What does it mean to be fluent in a language?

I’d always aspired to be fluent in German. And then the more fluent I became, the more I realised there was another linguistic challenge waiting round the corner. There was always something else I could improve on. The Oxford Dictionary defines fluent as “able to speak, read or write a language, especially a foreign language, easily and well.” Rather vague if you ask me, but I’ve realises that fluency is subjective, depending on how you intend to use the language.

Setting language goals

It was once my goal to be able to speak German with confidence. Then write with confidence. Then write professionally. Then write professionally with confidence. And now I’m thinking that it would be amazing if I could present confidently in German and in a business environment. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

The pressure to become fluent

So now I’m asking myself what it really means to be fluent and if we (or I 😀) just put too much pressure ourselves. You can be fluent in everyday conversation, but not have a clue how to speak about the solar system. That’s ok. You can be fluent in speaking about your job, but not have a clue when it comes to discussing photosynthesis. That’s also ok.

Setting realistic language goals

When it comes to learning a language or becoming fluent, I’d recommend setting realistic goals based on your needs. People often feel demotivated because they try to speak their new language in the same way they speak their native language. To begin with, this is impossible. It’s important to just communicate, even if it’s slow and with random words that don’t really fit.

When it comes to reaching fluency, I’ve decided to take a new approach: There will always be something else you could learn, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not already fluent.

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