22 In Korean learning journey (:

Fluency. When?

In one of the previous posts, Van asked me about my definition of fluency. It’s an interesting question and I may  have touched on it before. It will be interesting to hear your take on it, so decided to reply as a post.

To be very honest, my definition of fluency changes accordingly to suit my purposes. hahahaha. With most people, I’ll most likely tell you that I’m still learning Korean and not fluent. When I’m going for interviews or going out to impress, I’ll tell you that I’m fluent. With some friends, I admit that I’m an advanced learner but still not fluent. In certain circumstances or with annoying people, I might even tell you that I don’t speak Korean. hahahaha. xD

So yeah, my “fluency” changes.

It does seem like everyone has a different yardstick to measure fluency and I’ve seen so many cases whereby people either overestimate or underestimate their proficiency level (at least according to the way I see it).

There’s no right answer to it, and I guess everyone does view fluency differently. Or “beginner, intermediate, advanced” for that matter.

I think I can only confidently tell everyone that I’m fluent only when I am able to speak, write, read, listen like it’s effortless. I may not need to be able to able to do debates in Korean, but I will only consider myself as fluent if I can express myself (in whatever area I need to) without getting stuck at all. I don’t think I can even read medical texts in Chinese, so I won’t require myself to do that in Korean.

Right now, I think that I’m at the advanced level. But not fluent yet. I get stuck in conversations at times, I can’t churn out some stuff that I need to at the moment (kill me please).

Fluency is also not really an end goal for me. You can always be more fluent, the way I see it. hahaha. Language ability is something that you can continuously improve (:

And yeah, I view fluency as an integration of the 4 major language skills. Won’t ever call myself fluent if I can read, write, listen but not speak, for instance.

How do you define fluency in a foreign language? 

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Christian
    24 January, 2013 at 11:50 PM

    Well, I usually tell people I’m fluent in Spanish just for the sake of convenience and I know I probably meet most people’s definitions of fluency. I can understand nearly everything that I read and can understand probably 90% of what I hear, but my own speaking ability is still lacking, and I sometimes struggle to find the right word to express myself. I think there is a difference in fluency and “native” fluency though.

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      27 January, 2013 at 1:36 PM

      yeahh. But sometimes I wonder if I can overcome that barrier and reach “native” fluency ><

  • Reply
    Piglet
    25 January, 2013 at 1:04 AM

    This is a very good question that many language learners often ask. For many who grew up only learning one language the definition of fluency might be more stringent as oppose to someone who grew up bilingual. My definition of fluency does not involves being able to study law or medicine in that language or having a difficult conversation regarding business or politics. These topics usually require learning about them, such as I cannot have a conversation regarding medicine, law, or even politics because I don’t study them nor am I interested. While I would be able to discuss about business because that is my major. I consider myself fluent in Vietnamese, however I can neither write (will be able to one day) or talk about business or politics because I don’t know the technical terms involves. However, I am fluent enough that if I wanted to, given some time and resources I will be able to study and converse in them. I think there is a big difference between being fluent in a language versus educated in a language. This is completely my opinion…..if I offend anyone or sound aggressive I apologized. I am not very good with using emoticons so …..often I might sound ….0_0

    • Reply
      Archana
      25 January, 2013 at 1:33 PM

      Hi Piglet, I like your comment a lot. I agree wholeheartedly with you. I probably couldn’t have an intelligent conversation about politics or business or law in English (because I’m not educated or interested in those areas), let alone Korean, so I definitely wouldn’t include that in my standards for fluency.

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      27 January, 2013 at 1:35 PM

      agreed! But somehow I’m more “greedy” when it comes to Korean 😛 I want to be even better in Korean than English sometimes

  • Reply
    ethel
    25 January, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    my level of fluency changes like yours too! haha. i’ll only think that i’m fluent when i can feel confident enough to speak without feeling nervous >< which is idk when cos unless i'm close to or feeling comfortable with a korean, thats when i dare to speak more………. lol

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      27 January, 2013 at 1:33 PM

      hahaha I dare to speak a lot more in Korea than here. I feel so damn self conscious here D:

  • Reply
    Sojin
    25 January, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    I think fluency is first of all something that does and should change for each person using the language.
    I also think having the goal of “wanting to become fluent in Korean” (or any language for that matter) is thusly inappropriate unless somebody has defined fluency.
    In my personal case, since I would like to translate literature (long ways off, but still moving towards it), I’ll eventually need to be able to read and understand Korean at a normal speed for a native speaker. So, I define ‘fluency’ in my case as being able to read and understand Korean novels and texts at a relatively normal speed.
    Some people may only want to be able to have conversations with Koreans – which is still not as easy as it sounds, because different people speak different ways. (I know sometimes I’m totally lost when speaking to some people just because of their word choice and sentence structure, even when I feel like it’s a simple conversation.)
    Anyways, I think fluency is defined personally on ones’ goals.

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      27 January, 2013 at 1:33 PM

      Yeah, there’s no universal definition for that and it’s really up to our own goals etc!

  • Reply
    Van
    25 January, 2013 at 10:10 AM

    Wow thanks for answering my question!! and you didn’t have to mention me in your post but I’m very honored 🙂 I agree with you on your last statement of this post. I definitely think we have to be skilled all 4 major aspects of a language. But you said the 4 main language skills, what are considered the other language skills besides those 4?? I have no idea haha.
    My opinion about being fluent is the same as yours. We have to able to express minds effortlessly to be considered fluent in my opinion. It’s sad that I’m not even fluent in my other language besides English which is Vietnamese. But I will work on that also! Hahaha it’s sooo funny that you will troll those annoying people xD I totally remembering reading one of your posts about talking about people you talked to and they commented on your Korean. and one of them was like your korean isn’t that good but you didnt say anything even though that person was not good at korean. maybe i’m just rambling or maybe you do remember? or most likely choice is that i remembered wrong haha. Anyways thanks for giving your opinion on my question! 😀

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      27 January, 2013 at 1:32 PM

      hahaha i think i meant 4 main language skills as speaking writing etc 😛 hehe yeah I still remember that episode. ><;; Usually I keep quiet until I was really feeling spiteful that day XD

      • Reply
        Van
        29 January, 2013 at 8:36 AM

        i think that’s how we all are xD don’t keep pushing our buttons haha

  • Reply
    Autonomous Korean
    25 January, 2013 at 4:23 PM

    In applied linguistics fluency is usually contrasted with accuracy; accuracy is of course using the language without errors (but possibly at a very stunted pace) while fluency is using the language comfortably, being able to express yourself freely in general, being understood and going at a (relatively) fast pace; this can be interpreted in terms of any of the four skills, but with speaking most of all. So I’d say I’m “contextually fluent” in Korean, that is, fluent in the right conditions or contexts, where I’m most comfortable.
    Some people emphasize fluency and others accuracy, but I try to develop them together as much as possible. Slowing down a little to use the right grammar can have good effects long-term, as long as you don’t get too caught up with accuracy.

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      27 January, 2013 at 1:31 PM

      Same here, I’m also more fluent in certain contexts and less in others. I try to keep my development more balanced, but somehow I’m always more comfortable in certain contexts.

  • Reply
    Shironoirez
    26 January, 2013 at 11:02 PM

    I think unless it’s like Latin, speaking is what’s gonna mostly determine whether you’re fluent or not. I say that VERY loosely, but like I half a few half Japanese, half _____ friends who were brought up with Japanese as their first language along with English. However, although they can maybe read hiragana/katakana and understand everything they hear, sound perfectly native when they talk and so on, they can’t read any kanji whatsoever. But you wouldn’t really say there weren’t fluent, just illiterate when it comes to kanji I guess. However I have a Hungarian friend who moved to America. When he talks he never makes any errors, when we talk online he even speaks really ghetto as a joke (perfectly, too). If it weren’t for his accent, you’d have no idea it wasn’t his first language! So I guess it’s about “sounding” native in general. Mostly grammar and word choice, but accent does play a good role I think. English is a bit of an exception because there’s so many accents it’s crazy.

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      27 January, 2013 at 1:30 PM

      that’s true! we are usually judged by our speaking skills.

  • Reply
    JW
    27 January, 2013 at 12:18 AM

    I was actually thinking about this a while ago. You know how in your native language you can look at a big wall of text and you can see full sentences and make sense of them in one second flat without TRYING to read it at all. In Korean I have to really focus to be able to read anything. If I look at a big wall of Korean words, I will be able to see words, but I can’t make sense of them unless I focus.

    I think when I am able to make sense of things without having to really think, I can consider myself fluent. Does that make any sense at all? Lol

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      27 January, 2013 at 1:27 PM

      AHHH EXACTLY!! Totally agreed! That’s definitely one of my goals for Korean too! To be able to pick up the gist of an article just by glancing at it.

  • Reply
    EZT S8.
    28 January, 2013 at 1:36 PM

    “In certain circumstances or with annoying people, I might even tell you that I don’t speak Korean. hahahaha. xD” HAHAHAHAHA nice one.

    Personally, fluency is the ability to switch your ability of the language on/off as you wish. Like sometimes I wish I can get up and go on in Korean as I please, but I’ll have to prep my brain first. But for English I can do it without much thinking.

    If that even makes any sense. Haha. Happy new week!~ 🙂

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      28 January, 2013 at 4:07 PM

      ahhh yeah that’s a good point! I used to take longer to prep my brain for Korean but now it’s pretty much automatic. Now to work on Japanese….

  • Reply
    zt
    12 February, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    Hi, I’m glad I found this blog. I studied Japanese when I was younger (but discontinued) and currently taking Korean language. While I’m used to Japanese, my brain stumbled quite a few time when learning Korean because my brain is thinking in Japanese and sometime I uttered Japanese word in the class. When I went for a vacation in Japan, I need to use my rusty Japanese but sometime I uttered Korean words as my brain sometime think in Korean. I need to master these two languages as I have stepped one foot in both languages. Withdrawing will waste my energy learning these two. I wish I can speak casually like native speakers. Yea I agree fluency is ability to switch between languages and a pinch of native dialect is a bonus ^^

  • Reply
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