What is fluency in a language?


I made another video, in English this time, about the question of fluency in a language.

I really hope I am not considered to “spamming” the forum, it’s not my aim… only to generate discussion about a topic I find interesting!


A good video.
It might be difficult to “function” as perfectly as native speakers in all walks of life.

I just don’t get why everybody wants to define fluency. There are an infinite number of definitions, and most of them are very vague, so it’s a pointless exercise imo. Please just use the CEFR when talking about language levels, and stop torturing us.


I feel something of superficiality or slipperiness in the word “fluency”.

I don’t think we’ll ever NOT discuss “fluency” - simply because the word is used so ubiquitously in the context of language. I happen to coach ESL speakers in English - I say “coach” rather than teach - what can I teach someone who has been learning English for 10, 20 and even over 30 years? I ask these ESL speakers, "How comfortable do you feel speaking English with your native English speaking business colleagues, doing a presentation in English, or speaking on the phone with an English speaker overseas, etc. All rate their comfort levels differently, depending on what they are doing. I think to help people get in touch with their personal COMFORT LEVEL in a language is very helpful. Asking ESL speakers to rate from 01 to 10 their comfort level (10 being the highest level of comfort) gives me a very quick indication in which areas these ESLers need coaching. And by asking the right questions, I can rapidly find out what it exactly is that make the ESLers feel UNcomfortable - and apply the necessary coaching strategies from there. My take: whoever feels COMFORTABLE in a language is by default fluent.


He is fluent, quite fluent, very fluent. He speaks well, quite well, very well. Define “well”.

I think ‘well’ can be defined as ‘almost good’. Now we just need to define ‘almost’ and ‘good’.

I have not watched the video yet, but it is certainly not “spamming”.

There are no correct or incorrect definitions of ‘fluency’, but there are useful and not useful definitions. I think Steve gave a useful one once that was based on whether one is comfortable with the language. Maybe he can explain again, since I don’t remember the details.

"There are no correct or incorrect definitions of ‘fluency’, but there are useful and not useful definitions. "
I agree. We need useful operational definitions. At least, we should differentiate between reading fluency and speaking fluency.

I just think that fluency is the ability to express oneself more or less comfortably on most subjects, with mistakes, gaps, occasionally struggling to find the right word etc. even if you need a few minutes to warm up. I think I am fluent in French, Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish. I could get to fluency in Swedish, German, Italian and Portuguese with a little work at LingQ. My Russian could get fluent if I spent a few weeks in Russia since I have enough passive vocabulary, just hardly ever speak. To get to fluency in Czech, Ukrainian and Romanian would require a month or two in the country or at least a lot more speaking. Korean might require three months in the country. I consider developing a good comprehension and a large passive vocabulary as the best way to build up the potential for fluency.To fully achieve fluency we need to speak a lot.

To me, fluency is the ability to discuss a wide variety of topics, as Steve has said, including mistakes and a strong accent – this is still considered fluent to me.

However, speaking personally, this level of fluency isn’t even necessarily my goal.

I plan to spend a month or so in Japan at the end of next year, but after that, a passive level of “fluency” is my real goal. I just want to be able to understand. My opportunity to speak with natives is limited and not necessary. at this point.

Who knows though? Right now, I can’t help but study it because it’s so much fun. Maybe I will stumble upon fluency in the future, haha.

Of course the world fluency is difficult to define, I just think people want to know when they have crossed the finish line, it’s only natural to look for one. I feel like when you don’t have to “study” any more and you can virtually understand everything is what I’d call fluency, or don’t have to think about the words that are coming out of your mouth most of the time for those who prioritize speaking.

Sure there is always going to be big words out there that you’ll never know or some regional slang, and even natives botch words or mishear them, I’m frequently unable to hear song lyrics in english or when people run their words together in movies or real life.

Ah - the endless question )))

“I just think that fluency is the ability to express oneself more or less comfortably on most subjects”.

Funny. I have been able to do that for a long-time in Russian and did not consider myself fluent. I still don’t know if I consider myself fluent although I finally feel comfortable saying - “I know Russian”.

To me, fluency is being able to put on a random Eko broadcast and easily understand it without any text or repeat playing. Some, I can understand very easily and some are still crazy difficult without the text (although all are easy for me if I work the text first).

Comfort level is also an interesting topic as it is situationally dependent. This just happened to me this morning. I was video skyping with my wife in Russian as easily as English - I wasn’t even thinking I was speaking Russian. Just talking as any couple. She is in Novosibirsk and I asked her to pick me up an advanced grammar book on her way back…

Her sister was in the background, heard this, and jumped into the conversation and said to me, “Why? Your Russian is awesome”. Yikes. Now, I am uncomfortable. I am now speaking to someone else AND the topic is now my ability to speak Russian. I got super uncomfortable and my Russian completely fell apart. Like embarrassingly so.

I am also going camping with my first Russian teacher in a couple of weeks and I am sure my Russian will completely collapse in front of her as she doesn’t mind mistakes but hates bad pronunciation. My fear will ensure that I mispronounce everything.

Learning to be comfortable is a very very difficult thing to do, even when you have tons of practice speaking and are relatively proficient.


Most tests of language level don’t test what most people consider to be key language fluency ability – particularly conversational fluency.

People pass C2 language level tests all the time without necessarily being credited by natives as being fluent.

I’d propose a test:

-Read out loud the front page, middle page, and back page of a major newspaper, without any pre-practice.
-Record yourself, unedited, having two hours (total time) worth of conversation with native speakers (who aren’t language teachers).
-Listen to 15 minutes of a native chat radio program (one time without pre-practice), and then write out in the target language what the radio conversation was about.

And be marked on the above by a jury of peers, who are native in the language.

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Here is a video on the same subject from not so long ago.

The acid test! Or, to change the analogy, one way of sorting out the chaff from the wheat.

Am I the only one who finds the volume of this video very low?