First, let's look at a breakdown of the various proficiencies one can have in a foreign language. Below we see an excellent breakdown of the 6 core levels of foreign language proficiency as detailed by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (just know it's a legit, important authority):
A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2.
Common European Framework of Reference for Language
So, what is this telling us? It shows us at what level a language learner is considered to be fluent.
Fluency is a B2, upper intermediate Level. To prove it to you, let's first define fluency!
What is the Definition of "Fluency"
Nowhere here do we see that in order to be "fluent" you have to be perfect. Not in the slightest. Instead, you must be able to express yourself easily, accurately, and articulately so that they're understood.
"Fluency" Is An Upper-Intermediate, "B2" Level.
According to the European Framework of language proficiency, the Upper Intermediate, B2 level speaker is an "independent user" of the language. They are fluent!
How Long Does It Take?
I am going to focus on this in my next blog post, but the short answer is: approximately 4-12 months. You have to work hard, consistently build your skills, and get in several hundred hours of speaking to get here. It is possible to become fluent without being fully immersed in the language, in the country where it is spoken.
What Can You Do?
Perfection is lies closer to the realm of "proficient", which as we see in the European Framework, is somewhere at (and beyond) the C2 level
"Proficiency" is an Upper-Level, Mastery, C2 Level.
How long does it take?
Approximately 3-5 + Years. It entirely depends heavily on your experience, level of commitment, and immersion. From my experience, it is nearly impossible to reach a C2 level having never spent considerable time in a country where the language is spoken. Of course there are special circumstances, but I'm talking about your standard "I'm learning a foreign language on my own", type of person.
What Can You Do?
Understanding the difference between fluency and proficiency is vitally important for the beginning language learner to understand. I have seen person after person start out highly motivated to only become overwhelmed, hopeless, and lose their drive to keep learning. If you get one thing out of this article, understand that you do not have to strive for perfection to be fluent. I hope this has helped to clarify this topic and to take a away a bit of the intimidation and fear. Best of luck!
Well, now you know what fluency is.
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Levi Flint is a language teacher, learner, and traveler frustrated with how languages have been viewed and taught in North America. He hopes to change things with a bit of clarity, perspective, and common sense.