Why can't I speak fluently?
You know you are fluent in a language when….
After living abroad for a while and getting used to the new culture, history and language, you just feel great. You have native speaker friends and spend your life shopping, working, and ordering food in the foreign language. You no longer feel like the awkward newbie you were in the beginning. In fact, you are doing fantastic - but only until a friend asks you, "Do you speak the language fluently?"
Do you do that
It is difficult to make out an idea of what fluency is all about. Many people - especially those who have not learned a foreign language - believe that you have swallowed a dictionary and that you can always express yourself 100% perfectly, without ever making a mistake or never having to struggle for words. But if so, could you claim to have a perfect command of your mother tongue? That is rather unlikely.
Instead, let's look at fluency rather than the ability to communicate quickly, easily, and "fluently" in a variety of ways and with a variety of people.
So are you fluent in the language now?
How can you even tell? Fortunately, there are many ways to find out. Here are seven that we've noticed over the years.
1. PEOPLE NO LONGER CHANGE THEIR SPEECH FOR YOU
When you started learning the language, everything was so confusing that a simple conversation seemed like an odyssey to you. Your big, frightened eyes and stuttered answers revealed you as a beginner and everyone was speaking noticeably slower than before, so you could keep up. If this doesn't happen anymore, this is a great clue that you are about to become fluent in the language.
2. YOU LISTEN TO OTHER CONVERSATIONS
Now that you have mastered the language and are sitting in a café or plaza, the conversations around you no longer seem like an impenetrable fog. In fact, you can actively listen to interesting details about their lives that other people reveal. This milestone is huge as it means you can understand people without looking at them and no longer have to rely on gestures and facial expressions to understand the meaning.
3. A NEW WORLD OF HUMOR HAS OPENED
Stand-up comedy clubs? Comedy programs on television? No problem! While each joke had to be patiently explained to you beforehand, you now understand each one - and even the punch lines! - and all by itself. When you're ready, you can be proud of yourself. This is a great moment for you as a language student, as the specific peculiarities and nuances of the culture open up to you.
4. SOMETIMES YOU READ AND HEAR SOMETHING WITHOUT "PERCEIVING" THE LANGUAGE
We bet this seemed impossible to you when you were just starting out. But there you are, reading several sections of a text or looking at the reports on the evening news. Only to then notice that you didn't really notice the language in which the content was! This is an exciting moment and it proves that you can switch back and forth between your mother tongue and other languages.
5. GO TO THE BANK (OR THE DOCTOR, TAX ADVISOR, ETC.), DO NOT BE AFRAID ANYMORE
Before you became fluent in the language, the thought of visiting a doctor's office was terrifying. What if you couldn't describe your symptoms and were prescribed laxatives instead of antibiotics? But those days are long gone. Conversations with bank employees, postal workers and tradespeople are just as easy.
6. YOU KNOW WHEN AND HOW TO USE SWORD
Native speakers often find it great to teach foreigners swear words. When you first heard these phrases, they probably sounded strange. Nowadays, you not only know when it is culturally appropriate, you also know how to pass it on to locals. Even if you don't curse, the fact that you could do it in the foreign language is what counts!
7. YOU ARE AWARE OF YOUR FAULTS
People who are “fluent” in another language still make mistakes. The difference is that they catch themselves making mistakes. Now that you have mastered the language, you correct yourself more often, and sometimes even right away! Be proud of yourself again - this skill is light years away from that of intermediate-level students, who usually have not yet developed this self-awareness.
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