When are we fluent?

This comes up all the time. In my view, if we feel that we are fluent, we are fluent. If we are comfortable communicating on most subjects. If we understand most of what is said, and can, with errors and the occasional awkwardness, get our meaning across,  we are fluent.

Some people have suggested that we need to be able to say ” I am tying my shoe laces”, or some such obscure phrase. I say nonsense. If you can communicate on familiar subjects you can quickly learn to communicate on less familiar subjects, if and when the necessity arises, with a little help at first.


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3 comments on “When are we fluent?

Steven O'Neill

I totally agre with this and also saw those vidoes regarding shoelaces. Despite your ability to read War and Peace in Russian, it is still shameful that you lack the linguistic talent to say “My pastry appears to be too soggy!” when in Moscow; proof that your Russian is dismal! This nonsense about “shoelaces” was, to me, just an excuse for those certain individuals to make an attempt at undermining the very real and notable attainments of yourself and the other “detestable” Youtube polyglots, who dare claim that they can speak the languages they have already proved they can speak. This notion of fluency is linked by these people to ‘functionality’
So, while I have seen Mr. Steve Kaufman hold fully fluent and off-the-cuff talks with native speakers in his languages, this is never to be taken as proof of his functionality is these languages, since we all know that he cannot now, nor will ever be able to, master saying “I have to tie my shoelaces!” in any of those languages! As I know from my own foreign-language learning, it is far easier to read Tolstoy in the original, hold an interview in Chinese and so on, than to say Oh dear, my shoelace is undone!”
Enough of my sarcasm. Some of my foreign friend speak fantastic English; have an extensive vocabulary that they use with great precision, and have accents more fine than mine. However, there will always be words, expressions, and idiomatic things they don’t know. I have been reading English for over 40 years and still find words I don’t know: perhaps this means that I am still not functional? Is it because I am Scottish?!!
In short: give us a break, the shoelaces can wait until I need to know the word for them.


hey Steve. I am currently learning russian and I am going on a language course travel to the Ukraine this summer. I am going to be staying with a local family and receive classes in russian. I just wonder if you have any tips on what I could do in order to improve as much as possible.

best regards, Carl

Thanks Steven,

Yes there are some strange things said about language learning.


I would listen and read as much as you can and build up your vocabulary. You will be thrown in the deep end when you get there, I hope. so get prepared. Be sure you can understand as much as possible.

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