What do you understand by fluency?

Recently I've become aware of more and more pseudo-polyglots who claim to be able to learn languages within relatively short time spans. This idea appeals to people of the 21st century where everything must be instant. Some are even stupid enough to pay money to the aforementioned pseudo-polyglots for their precious tips on fast language learning. No, their tips won’t work like some magic pill and you won’t turn into a fluent speaker of a foreign language in a couple of weeks’ time. You want to speak a foreign language fluently? Let me give you my tip… for free! What about you try the old fashioned way and actually make an effort? I don’t understand what happened to good old scepticism and critical thinking ability. Are we humans just becoming increasingly gullible? Copy-paste from Google Translate and a video in which you read out some pre-prepared text in a foreign tongue is not what I understand as the ability to speak a language fluently. Perhaps it’s all about how we define fluency then. The "polyglots" will conveniently use their own definition of the fluency so as to satisfy their need for goal-achieving. The rest of us, however, will know we are fluent when we can sustain a lengthy conversation in our target language. Don't kid yourself; this is more likely to take years rather than months. The younger you are and the more effort you make will hasten the point at which you realise you really are fluent. Good luck.


  1. Oh, so true!
    I doubt those pseudo-polyglots even like learning languages. It's all about the money.

  2. I read a fair bit about these internet-famous polyglots and I think that mainly they just like learning languages. The one that I've seen that actually has a website and is charging money... really does seem to speak lots of languages well.

    And I really haven't seen any of them claiming to be able to learn the language FLUENTLY in a really short time.

    Certainly, English is an important language and you're obviously happy to spend a huge amount of time on it and you're happy to 'focus' on it... but if you're going to complain about the pseudo-polyglots it would be good if you gave some evidence of the phenomenon you're talking about. Oh, and accepted that learning several languages to a reasonable conversational level is just as valid and fun as devoting all ones time to one language.

    Though I must say, that instead of them making youtube videos where they speak at the camera... having a rough idea beforehand of what they're going to say... it would be better if they went out and found some native speakers to practise on... and filmed that.

  3. Manipulating people by leading them into thinking you’re some sort of guru with all the answers in exchange for cash is simply bordering on immorality. Anyone with a modicum of good sense can see that pseudo-polyglots are in the same league as purveyors of snake oil.

  4. Hi Ewelina!

    I already mentioned this in my response to your comment on my blog, but I really think we should abandon the word "fluent" altogether.

    It's not just the language learning world that has trouble defining it. But the average native speaker of English has an incorrect preconception of what the word means!

    Note the definition from dictionary.com:

    * spoken or written with ease: fluent french.
    * able to speak or write smoothly, easily, or readily: a fluent speaker; fluent in six languages
    * easy; graceful: fluent motion; fluent curves.

    It really doesn't say anything about your level! You could speak fluently, but at a relatively low-level with tons of mistakes.

    But really, in my opinion, the problem is that the average person (not involved in language learning) interprets speaking "fluently" to mean that you speak perfectly -- just like a native. They also beleive that once you reach this point, you are done -- there is nothing left to learn!

    Of course, with language learning you are never done -- there is always more to learn. And there is debate about whether or not it's even possible to speak just like a native speaker.

    So, I say: we need a new word! ;-)