Defining fluency in order to achieve fluency!

Defining fluency in order to achieve fluency!

Benny

fluently presenting information

Continuing from my previous two posts about focussing on specifying your motivations and minigoals, it’s important to have a clear idea of the end-goal. i.e. FLUENCY (for many people). You will find this hard to achieve if you don’t know what you are aiming for, so today I am going to attempt to define this concept. In doing so, and having something concrete to aim for, it is so much easier to achieve it!

What is “fluency”?

Speaking perfectly? Indistinguishable from a native? Being able to participate in intense philosophical debates in the language? Not quite! Here’s what the Oxford English dictionary has to say about the word:

1 speaking or writing in an articulate and natural manner. 2 (of a language) used easily and accurately.

Do you see anything like my previous sentence in this? Of course not; “accurately” and “natural manner” do not necessarily mean perfect, just that you do indeed speak very well. My own definition of fluency is something along the lines of not hesitating when speaking, getting your point across with very few mistakes and understanding when spoken to, without slowing down the conversation when with a group of otherwise native speakers.

I consider fluency to be about 90-95% “perfect”. The domain name of this site isn’t “speaklikeanativein3months.com” or “absolutelyperfectlanguagexin3months.com” for a good reason! I have a very clear idea of what fluency means to me. It may be considered an abstract quality (like “big” or “beautiful”) so it can mean more or less to you, but whatever it is, picture it very clearly in your mind and aim for that rather than for some mystical word that you can blame for being too high of a standard.

I’m not saying that you can use semantics to belittle the concept of fluency into nothing; just that it is an achievable goal for us mere mortals! I still have high standards for fluency.

When I have truly reached fluency in other languages (such as I have in Spanish, for example) I can say that I speak without hesitating (no ums and uhs; this is the actually closer to the core meaning of the word “fluent” as in flowing), making very few mistakes (maybe a couple every minute of consistent talking), being very easy to understand for others (still with an accent, but not a strong one) and understanding the majority of what is said to me in normal and casual contexts.

Normally a non-native will actually think that I speak it excellently (simply because it sounds pretty good to those unfamiliar with it), whereas those who do speak it will recognise my level as “very good” and will likely be surprised if I tell them I’ve reached that level in just a few months.

Even that is vague enough, but my own understanding of the precision of it makes it easier to reach my goal. I’ve done this before (granted, with a longer timeframe) and have a good idea what I’m aiming for; my other languages are definitely not perfect, but in each one I can have a full social life entirely in that language without making it uncomfortable for those around me when I’m part of a conversation. It is not that hard! You can all do it too :)

Is fluency really possible in a short time?

Definitely! The question is better phrased as is it possible for you in your current situation and mental state. There are plenty of “geniuses” that have learned languages in no time (one British guy for example, learned Icelandic in just one week to prove that he could in a Channel 4 documentary).

I am not a genius; I am documenting my experience for all to examine and criticise and showing how I am taking logical and simple steps that anyone can apply to reach this goal. Having learned other languages unrelated to Czech will only help me in such a way as having shown myself that it is possible, and having learned some techniques to achieve that (all of which I’m sharing of course). But I otherwise have very few advantages over anyone else with the same goal.

Although I am 100% sure that it is possible in a short time, I am not sure if I can do it in this particular experiment. Time will tell!! :) I will be trying my best, and if I don’t reach fluency then I will analyse why and try again perhaps with another language and see if it can be achieved when I’ve ironed out my mistakes :)

Having said that, I am otherwise continuing with the presumption that I will succeed. This is an important mental state; you are welcome to call it arrogance (and some already have :P ), but this positive attitude is my fuel for continuing and would easily work for so many people if they could combine good study techniques with confidence and the right attitude.

OK, so if fluency is so “easy” then why isn’t everone fluent in a second/third language?

Challenges along the way

There are a lot of reasons why you may not be able to achieve fluency in a short time. The general excuse of “not being talented with languages” is frankly invalid. If you are reading this page and are a generally articulate person then you are already talented with languages; you have presumably learned English (or another mother tongue) to near perfection, and English is a language.

You may find studies “proving” that after a certain age you can’t learn another language to native level, but these studies are likely applied to adults with the wrong learning method (no matter how motivated they may be), and the same studies are used as an excuse by others that it isn’t even worth trying.

Limitations to your learning capacity are mostly purely psychological. I have met people who have been studying for years and I am writing these posts for those kinds of people; they are learning the wrong way and maybe my way can help! (Although, as others have pointed out, my way isn’t the only way and is not necessarily the “best” way). ;)

But there are some excuses that are more valid. Maybe you can’t afford to pay for expensive courses, or you cannot travel to the country that speaks the language, or you never have enough time to study, or you are afraid that everyone will laugh at you if you try.

All of these have solutions (although the last one is another part of the purely psychological problem), which I will be discussing in later posts. I also have some of my own challenges on my current mission! Time each day for studying and practicing is indeed an issue, since I work full-time (Edit: I maintain this site by offering help to language learners in the form of Fluent in 3 Months Premium), and have several other projects this summer, and have chosen to live in a touristy city with a generally good level of English instead of a smaller town that would give me much more motivations to learn the language (I have a good reason for chosing Prague for my language projects!

My own personal challenges ahead

Despite believing that I have found a good method to learn languages, I certainly have my own weaknesses that may prevent me from reaching my goal in time. I am very easily distracted and absolutely cannot sit down at a desk for hours studying tables of rules and repeating lists of words off to myself to drill vocabulary into my head. I’ll tell you how I get around this, but the traditional focussed study method is definitely effective and important and it’s a pity that I cannot use it.

My other projects that I’ll be discussing are taking away time and focus from specifically learning Czech, and sometimes I don’t apply my own methods very well and get lazy and may even occasionally just prefer to speak English (although in my case this is less common). This whole experiment is somewhat of a fun game to me, and not taking it 100% seriously is possibly going to come back and bite me in the ass soon enough!

So, I have to find a way around these obstacles and ensure that I give my full available energy to this project and prove that it is possible!! The way I see it, the worst case scenario is that I won’t reach my own definition of fluency, but I will speak “OK” Czech, having discovered my own limits and weaknesses and shared some (hopefully) good tips along the way :)

Also, I only don’t take it “100% seriously” because having fun is very important to me (I would be a lot less motivated otherwise), but I still plan to passionately give a pretty good attempt at reaching fluency! I do have an even greater challenge planned (already!) after this one so I will definitely be better prepared for that once I have learned from my mistakes in this one! Please continue sharing your comments, encouragement and doubts!! (Unlike with most people, discouragement is hugely beneficial to me, since I love proving people wrong :P )

So, what are your definitions of fluency? Is this time limit achievable, or are we all truly limited in our learning capacities? Share your thoughts in the comments :) If you like this post, don’t forget to “stumbleupon” it, or share it on facebook and twitter!! Thanks :D

Continuing from my previous two posts about focussing on specifying your motivations and minigoals, it’s important to have a clear idea of the end-goal. i.e. FLUENCY (for many people). You will find this hard to achieve if you don’t know what you are aiming for, so today I am going to attempt to define this […]

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  • dzurisova

    I find that I’m easily discouraged by others. I wish I could psychologically get past that. Just last weekend, I was sitting at a table with all Czechs. They of course were speaking all Czech. I tried to chime in an say one sentence. One of the speakers (a guy I now don’t like too much ;) replied, “What are you speaking Japanese?” I soon found myself completely removed from the entire conversation by looking a a photo album near by – not even listening any longer. I wish I wouldn’t get so easily discouraged by others. :(

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      What an a$$hole! I have also received belittling comments when learning other languages, so I’ve heard them all. One way to feel more motivated in this case would be to able to insult this guy in Czech and argue your case in a few months ;)

      Since I don’t mind a good argument, I would actually insult his English level if he did that to me :-P My answer would likely have been “Promiňte, nerozumím! Je to němčina?” (To non-Czech learners: “I’m sorry, I don’t understand, is that German?” ), or I’d suggest that HIS Czech wasn’t good enough and ask him if he wants the contact details of your Czech teacher, or suggest that he buys a hearing aid. ;)

      Or even better, keep talking Czech to the rest of the group, ignoring what he said entirely. Blocking out negative (non helpful and non constructive criticism) comments can be taken to the extreme of not paying the slightest bit of attention to them and it is effective when used on bullies in all cultures for many types of insults. It does indeed take practise, but you have to be strong! Hang in there!! :)

      He clearly has a very sad life if he takes pleasure out of hurting other people’s confidence.

      Convincing locals to speak their language with you can be tough, but it is the topic of an entire post I will be writing within the next two weeks. ;)

    • Trevor Pirtle

      I would recommend learning how to say something like, “Why are you making fun of (or discouraging) someone who is trying to learn your language?” Have that phrase down so you’re ready if it ever happens again.

  • dzurisova

    I find that I’m easily discouraged by others. I wish I could psychologically get past that. Just last weekend, I was sitting at a table with all Czechs. They of course were speaking all Czech. I tried to chime in an say one sentence. One of the speakers (a guy I now don’t like too much ;) replied, “What are you speaking Japanese?” I soon found myself completely removed from the entire conversation by looking a a photo album near by – not even listening any longer. I wish I wouldn’t get so easily discouraged by others. :(

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      What an a$$hole! I have also received belittling comments when learning other languages, so I’ve heard them all. One way to feel more motivated in this case would be to able to insult this guy in Czech and argue your case in a few months ;)

      Since I don’t mind a good argument, I would actually insult his English level if he did that to me :-P My answer would likely have been “Promiňte, nerozumím! Je to němčina?” (To non-Czech learners: “I’m sorry, I don’t understand, is that German?” ), or I’d suggest that HIS Czech wasn’t good enough and ask him if he wants the contact details of your Czech teacher, or suggest that he buys a hearing aid. ;)

      Or even better, keep talking Czech to the rest of the group, ignoring what he said entirely. Blocking out negative (non helpful and non constructive criticism) comments can be taken to the extreme of not paying the slightest bit of attention to them and it is effective when used on bullies in all cultures for many types of insults. It does indeed take practise, but you have to be strong! Hang in there!! :)

      He clearly has a very sad life if he takes pleasure out of hurting other people’s confidence.

      Convincing locals to speak their language with you can be tough, but it is the topic of an entire post I will be writing within the next two weeks. ;)

  • Ajťačka

    What I’ve found hardest about learning Czech is people’s reactions. When I speak, I often get “Oh, you’re trying to speak Czech! How cute!” (I feel like a dog doing tricks), when I’m spoken to and don’t understand I tend to get either English, German, a dismissive wave or they turn to speak to my boyfriend. Not helpful! Especially given my natural shyness and unwillingness to screw up.

    Benny – I’m looking forward to your post about getting locals to speak the language with you…

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      What’s wrong with being cute? :) As long as you get through that stage you can be a respected speaker soon enough! I appreciate and take advantage of the cuteness stage as a means to convince people to listen to me and speak with me :) If you are “a dog doing tricks” to them, then perform!

      Expecting their full respect is a little tricky when your level isn’t high enough yet, but hopefully the post about that subject will give you some ideas!

      Forget natural talent and ability to study, I think natural shyness and fear of screwing up may indeed be the greatest barrier to overcome in order to be able to speak confidently. Learning a language involves a lot of psychology and I will be coming back to that often, so hopefully something I write can help you overcome your fears :)

      If possible, I would like to try out my convincing-locals-to-speak-to-me technique on Czechs before writing about it based on my previous experiences, and I am still not ready to attempt conversations getting past the basics, so I may hold out on that article just a couple of weeks! Otherwise I may just discuss what worked for me in other languages if I decide to post it sooner.

      I’m very lucky that I have gained the confidence to speak languages, not because of discovering some secret psychological technique, but because I was told constantly how great I spoke; this is hugely because of the culture of the places I have learned languages in. In Brazil for example, they are so nice that they will always compliment your attempts and listen to you.

      Even though that rarely ever happened for me in French for example, I still retain that confidence because of other languages. Nevertheless, I think something I say in these posts may eventually hit the nail on the head in terms of gaining confidence (if I can just think of how to articulate it…)

  • Ajťačka

    What I’ve found hardest about learning Czech is people’s reactions. When I speak, I often get “Oh, you’re trying to speak Czech! How cute!” (I feel like a dog doing tricks), when I’m spoken to and don’t understand I tend to get either English, German, a dismissive wave or they turn to speak to my boyfriend. Not helpful! Especially given my natural shyness and unwillingness to screw up.

    Benny – I’m looking forward to your post about getting locals to speak the language with you…

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      What’s wrong with being cute? :) As long as you get through that stage you can be a respected speaker soon enough! I appreciate and take advantage of the cuteness stage as a means to convince people to listen to me and speak with me :) If you are “a dog doing tricks” to them, then perform!

      Expecting their full respect is a little tricky when your level isn’t high enough yet, but hopefully the post about that subject will give you some ideas!

      Forget natural talent and ability to study, I think natural shyness and fear of screwing up may indeed be the greatest barrier to overcome in order to be able to speak confidently. Learning a language involves a lot of psychology and I will be coming back to that often, so hopefully something I write can help you overcome your fears :)

      If possible, I would like to try out my convincing-locals-to-speak-to-me technique on Czechs before writing about it based on my previous experiences, and I am still not ready to attempt conversations getting past the basics, so I may hold out on that article just a couple of weeks! Otherwise I may just discuss what worked for me in other languages if I decide to post it sooner.

      I’m very lucky that I have gained the confidence to speak languages, not because of discovering some secret psychological technique, but because I was told constantly how great I spoke; this is hugely because of the culture of the places I have learned languages in. In Brazil for example, they are so nice that they will always compliment your attempts and listen to you.

      Even though that rarely ever happened for me in French for example, I still retain that confidence because of other languages. Nevertheless, I think something I say in these posts may eventually hit the nail on the head in terms of gaining confidence (if I can just think of how to articulate it…)

  • SplogSplog

    I share your definition of fluency – in that it is about the language flowing without obstacles blocking it. I have met many people with substantial Czech vocabularies, but still unable to string together even simple sentences. The words are trapped inside them, because they have never learned how to make them flow smoothly and continually in (and here is the important word) conversations.

    Many lessons or books teach you to give factual responses (single works, or short sentences) but not how to establish rapport and keep a conversation going. When you learn the “tricks” of conversation (I have a spreadsheet of about 50 conversational “connectors” that I give to people) you can be fluent with the vocabulary you already have.

    Here is an example: You are in a restaurant and somebody asks what you think of the meal, From a typical language learning experience, a student would often get flustered, find the experience unnerving, say “urm … good!” and hope they aren’t asked any more uncomfortable questions.

    However, if they could use conversational connectors, they could say things like:

    Thanks for asking. To tell the truth, I must say that the food is good. Let me ask you the same question: What do you think of your food?

    The same conversational connectors can be recombined in all sorts of ways. Later on, then, the question “where are you from” could be replied to with: “To tell the truth, I am from England. Thanks for asking. Let me ask you: where are you from?”

    Very little of each conversation is actually about the topic under discussion, but more about establishing intimacy and keeping the conversation going.

    Also, the conversational connections become a deep part of you that you can say flawlessly without having to think about them – this gives you natural gaps (instead of “urm, urm, urm” in which to think up what you want to say next.

    I cannot understand why this stuff is not taught early on in language lessons. People I have taught it to have said it “frees” their vocabulary so they don’t feel trapped when asked questions, and can talk much more fluently with just these 50 or so connectors and the current vocabulary.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Wow!! Excellent suggestion! :) I had never thought of that before and it is logical and I’m sure it’s effective!! I’ll definitely be suggesting this to language learning beginners and will apply it to Czech (since I could do with some conversation fillers at my current level), and let you know how it helps!
      You wouldn’t be able to pass me on that spreadsheet in Czech by any chance? :P Boy, you weren’t kidding when you said you had some resources to share in your previous comment :) I checked out that link you passed on to me and it is incredible!! I’ve got a lot to work with now, when I was just relying on my one book before! Thanks a bunch :D

    • http://joop.kiefte.eu/ Joop Kiefte

      You’re sooo right there. I think that’s what makes my portuguese working so great now :). I’ve been using conversational connectors since the beginning, out of experience with other languages ;). It works wonders!

    • Mary

      I think your idea of 50 connectors for stimulating real conversation is a great idea. I am currently teaching Italian to a bunch of adults afraid to open their mouths for fear of making mistakes and sounding stupid!
      One website said one must make 250,000 mistakes before earning the right to speak any language well. Let’s get on with mistakes and learning because we can’t have one without the other.

      How can I get a copy of your 50 connecting phrases to use with my reticent students?

      Thanks, Mary in California

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

        Please search the site for “conversational connectors” and scroll down the page to get the file in English as a free Excel download. I’ve had it translated to over 20 languages (including Italian) in the Language Hacking Guide.

  • SplogSplog

    I share your definition of fluency – in that it is about the language flowing without obstacles blocking it. I have met many people with substantial Czech vocabularies, but still unable to string together even simple sentences. The words are trapped inside them, because they have never learned how to make them flow smoothly and continually in (and here is the important word) conversations.

    Many lessons or books teach you to give factual responses (single works, or short sentences) but not how to establish rapport and keep a conversation going. When you learn the “tricks” of conversation (I have a spreadsheet of about 50 conversational “connectors” that I give to people) you can be fluent with the vocabulary you already have.

    Here is an example: You are in a restaurant and somebody asks what you think of the meal, From a typical language learning experience, a student would often get flustered, find the experience unnerving, say “urm … good!” and hope they aren’t asked any more uncomfortable questions.

    However, if they could use conversational connectors, they could say things like:

    Thanks for asking. To tell the truth, I must say that the food is good. Let me ask you the same question: What do you think of your food?

    The same conversational connectors can be recombined in all sorts of ways. Later on, then, the question “where are you from” could be replied to with: “To tell the truth, I am from England. Thanks for asking. Let me ask you: where are you from?”

    Very little of each conversation is actually about the topic under discussion, but more about establishing intimacy and keeping the conversation going.

    Also, the conversational connections become a deep part of you that you can say flawlessly without having to think about them – this gives you natural gaps (instead of “urm, urm, urm” in which to think up what you want to say next.

    I cannot understand why this stuff is not taught early on in language lessons. People I have taught it to have said it “frees” their vocabulary so they don’t feel trapped when asked questions, and can talk much more fluently with just these 50 or so connectors and the current vocabulary.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Wow!! Excellent suggestion! :) I had never thought of that before and it is logical and I’m sure it’s effective!! I’ll definitely be suggesting this to language learning beginners and will apply it to Czech (since I could do with some conversation fillers at my current level), and let you know how it helps!
      You wouldn’t be able to pass me on that spreadsheet in Czech by any chance? :P Boy, you weren’t kidding when you said you had some resources to share in your previous comment :) I checked out that link you passed on to me and it is incredible!! I’ve got a lot to work with now, when I was just relying on my one book before! Thanks a bunch :D

    • LaPingvino

      You’re sooo right there. I think that’s what makes my portuguese working so great now :). I’ve been using conversational connectors since the beginning, out of experience with other languages ;). It works wonders!

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu/ balint

    Great post! I agree with your definition of fluency. In January, I set a goal which is similar to yours: I would speak 5 languages in 5 years beside my native tongue (which is Hungarian. And I”ve cheated since I had already spoken English :D). Anyway:

    I started learning Spanish in February, now my passive understanding is up to intermeidate level – now I’m working on the active, verbal skills (I just started doing language exchange with a lovely Spanish girl. Boy, that helps! :D).

    And I’ve used some of your techniques, and found them very helpful! Thanks very much!

    SplogSplog: could you pass me that spreadsheet too? I would appreciate that! Thank you!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Good luck in your goal!! Make sure you focus on one language at a time in terms of fluency (but you can still work on perfecting the other languages once they are good enough; I’ll be discussing this soon)
      I imagine several people will be interested in that spreadsheet, I’ll paste one section of what Splogsplog sent me (“switching” for topic changes) here:

      now it occurs to me that —— teď mi napadá, že
      by the way ——— mimochodem
      I have an interesting story about it ——— mám na tom zajímavý příběh
      and besides that ———- a mimo to
      oh, I nearly forgot ——— ach, málem jsem zapomněl
      and one more thing ——– a ještě neco
      on the other hand ——— zato

      I particularly like knowing “and one more thing” since it will help me understand 20% of the dialogue of dubbed Columbo episodes :P

      • SplogSplog

        Here is one of the most useful ones from the spreadsheet:

        don’t be upset, but – nezlobte se, ale

        It is a much “lighter” form of apology than it sounds – essentially a deferential way of saying sorry – and it is very effective in shops and restaurants, in fact in any setting where you want to get friendly service.

        For example, if you buy something in a shop that costs 5kc, but but you only have a 100kc note, you could say:

        (Sorry, but) Nezlobte se, ale (I have) mám (unfortunately) bohužel (only) jenom (a 100kc note) stovku

        You will probably get a smile, and the shop worker even apologising back to you how it isn’t a problem at all, and you shouldn’t worry about it …

        Likewise, in a restaurant …

        (Sorry, but) Nezlobte se, ale … (can you) můžete (to me) mi (to bring) přinést (a glass) sklenici (of water) vody (please) prosím

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

          Thanks again SplogSplog!!
          To those curious, SplogSplog (actually Anthony) has quite a few resources and will be writing about them very soon. I will make my own post specifically about my thoughts on conversational connectors and will link to his site and provide the file with his many situations to be learned (English-Czech translation, but could be applied to any language) on that post for everyone to download.
          So feel free to share your thoughts on similar methods then :)
          For the moment, any thoughts about fluency itself from anyone else, while we’re still on that subject? :)

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu balint

    Great post! I agree with your definition of fluency. In January, I set a goal which is similar to yours: I would speak 5 languages in 5 years beside my native tongue (which is Hungarian. And I”ve cheated since I had already spoken English :D). Anyway:

    I started learning Spanish in February, now my passive understanding is up to intermeidate level – now I’m working on the active, verbal skills (I just started doing language exchange with a lovely Spanish girl. Boy, that helps! :D).

    And I’ve used some of your techniques, and found them very helpful! Thanks very much!

    SplogSplog: could you pass me that spreadsheet too? I would appreciate that! Thank you!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Good luck in your goal!! Make sure you focus on one language at a time in terms of fluency (but you can still work on perfecting the other languages once they are good enough; I’ll be discussing this soon)
      I imagine several people will be interested in that spreadsheet, I’ll paste one section of what Splogsplog sent me (“switching” for topic changes) here:

      now it occurs to me that —— teď mi napadá, že
      by the way ——— mimochodem
      I have an interesting story about it ——— mám na tom zajímavý příběh
      and besides that ———- a mimo to
      oh, I nearly forgot ——— ach, málem jsem zapomněl
      and one more thing ——– a ještě neco
      on the other hand ——— zato

      I particularly like knowing “and one more thing” since it will help me understand 20% of the dialogue of dubbed Columbo episodes :P

      • SplogSplog

        Here is one of the most useful ones from the spreadsheet:

        don’t be upset, but – nezlobte se, ale

        It is a much “lighter” form of apology than it sounds – essentially a deferential way of saying sorry – and it is very effective in shops and restaurants, in fact in any setting where you want to get friendly service.

        For example, if you buy something in a shop that costs 5kc, but but you only have a 100kc note, you could say:

        (Sorry, but) Nezlobte se, ale (I have) mám (unfortunately) bohužel (only) jenom (a 100kc note) stovku

        You will probably get a smile, and the shop worker even apologising back to you how it isn’t a problem at all, and you shouldn’t worry about it …

        Likewise, in a restaurant …

        (Sorry, but) Nezlobte se, ale … (can you) můžete (to me) mi (to bring) přinést (a glass) sklenici (of water) vody (please) prosím

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

          Thanks again SplogSplog!!
          To those curious, SplogSplog (actually Anthony) has quite a few resources and will be writing about them very soon. I will make my own post specifically about my thoughts on conversational connectors and will link to his site and provide the file with his many situations to be learned (English-Czech translation, but could be applied to any language) on that post for everyone to download.
          So feel free to share your thoughts on similar methods then :)
          For the moment, any thoughts about fluency itself from anyone else, while we’re still on that subject? :)

  • Matt

    Another excellent post and interesting responses.

    There are definitely certain words and phrases which you can recycle again and again to give the impression of greater understanding of a language and therefore increase others’ interest in speaking with you. Beyond even just “conversational connectors” – though those are clearly more useful at the start.

    One example, when learning French as a (lazy) student I got a lot of bang for my buck out of the expression “bouc émissaire” or “scape goat”. There are so many discussions, particularly about political issues where you can slip it in. I’d be interested to hear suggestions for other useful phrases in Czech!

  • Matt

    Another excellent post and interesting responses.

    There are definitely certain words and phrases which you can recycle again and again to give the impression of greater understanding of a language and therefore increase others’ interest in speaking with you. Beyond even just “conversational connectors” – though those are clearly more useful at the start.

    One example, when learning French as a (lazy) student I got a lot of bang for my buck out of the expression “bouc émissaire” or “scape goat”. There are so many discussions, particularly about political issues where you can slip it in. I’d be interested to hear suggestions for other useful phrases in Czech!

  • http://www.anthonylauder.com/ SplogSplog

    As mentioned by Benny, I have been nudged by a few folks to start writing up some of my own thoughts on how to achieve some level of fluency in Czech.

    If you click on my name SplogSplog above this post it should take you to my new website.

    For now, it only has a few introductory pages, with a bit of background and motivation. I have been working furiously today on content, and should be adding more pages every day or two over the next week.

  • http://www.anthonylauder.com/ SplogSplog

    As mentioned by Benny, I have been nudged by a few folks to start writing up some of my own thoughts on how to achieve some level of fluency in Czech.

    If you click on my name SplogSplog above this post it should take you to my new website.

    For now, it only has a few introductory pages, with a bit of background and motivation. I have been working furiously today on content, and should be adding more pages every day or two over the next week.

  • Rene

    Hi Benny,
    I agree conceptually with your definition of fluency :)

    I also like Spotblog’s deifnition (from his website):
    “Fluency: being able to use the vocabulary you already have, in real conversations that flow naturally in a way that feels comfortable for everybody involved in the conversation”

    In my case: I have studied Czech for some years in the US, with only penfriend contact with Czech people. I have only spoken Czech with friends in CR for less than 2 weeks time. However, when I was with my friends I was able to get my point across (fluent?) but at times I said “umm” but in a comfortable way (without stressing – maybe fluent?). And I was told that my Czech was good and pronunciation excellent (I think that I am fluent despite my handicap of “solo” learning in a non-Czech country). What d’ya think?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Hi Rene!! :) Thanks for another interesting comment! :)
      If you managed to reach fluency as I’ve defined it here without even going to the country, then hats off to you! I could never do that :P
      But as I said, I don’t want to belittle the concept of fluency, so simply “getting your point across” wouldn’t really be enough, especially if a lot of hesitation (even if comfortable) is involved. Perhaps you have a lower to medium intermediate level Czech for example? Just written communication with spoken for 2 weeks may give you a pretty strong accent (even if your pronunciation is excellent, your intonation may be off for example), so an unbiased observer would have to give an opinion to be sure (those commenting may be simply impressed by the huge amount you’ve learned in self study, but there still may be a little bit left to work on). We usually need daily exposure to get used to quirks in the language you can’t ever see with just written/reading (and limited listening) experience.
      It’s hard to tell based on your description! My vague guess would be that based on your current level, you could reach “fluency” very quickly when in the Czech republic (or if you speak it daily with a Czech in your home town). If I’m misunderstanding the progress you’ve made, let me know ;)
      I am impressed by your progress though :) What were your motivations for learning Czech from such a distance?

      • Rene

        Ahoj Benny,
        Thanks for your comments. I feel sure that I could gain fluency very quickly in Czech (eliminate hesitation) if I could practice Czech daily (or at least once a week in my hometown).
        My reason for learning Czech (and other languages) “long distance” is: I am interested in European languages (and also Japanese).
        I learn a language in preparation for a short vacation in some country. I visit the country and practice. I return home and continue learning the language (more grammar, reading, etc – but no speaking… some listening online)

        That’s how I approach learning languages… it’s my greatest hobby!

        I learned Czech a few years ago and then visited Prague for less than a week. I practiced a bit there and went home. Then I learned more and just returned from a visit to Prague where I was able to practice quite a bit with friends.

  • Rene

    Hi Benny,
    I agree conceptually with your definition of fluency :)

    I also like Spotblog’s deifnition (from his website):
    “Fluency: being able to use the vocabulary you already have, in real conversations that flow naturally in a way that feels comfortable for everybody involved in the conversation”

    In my case: I have studied Czech for some years in the US, with only penfriend contact with Czech people. I have only spoken Czech with friends in CR for less than 2 weeks time. However, when I was with my friends I was able to get my point across (fluent?) but at times I said “umm” but in a comfortable way (without stressing – maybe fluent?). And I was told that my Czech was good and pronunciation excellent (I think that I am fluent despite my handicap of “solo” learning in a non-Czech country). What d’ya think?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Hi Rene!! :) Thanks for another interesting comment! :)
      If you managed to reach fluency as I’ve defined it here without even going to the country, then hats off to you! I could never do that :P
      But as I said, I don’t want to belittle the concept of fluency, so simply “getting your point across” wouldn’t really be enough, especially if a lot of hesitation (even if comfortable) is involved. Perhaps you have a lower to medium intermediate level Czech for example? Just written communication with spoken for 2 weeks may give you a pretty strong accent (even if your pronunciation is excellent, your intonation may be off for example), so an unbiased observer would have to give an opinion to be sure (those commenting may be simply impressed by the huge amount you’ve learned in self study, but there still may be a little bit left to work on). We usually need daily exposure to get used to quirks in the language you can’t ever see with just written/reading (and limited listening) experience.
      It’s hard to tell based on your description! My vague guess would be that based on your current level, you could reach “fluency” very quickly when in the Czech republic (or if you speak it daily with a Czech in your home town). If I’m misunderstanding the progress you’ve made, let me know ;)
      I am impressed by your progress though :) What were your motivations for learning Czech from such a distance?

      • Rene

        Ahoj Benny,
        Thanks for your comments. I feel sure that I could gain fluency very quickly in Czech (eliminate hesitation) if I could practice Czech daily (or at least once a week in my hometown).
        My reason for learning Czech (and other languages) “long distance” is: I am interested in European languages (and also Japanese).
        I learn a language in preparation for a short vacation in some country. I visit the country and practice. I return home and continue learning the language (more grammar, reading, etc – but no speaking… some listening online)

        That’s how I approach learning languages… it’s my greatest hobby!

        I learned Czech a few years ago and then visited Prague for less than a week. I practiced a bit there and went home. Then I learned more and just returned from a visit to Prague where I was able to practice quite a bit with friends.

  • http://www.anthonylauder.com/ SplogSplog

    Hi folks.

    For those who asked for more info on conversational connectors, I have now added a few pages to my website.

    That includes a list of about 100 connectors you can start practicing with (these are based on the spreadsheet I sent to Benny as mentioned in earlier comments).

    Just click on SplogSplog above this post, and it will take you to my website. From there, it should all be pretty self-explanatory.

    Cheers
    Anthony

  • http://www.anthonylauder.com/ SplogSplog

    Hi folks.

    For those who asked for more info on conversational connectors, I have now added a few pages to my website.

    That includes a list of about 100 connectors you can start practicing with (these are based on the spreadsheet I sent to Benny as mentioned in earlier comments).

    Just click on SplogSplog above this post, and it will take you to my website. From there, it should all be pretty self-explanatory.

    Cheers
    Anthony

  • http://www.girlinczechland.wordpress.com/ Girl In Czechland

    Love the picture! Might set up a little photoshoot myself to stick on my next post about the joys of English teaching!

    Hope you’re enjoying Prague. I left my Czech class today feeling really discouraged but reading about your efforts here has really spurred me on!

    GIC
    .-= Girl In Czechland´s last blog ..Not Charles Bridge =-.

  • http://www.girlinczechland.wordpress.com Girl In Czechland

    Love the picture! Might set up a little photoshoot myself to stick on my next post about the joys of English teaching!

    Hope you’re enjoying Prague. I left my Czech class today feeling really discouraged but reading about your efforts here has really spurred me on!

    GIC
    .-= Girl In Czechland´s last blog ..Not Charles Bridge =-.

  • Anke Marit

    Hey Benny,
    I agree with your definition of fluency, and the idea that everybody can become fluent in any language. However, fluency to me clearly is different from native level. Native speakers are fluent, but fluent speakers not necessarily native. Therefore, I am not so sure whether you can learn a language to native level even as an adult, however, a very high level of fluency can become indiscernable from native level at a certain point. See what I mean?

  • Anke Marit

    Hey Benny,
    I agree with your definition of fluency, and the idea that everybody can become fluent in any language. However, fluency to me clearly is different from native level. Native speakers are fluent, but fluent speakers not necessarily native. Therefore, I am not so sure whether you can learn a language to native level even as an adult, however, a very high level of fluency can become indiscernable from native level at a certain point. See what I mean?

  • John

    Of course unstressed, relatively infrequeny “umming” (if said in the intonation of the foreign language!) doesn’t mean you’re not fluent—native speakers do it all the time :-)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      agreed ;)

  • John

    Of course unstressed, relatively infrequeny “umming” (if said in the intonation of the foreign language!) doesn’t mean you’re not fluent—native speakers do it all the time :-)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      agreed ;)

  • John

    Small correction: “affective” should be “effective”.
    I voted your blog for the top 100 language learning category! Great job!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Thanks a lot for the vote!! :) The results will be given next week!!
      I’ve edited “effective”; affect/effect and other words have always caused me problems (I know the difference, but when I speak or write quickly I never think about it…), especially since I basically haven’t spoken English for more than a few weeks at a time for the last 6 years… it’s slipping away from me :P

  • John

    Small correction: “affective” should be “effective”.
    I voted your blog for the top 100 language learning category! Great job!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Thanks a lot for the vote!! :) The results will be given next week!!
      I’ve edited “effective”; affect/effect and other words have always caused me problems (I know the difference, but when I speak or write quickly I never think about it…), especially since I basically haven’t spoken English for more than a few weeks at a time for the last 6 years… it’s slipping away from me :P

  • http://www.tonybuzanmindmapping.com/ Brian

    Having my roots in Scandinavia I find your attitude refreshing as I have several times debated with people about what speaking a language “perfectly” or “fluently” means.

    Particularly when it comes to English. I would say many Scandinavians are fluent in English, yet far from being “perfect”.

    Personally I would say “fluent” is when you can have an intelligent conversation with someone in that language, save maybe for some highly specialized areas where you may not have the needed vocabulary.

    Honestly I think learning any foreign language to the level where a very skilled native speaker of that language wouldn’t notice the difference in my speech (and particularly in my writing) is in practice impossible for most people. There are simply too many nuances that must be taken into account.

    I also think that no other language can truly reach the same level as our “emotion language”, our mother tongue.

    Still with motivation and dedication you can definitely learn to speak most foreign languages reasonably well (fluent). And that is good enough for me.

    Best of luck with your experiment :-)
    .-= Brian´s last blog ..A Few Simple Mind Map Examples =-.

  • http://www.tonybuzanmindmapping.com Brian

    Having my roots in Scandinavia I find your attitude refreshing as I have several times debated with people about what speaking a language “perfectly” or “fluently” means.

    Particularly when it comes to English. I would say many Scandinavians are fluent in English, yet far from being “perfect”.

    Personally I would say “fluent” is when you can have an intelligent conversation with someone in that language, save maybe for some highly specialized areas where you may not have the needed vocabulary.

    Honestly I think learning any foreign language to the level where a very skilled native speaker of that language wouldn’t notice the difference in my speech (and particularly in my writing) is in practice impossible for most people. There are simply too many nuances that must be taken into account.

    I also think that no other language can truly reach the same level as our “emotion language”, our mother tongue.

    Still with motivation and dedication you can definitely learn to speak most foreign languages reasonably well (fluent). And that is good enough for me.

    Best of luck with your experiment :-)
    .-= Brian´s last blog ..A Few Simple Mind Map Examples =-.

  • Seb

    I also agree with your definition of fluency. One thing I like to add is that even though you still will make mistakes you basically know mistakes you are making and know how to fix them.

    I learn Swedish to fluency in 8 months taking a high school aptitude test after that, which means I can study at university in Swedish (which I currently do). This does not mean that I can speak 'perfectly' but it does mean that I know when I make mistakes (around 5% of the time) I can correct myself.

    I find your posts quite positive which is definitely needed when learning languages so keep it up.

  • http://mavericktraveler.com/blog ElGuapo

    Eu gosto muito desse post. Quando estava no Rio de Janeiro, a maioria dos meus amigos era gringos e por isso falava muito inglês. Aqui em Belo Horizonte so conheço brasileiros e nos ultimos dias tô falando só português.

  • Andrew

    I have a special technique to handle locals like that: tell them you don't speak English and that you're a nationality who's language EITHER they are very unlikely to speak OR who's language you speak fluently (if they test you by speaking to you in that language you can respond and them, not being a native speaking it, won't be able to tell you're not a native).

    If I were in say, France, and having this problem I'd just tell everyone who tried to switch to English with me, “Sorry, I don't speak English, I'm Russian.” If I were in the Czech Republic I'd tell them that I was raised in Japan by American parents and therefore don't speak English, just Czech and Japanese, even though I don't look Japanese.

    Just tell them you don't speak English and INSIST on using their native language.

    • http://slobin.pp.ru/ slobin

      Andrew, you technique have one major flaw: maybe that locals want to practice THEIR English! Do not assume that everyone is already fluent in it. And “helping tourists” is listed by Benny among techniques to get a chance to speak a foreign language. If you’ll visit Moscow some time, I’ll prefer to welcome you in English and not my everyday boring Russian. ;-)

      Benny, mi nur volas diri al vi “Dankegon!” por via hodiŭa prelego en Dua Vivo. Ne ofte plu ol dudek E-istoj kunvenas samtempe en lernejo. Bonan ŝancon al vi!

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

        Eble mi perdis kelkajn pri la malrapideca problemo de mia reto, sed mi ĝuis prelegi por vi ĉiuj! :)

        Agreed about people using tourists as a chance to practice their English.

  • http://twitter.com/language101_com Brent

    Hi Benny. Thanks for pointing me here on twitter.

    Very interesting, and pretty embarrassing too, actually. By your definition, I’m not fluent in Spanish, though I’ve lived here for over three years, and generally have a great knack for languages.

    In fact, people often compliment on how well I speak but I realise all too well they are comparing my fluent speech to the rather rickety efforts of other expats who simply make no bleedin’ effort at all to even try.

    So yeah, I speak Spanish fluently, but what gets me in your definition is that I am nowhere near 90 percent faultless. Conjugation is a b@ in Spanish, so I only use a few tenses to be perceived as fluent, but in the end that just makes my Spanish convoluted.

    You have surpassed me, Sir. Well done.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    The GCSE and A-level are pathetic compared to real world use of languages. Please don’t compare my definitions with passing easy exams.
    If your friend speaks English without hesitation about any topic then he’s fluent. You can speak fluently and still make occasional mistakes and definitely still have an accent. When you don’t have an accent or make any mistakes that’s speaking bilingually – do not confuse that with fluently.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    The GCSE and A-level are pathetic compared to real world use of languages. Please don’t compare my definitions with passing easy exams.
    If your friend speaks English without hesitation about any topic then he’s fluent. You can speak fluently and still make occasional mistakes and definitely still have an accent. When you don’t have an accent or make any mistakes that’s speaking bilingually – do not confuse that with fluently.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    The GCSE and A-level are pathetic compared to real world use of languages. Please don’t compare my definitions with passing easy exams.
    If your friend speaks English without hesitation about any topic then he’s fluent. You can speak fluently and still make occasional mistakes and definitely still have an accent. When you don’t have an accent or make any mistakes that’s speaking bilingually – do not confuse that with fluently.

  • Jyoti Mundra

    It Fully depend upon your capacity, dedication and how to learn from your mistick for achieved “Fluency” …

  • Terry

    This is a very useful post Benny and I like your spirit. Many “impossible” things have been achieved by people who just got their head down and ploughed on.

    The definition of fluency is troublesome though because it means different things to different people. I avoid saying that I’m fluent in Dutch after 5 years living and working in the country because I know that Dutch people define this term very strictly as being the level of a native speaker. So, instead my resume says that I’m competent, and I leave any further evaluation to a face to face meeting.

    Also, fluency can involve some cultural knowledge – for instance for a 40-something British person it’d involve being able to instantly recognize a reference to some old joke from Fawlty Towers, whereas for a teenager it’d involve recognizing some other sub-set of knowledge of music and TV programmes. By this standard it’d be pretty difficult to maintain true fluency in more than a couple of languages.

    Anyway I didn’t come here to knock you, I just think that fluency is a very loaded term and should be used carefully. At the moment I’m ploughing into learning Mandarin (with Assimil’s course) and loving it, I’m certainly expecting to be able to hold useful conversations with native speakers within 6 months, but as for true fluency – well I think that could be a lifetime’s work to truly grasp the subtelty of this amazing language including all the puns and humour.

    Kind regards,

    Terry

    • Elizabeth Whitehouse

      Can I chime in here. Fluency really is about speaking in a flowing manner. By this definition, my sister is fluent in French because whatever the occasion she opens her mouth and speaks. From an academic point of view her French is terrible. I, on the other hand, know a huge amount of French – but I speak slowly and haltingly, constantly correcting myself. I am NOT fluent. Ah, bon. Un jour…….

  • Diego Peixoto Principe

    Como consigo conversar com você Benny?

  • Amalia Mikkelsen

    Personally, I define fluency as the ability to speak/read/write in a language without needing to translate it first. I think that this allows you to achieve other things I associate with fluency, such as having interesting and intelligible conversations or reading literature.

    Amalia

    PS Is there anyone learning Norwegian on here?

  • Jumi96

    I must admit that I’m learning (I call it acquiring) Korean in the manner of ajatt. Nevertheless I appreciate this method as well! I just prefered the method of ajatt ^^

    At the moment I understand about 90-95% what is spoken in TV, Movies etc. and I’m going to start speaking next week. I will do it spontaneously and I’m quite sure that I will make some mistakes, but this doesn’t really bother me as long as I get corrected. But my question: Do you think it’s possible to achieve native fluency completely like a native speaker? Yes, this is my goal. Of course I should achieve fluency first, but my main goal is still native fluency. Somehow I think it’s possible because my mother learned German when she was 20 and two years later she achieved near native fluency. Some years later she achieved native fluency I think but this is my opinion and I don’t think what other natives (I’m a German native speaker as well) would think about this.

    So what is your opinion? I think when children are able to achieve it, we can do it as well (although babys do slightly a better job in acquiring native pronunciation).

  • Elizabeth Whitehouse

    Bennie, I have a question about achieving fluency. I read your book and can see that it is possible if you start out the right way and really work at it to achieve a degree of fluency in three months. My question is about how to take a language you learnt the wrong way to the fluency level. I speak an enormous amount of Italian, French and Spanish (and read all three to the level of enjoying literature or plodding through scientific journals). One on one with someone who doesn’t speak much English and I am fine. But taking your definition of fluency as speaking well enough so that natives don’t find it a bore to talk to you, I fail.

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