Defining “fluency” itself is a task that seems tricky, and yet it is the ultimate goal every language learner yearns to achieve.
Linguists generally agree that foreign-language fluency is achieved when linguistic processing switches from controlled to automatic. This means that fluency of a language is attained when speaking and understanding that language is automatic and effortless. But how can you assess this?
Test your foreign language fluency with these tell-tale signs that you have truly mastered a language!
#1 Speaking the language without mistakes, especially when you are multitasking
For many non-native speakers, the ability to speak a foreign language requires the use of all your cognitive resources. Between grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, your brain simply doesn’t have space to allocate to other things, like eating or listening to music. Therefore, this is an excellent indication of language fluency, because speaking the language while also performing other tasks clearly displays automatic processing of the language. This may also be the reason why bilinguals consistently outperform monolinguals at multitasking!
#2 Eavesdropping is easy!
Following a conversation between two strangers in a language that is not your first language can actually be harder than it seems. You must establish a context, fill in any missing information, and acquaint yourself with the unfamiliar voices and linguistic mannerism of strangers, all of which need rapid processing of a lot of information. Being able to eavesdrop therefore is a true milestone, though it may be a bad habit to develop, and not for us to debate the ethics of it!
#3 You don’t always “register” the language
An exciting milestone, it can really be a thrill when you catch yourself several paragraphs into a text to realize that you have not actively registered which language the content is in, but are just happily reading away. This shows that you can easily switch between your mother tongue and other language(s) and are processing the information subconsciously.
#4 You are aware of the mistakes you make
Nobody speaks a language with perfect grammar and doing so cannot be considered a mark of fluency. True fluency however can be indicated if you catch yourself making a mistake and correcting yourself, often in the moment! In the same way, not knowing a word but being able to communicate your thoughts regardless using other words is also a indication of fluency – for example, if you cannot say ‘trunk’ but you can say ‘the long thing in front of an elephant’s head’, you are well on your way to being fluent. Even in our native language, we often have a mental block about a word and have to use our acting skills!
#5 Native speakers do not compliment your language skills and do not modify their language for you
While this may seem counter intuitive, it is actually one of the greatest milestones you can achieve as a language learner. If you’ve truly achieved fluency, then even native speakers do not consider you a learner and so can communicate with you as how they would with a fellow native.
#6 Get emotional!
A true sign of fluency is the ability to express even the deepest emotions, or continue to speak even when affected emotionally, which is when words even in our own language may sometimes desert us. Metaphors, idioms and the ability to interpret nuances of pronunciation are all signs of fluency. For example. “Are you wearing that?” Fact finding. “Are you wearing that?” Criticism.
#7 Dream away the night
Well, we all like to dream of becoming fluent when we take up another language. According to some, to hear or speak a foreign language in your dream indicates a message from your subconscious that you do not yet understand. However, we think being able to dream in the new lingo, and actually know what’s going on, is a sure sign that you have made it.
Additional things like understanding jokes, slang and common phrases can also be clear indicators (and perks) of being fluent in a foreign language!
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