We have different reasons for learning a language; some English-learners are learning the English language to communicate with their friends who live in English-speaking countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada, Australia, and so on. Others, perhaps, are learning English for professional reasons — to earn a promotion, or to interact with English-speaking clients. And, of course, there are people who learn English just for fun!
All of these reasons are great! Our motivations are what push us to learn more every day. However, even though you have clear reasons for learning English, do you have clear goals for fluency? How do you define fluency?
Myth About Fluency
A lot of language-learners, whether they’re learning English, Portuguese, Spanish, Korean, etc., seem to think that fluency is a clear goal that can only be achieved with mastery of the language. This means that, to many of us, you cannot be fluent in English until you are capable of speaking it just as well as your native language, or that fluency is achieved by being perfect in English — you have to know every vocabulary word, every grammar rule, every pronunciation rule, and so on.
If we define fluency like that, then most people in English-speaking countries cannot call themselves native speakers.
How is Fluency Defined?
You’ve probably heard many different definitions of “fluency”, and while some of them may or may not be true, “fluency” is defined by one factor and one factor only:
Fluency is what you decide it is! Your family, your teacher, and your friends might tell you what fluency means but if you’re the person who is learning a new language, you decide when you’re fluent!
For some people, fluency means having a long conversation (maybe 2 hours or longer) with someone about a technical subject such as Computers, Engineering, Physics, and so on (if you’re a scientist, computer expert, or an engineer).
For doctors, nurses, or anyone who works in Health or Social Services, fluency means being able to talk to other people about their health or someone else’s, or being able to talk to other people about various physical and mental health problems that their patients/clients may experience.
For politicians or anyone who likes to study Politics, fluency means being able to speak very well in English and talk about political issues that happen in their country or around the world.
All of these subjects are very advanced, and they require a good knowledge of specific vocabulary words in order to communicate with other people on the same subject. Some topics, like Medicine and Engineering, require knowledge of vocabulary words that not even native speakers would know. For example, most native English speakers do not know what Neglected Tropical Diseases are, without studying and preparation.
Setting Fluency Goals
For people who don’t work in a specialized job, they define fluency as just being capable of having normal conversations with people about general things like the weather, asking for help, asking for someone’s opinion, requesting/negotiation, buying a plane ticket, ordering food at a restaurant, and so on. These are conversations that everyone, including native speakers, has on a daily basis.
You will know that you’re fluent in English when you’re able to do what you want to do, in English, with confidence and without thinking about it too much. The first task you need to do to achieve your goal is to define what your goal is. Here’s one tip that can help you achieve your fluency goals:
- Think about WH-questions
- Who – Who do you want to speak English with? Americans? Canadians? Brits?
- When – When do you want to achieve this goal by? Do you have a deadline? Months? Years?
- Where – Where will you use English? In a doctor’s office? At work? During your travels?
- Why – Why are you trying to achieve fluency in English? Is it for something or for someone?
- How – How are you going to achieve your goals? Sign up for lessons with italki? Join our awesome Go Natural English course? Study on your own?
So with this information in mind, I have one question to ask you:
How do YOU define fluency for yourself? Watch the video below!