What is fluency?

A former Mayor of Vancouver has launched a program called “greeting fluency” in which he wants to encourage people in Vancouver to learn to greet one another in different languages. Being able to say “hello” and “how are you”, without any chance of understanding the response, and without really knowing how you sound, strikes me as a gimmick, that has nothing to do with fluency.

In my view, the most important aspect of fluency is being able to understand what is being said. I have worked with, and done business with, people who spoke English as a foreign language. I would far rather deal with someone who stumbled in expressing him or herself, but obviously understood exactly what I wanted to say. Similarly,I am far more uncomfortable when I don’t understand someone in a foreign language than when I make mistakes or struggle to find the best words or phrases.

Fluency is comfort in the language. There is no fluency without strong comprehension skills. “Greeting fluency” is largely meaningless from a language learning perspective. It might, however, inititiate someone into the world of language learning, generate an interest in a different language and culture, in getting to know people from a different milieu through language. So it might still have some benefits. However, mostly it just seems like the kind of thing that politicians do.

7 comments on “What is fluency?

Thanks Steve.I completely agree.Learning to ‘speak’ a language quickly is not as difficult as people think, but being able to actually comprehend language that’s spoken naturally and quickly takes a lot of time and exposure. It’s the one aspect of language learning that can’t be faked.Gimmicks that talk about ‘fast fluency’ are flawed for this reason. There’s no such thing as ‘fast comprehension’.

It does sound like a pretty political move to me too.How diverse is the population of Vancouver? I guess this is a blanket approach to instigate support from the populace. It does have it’s merits though. Like you said, it can spark interest in learning different languages especially if a wide-reaching movement is stemmed from the government. Thanks for sharing this, Steve 🙂

Manoel Claro Alves Neto

Hi, Steve! So far I could research and try to learn a new language, I knew that only listening, massive and tirelessness, I can reach my goals. I’ve tried before to learn English with records and grammar rules, without companion and I only could learn to read and write, so so. It was too difficult to me to be free that vicious habit, ie, think with grammar. But, intuitively, learning Spanish, two years ago, I have perceived that I had had a incredible improvement in my fluency only listening. I never tried to speak before achieve a huge improvement in my vocabulary. Six months were necessary to start speaking Spanish, fluently. I found your videos and you have confirmed that facts. Thank you!

Bela Abaffy

I have a bit different opinion. I think the speaking fluency means to speak a foreign language by the same speed as own language. So if someone speaks very fast in own language, of course without thinking, much harder to speak the same speed in a foreign language. If someone speaks slowly, that person will achieve the fluent level in shorter time than who speaks very fast.I usually speak very fast in my own language, and my goal was to speak in English at the same speed (fluent). So my problem was my English has been more slower than my own language for a long time. Nowadays my English almost fluent but I had need more than 10 years learning and practising for it. Finally I am very happy today although sometimes I think some particular word for a long time when I speak in English, but I don’t care now. I enjoy this language. This thanks for inter alia Lingq. Thank you Steve

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