluent speaker? I don’t think so. I have been told that even native speakers make grammar mistakes all the time while speaking and they are fluent in their native language! So why should a learner speak exactly according to grammar rules, remembering all of these rules and paying attention not to make any mistakes? You know, native speakers never memorize any grammar rules, they speak naturally. They don’t need to learn these rules and so why do learners? For learners it is a big deal to memorise all of these rules and also to use them while speaking. I have my own experience with it and I struggled. Speaking for myself, the most difficult thing about English grammar is the tenses. People usually mix them up since they are not used to it. So we all should be focusing on correct use of tenses and word order, but it is really a matter of practise.
My conclusion is that a learner becomes fluent when he is able „to have a conversation“ about common topics and about topics that he is interested in without too much hesitation, with understandable pronunciation and without grammar mistakes, such as mistakes made with tenses.
I hope what I’ve said will help you.
Take care.

I almost lost my breath reading this text, is too long. But I agree with most part with them. I’ve belive that most important point is listen, and following the correct pronunciation, some words can be different things depends like you say.

I almost lost my breath reading this text, is too long. But I agree with most part with them. I’ve belive that most important point is listen, and following the correct pronunciation, some words can be different things depends like you say.

I think being fluent means being able to converse comfortably on most subjects, or subjects that one is familiar with. I recently attended a forest industry conference in Vancouver. Two of the speakers were Swedish and one was Thai. All three had noticeable accents, and the odd non-standard turn of phrase. They all spoke elegantly and effortlessly, not perfectly but fluently. Very impressive.

To me, fluency is this. (and yes, I know, you can speak fluidly with a small vocabulary, but this is what I think it “really” means) This is for English speakers that learn a romance language.

  1. You don’t have to think when conjugating verbs, it just flows naturally and you make a mistake like once very 10 minutes.
  2. Grammatical errors are kept to a minimum, like one every 3 minutes.
  3. You may have an accent, but it doesn’t impair comprehension nor is it so bad that the listener cringes.
  4. You can watch a normal-speed movie in the foreign language without subtitles and understand like 95% of it, not “hearing” the rare word and not knowing a word here and there. Pretty much, you’re fine going to the theaters and watching the movie in the foreign language.
  5. You can work in that language professionally.
  6. You know a LOT of words, but if you don’t know a word, you can absolutely describe it without using English.

To me, this is a C1 level and admittedly much more rigorous than most people’s definitions. Also, to reach this I think you need about 4 semesters of intensive university education, doing about 20 hours/week (let’s say 1,200 hours) and then 8 months of 100% immersion abroad. (Let’s say, 8 hours a day of “focused” work, including classes given in the foreign language and hanging out. I didn’t calculate 16/day because sometimes my brain is just put on standby/rest.)

So…1,200 hours in country + 1,900 abroad=3,100 total. Now, this level may be in between C1 and C2, but I personally think that you need to spend at least 5 years abroad fully immersed to be really close to the level of that romance language native speaker.

I also don’t think that there are shortcuts–you have to spend a lot of time reading, listening, speaking, writing, and hanging out with natives. And have a very strong command of grammar and natives that are willing to correct you.