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https://www.duolingo.com/profile/thezhus

Is it possible to become fluent?

Sorry if this was already discussed somewhere else, I'm new to the app and extra new to the discussion board. I am learning German, and realizing now that maybe this language is harder than I thought. I see Americans and such on Youtube and hear stories from other foreigners who have been living abroad in Germany for 5+ years and they still seem to struggle with the language at times. My mother and her entire family are from Germany. They always wanted me to be more bilingual but I always felt like I'm just not good at learning languages. (Too much memorization without logic!) Duolingo is really helping me immensely in trying to finally learn this language I've struggled so much with my whole life. I've always wanted so badly to know it fluently!

My question is, even though German is a difficult language, is it possible to learn it fluently without living abroad? I have family members to speak it with, I plan to buy books, watch TV, and read German websites when I'm finished with my tree. Will this be enough though, or will I always struggle to some extent?

September 29, 2016

48 Comments

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https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TrioLinguist

Why not? I'm fluent in German and I've never visited Germany. There's nothing in the German air that'll make you fluent once you breathe it in. You can just as well immerse yourself in the language at home, with courses at the start but then movies, songs, books, articles, conversations with family members will all serve you greatly in the quest for fluency. It helps to be in the country, of course, but isn't necessary.

German isn't really hard, it's sometimes a challenge but that can be said of any language. It won't take a decade to be proficient if you're dedicated.

Edit: If it helps, this is how total time it took me to reach each level of proficiency in German with a couple hours a day (look up "CEFR" if you aren't familiar):

  • A1: 1 month
  • A2: 3 months
  • B1: 9 months
  • B2: 1 year 6 months

As you can see, the law of dimishing returns is very much applicable in language learning.

September 29, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/thezhus

Ah, this makes me feel a lot better. Thank you!

September 29, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/andre551183

By fluent, you mean you're C2 right? How long did it take you to reach C1 and C2 then?

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TrioLinguist

C2 is beyond fluent, that's essentially mastering the language - many native speakers of a language don't even qualify for C2, which demands the ability to "express oneself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely", which isn't in line with the way many native English speakers can't help speak, for example: "Okay, so like, I was at this store behind this really big, tall dude, in front of me in line, and so, like, I accidentally stepped on his foot and he got like really mad and stuff, and then like ... etc.". Same goes for "can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read". Even I sometimes struggle with high literature, technical articles and the like in English.

So, no, I'm B2 in German and a long way from C2. Based on my progress, I'd expect to reach C1 after 2 years and 6-9 months in total - just over a year after reaching B2. C1 is essentially my goal in German. C2, as far as I can infer from the description, would take longer to attain than all other levels combined and is probably not worth the time and effort for most language-learners. Nevertheless, B2 is widely regarded as the first level on the CEFR where one is effectively "fluent". It's described as:

  • Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in their field of specialization.
  • Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.
  • Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/andre551183

Didn't know about that, but I can definitely say that's not the idea of 'fluent' most people have. I remember when I was B2 in english, and that is indeed a very decent level to be at. At that point you can already make yourself understand in any situation, but you're still not free from having broken conversations.

Today I am C2 (with certificate), and I must say its not all that amazing. I can definitely talk about a wide range of technical subjects more confidently than most native speakers. But on the other hand, I still catch myself every now and then looking for everyday vocabulary that somehow managed to stay out of my radar after all these years.

As an example, some time ago I wanted to buy rubber bands at Walmart, but didn't know for sure what it was called, so I had to describe it to the guy who worked there.

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TrioLinguist

Ah, well, I've never taken an exam to certify my competence, but I'd imagine if one only needs 60% to pass, a B2 could manage to obtain the C1 certificate with some difficulty (I myself already meet at least one of the C1 criteria in German). The description in the CEFR of C2 really gives the impression of "highly-educated excellent speaker".

However, I still believe B2 is the threshold of fluency, and you'll find it's most often cited, since it does describe, as I wrote before, the ability to "interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party". I'd imagine that essentially embodies many people's notion of fluency.

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/andre551183

What I think is that people sometimes put high demands on themselves when learning a foreign language, and don't realize the "problems" they have even with their mother tongues. Nobody is capable of understanding 100% of their mother tongue and not even native speakers are free from failing to describe certain things in their own language.

As an example, what if a person is shy and struggles when speaking? Are you gonna say that person isn't fluent just because he/she is not good at speaking?

That's why my idea of C2 is not to be a sort of "God of the language", but rather to be able to do everything you do in your native language, and feel as an equal among native speakers.

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ally.x
  • 1249

I love your description of how people use English (the story about stepping on someone's foot). That's just so very true :-) (non-native but proficient speaker of english here...). I agree with you that many native english speakers don't have as good command of language as some non-native speakers who worked hard on their english). Cheers!

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Koopafro

I've got an official C2 in English, and I certainly don't feel like I've "mastered the language". I can see how you can take B2 as a first step into fluency, I already felt pretty at ease with English years before getting that C2 certificate, but for most people "fluent" means "highest level one can achieve", hence the C2.

It may also have to do with how language levels are seen on the work market. Whenever putting resumes up for reviewing, I've always been told B1-B2 is an intermediate level, while C1-C2 is fluent. But in the end, it mainly depends on how you personally feel about your mastery of the language I guess ? If you want to present yourself as fluent and think you can live up to it, no one is going to stop you. Confidence and belief in one's abilities isn't a bad thing.

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/loechpatli

“The main advantage of the scales is that it is no longer necessary to refer to native-speaker standard in order to set learning targets and assess proficiency levels.“ (Taken from a report about CEFR, found on the Council of Europe’s website.)

In language learning 'fluent' is a problematic word; because everyone has their own definition/idea about what it means to be fluent. I think the Council of Europe mostly tries to avoid this word when talking about CEFR. The CoE developed CEFR hoping to allow people to talk about language proficiency in a clearer and more uniform manner. As far as I can tell, The CoE has never tried to pinpoint the moment when a speaker becomes fluent. C2 is not an attempt to define fluent as opposed to not fluent.

• I can write complex letters, reports or articles which present a case with an effective logical structure which helps the recipient to notice and remember significant points. • I can read with ease virtually all forms of the written language, including abstract, structurally or linguistically complex texts such as manuals, specialized articles and literary works.

These are descriptions of the proficiency level called C2; I don't think this should be understood as minimum requirements for calling yourself fluent. I would say that the descriptions given above sound like a "highly-educated excellent speaker" as TrioLinguist called it earlier. Does that mean that you can only become fluent, if you are also highly-educated?

October 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/sunsloth

Personally (not objectively!) speaking, I love to read; I'll never speak German as well I do English, but fluency means I can enjoy reading in German, everything I enjoy reading in my native language - and for relaxation. CEFR is a question of proficiency, not fluency, imo. That's not at all negative. There's nothing wrong with fluency being an intangible journey of many years.

October 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/thezhus

What proficiency level would you consider Duolingo to "end" at for the German course?

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/andre551183

A2

October 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TrioLinguist

I'd say B1 is a stretch if we're talking about the Duolingo course as used alone, which is indeed quite basic.

October 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/andre551183

yeah, I'd say A2 indeed sounds more reasonable, so I will edit my post.

October 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/thezhus

That's a little disappointing, but I can understand. I'm about half way through my tree now and it's taken me about 20 days. So I assume that I'm on track for your same "learning schedule" What did you do to get to B1 and B2? Were you solely self taught? Did you hire a tutor? Is there another program like Duolingo that can take me further after I'm finished here? You're basically my language goals right now lol. One day I want to be C2, but I'm focusing on B2 for now I think.

October 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TrioLinguist

Well, A2 makes for a great foundation upon which you can build through further learning. It's impressive that you're already halfway through your tree, but don't forget to spend some time reviewing and refreshing already-learnt content. Yes, I am entirely self-taught.

A0 -> B1 doesn't take very long, this is what brought me there:

  • Completing the Duolingo course
  • Doing some of the courses on Memrise
  • Various podcasts/audio-courses
  • Sporadic random miscellany (songs, kids' stories, briefly using many different language programs, German-learning videos on YouTube, reading comments, looking up the German translations for English words, etc.)

I highly recommend you check out the Deutsch - warum nicht audio-course (there are pdf files with dialogue, grammar, vocabulary, exercises, etc.) on the Deutsche Welle website under the LEARN GERMAN tab. I throughly enjoyed all 104 lessons and learned a tonne working through that along with Duolingo.

http://www.dw.com/en/learn-german/deutsch-warum-nicht/s-2548

As for B1 -> B2:

  • Deutsche Welle's "DEUTSCH XXL" resources (Sprachbar, Top-Thema, etc.)
  • More podcasts/audio courses
  • German TV shows (Stromberg, Lindenstraße, etc.)
  • Spoken practice
  • More sporadic miscellany

Anyway, you don't, of course, have to do as I did though, as long as you enjoy the process you'll learn, so try out many things and see what you like/what works best for you. It's important to do things you like to do, otherwise you'll get demotivated and possibly give up.

Ich wünsche dir viel Erfolg beim Lernen!

October 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/sunsloth

Most of language learning is self-motivation (see the million resources the other guy posted) but I think everyone aiming for proficiency/fluency should spend some time with a tutor, partly for encouragement and partly to a) have speaking/writing mistakes corrected, and b) to ask questions and have things explained.

October 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/andre551183

Like TrioLinguist, I'm "self-taught" too. And just to add to what he/she said, the most important thing is to find native speakers who you can talk/write to and be prepared since it can be very frustrating in the beginning.

I also agree with most resources he/she mentioned (except for Memrise, which sucks in my opinion). A good book that I can also recommend you, and that works well from A1-B1, is the Sage und Schreibe by Christian Fandrych and Ulrike Tallowitz.

October 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/iAmOnDuolingoToo

Never mind the law of diminishing returns, the learning curve applies to learning German. Which is not very surprising.

edit : I'd call the X axis "time spent learning" and the Y "fluency" or something

October 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TrioLinguist

Why shouldn't I mind the law of diminishing returns when it does indeed apply here? I didn't find I had a slow beginning, as your learning curve indicates, since within one month I went from knowing almost nothing to being able to say "the apple is red", which was a huge step. And also I'm B2(+?) and still haven't hit a plateau – which I suspect is mostly just in people's perception, for example:

  • 1000 known words - one month later - 2000 known words. 100% increase!
  • 20,000 known words - one month later - 21,000 known words. 5% increase.

One stills learns just as quickly, but it's no longer so obvious. I know I haven't hit a plateau because, for example, while a few months ago I was checking the dictionary probably 50 times while watching any episode of any German TV show, that's fallen in the meantime by half. Even as I read through my first novel in German, it seemed like the writing became easier halfway through. I also speak far less haltingly than I did several months ago. Try to see the big picture and you'll realize how much progress you're really making.

I'd imagine you could only have a real plateau if you've been doing the same thing since day one, never going beyond the learner materials. In that case, the lack of novelty would probably just bore the brain and impede learning.

October 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/AwLYMM

If you have learned to be fluent in one language, it shows you have the ability to be fluent in another.

September 29, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/andre551183

That's exactly what I think...you did it once, so of course you can do it again. There's no such thing as "I'm not good at languages", its just a matter of how much you wanna learn.

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/thezhus

By "learned to be fluent" do you mean when I learned my mother tongue of English as a child? Because learning a language as a child is very different from learning it as an adult. I don't speak any secondary languages, if that's what you're trying to imply. I'm very sorry if I mislead you to believe otherwise!

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/andre551183

It is indeed different, but not so much as many people think. You take several years to learn your mother tongue when you're a child, how different is that from learning as an adult? You only have the advantage of not needing a big vocabulary as a child, so you can just get by with the little you have.

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/gmbka

Keep talking, don't be afraid of making mistakes, it does not matter. Reading and watching are helpful, but talking is the key. You'll get there.

September 29, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/sunsloth

I'd say writing is also the key. Speaking is 1000 times more fun, but writing is necessary (particularly with German grammar) because it's difficult. Write, make mistakes, get corrected! I prefer speaking because my mistakes dissolve into the air as soon as I make them..... but I still need someone to look at my writing with a red pen and explain my errors.

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/sunsloth

For writing help, iTalki.com has a forum where you can post things, and the other users can use editing tools to correct it.

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/gmbka

From their website:

You agree to pay all fees applicable to your use of the italki Services, and you agree not to circumvent italki's fee structure, all in accordance with the Site Policies, and the Payment Account Service Terms and Conditions.

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/sunsloth

Okay?? OP: They have the option of paying for skype tutoring but everything else (including community forums) is free, don't worry :)

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/gmbka

Thanks for the info.

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/GlobalJim711

Instead of saying yes or no, why not try talking to someone in German? You will see if you are happy with your level of proficiency. Years ago after studying a little German in High school and qualifying for junior year abroad in college, I went to Austria for a year. At the start, I was shocked I was almost always lost. Telephone calls were near impossible. My roommate spoke German naturally and I associated more often with foreigners also learning German. Austrians and my roommate joked good heartedly I would wear out my dictionary. By December, three months later, I was understanding almost all simple conversations but struggling to speak fast enough to be an equal participant. By spring, I was interacting without translating and without thinking about grammar. It is a funny thing to produce the correct article before consciously wondering if it is correct, but it does happen. Since then I also lived on my own in the Munich area and can communicate just about anything, unless I do not have the cultural exposure to the topic or the background knowledge in the news. I have passed many tests along the way...oral...conducted only in German...demonstrating the mastery of simple grammar. Viel Spaß beim Deutschlernen!

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/KenBookmye

Are you fluent in English? I can guarantee you do not know the definition of every word in the standard American dictionary. My college German professor said if you are over twelve you will always have an accent but you can get good enough to carry on normal conversation

September 29, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/GlobalJim711

Not all linguists are multilingual and not all language professors linguists. Linguists firmly believe all native speakers continue to expand their lexicons until the brain starts to regress. It is true that it is more challenging to speak a second language without an accent after the onset of puberty, but not impossible. There are other factors that greatly affect our unconscious desire (called affective factors). Additionally, we have only relatively recently discovered the process of lateralization, the connecting of the two hemispheres of the brain, completes itself at a much later age, 25 and even older. Prior to this time, anything is possible! Finally, European educators have the right idea, introducing a second language in the first grade. The students acquire native skills that cannot easily be defined or isolated. These skills transfer then later on in life. The American curriculum specialists advocate high English scores first, delaying any natural arly exposure, normally to 8th grade. We do not acquire language learning skills. We approach it academically, a system to memorize. Imagine telling a non-swimmer to read a book about swimming and then try to swim the length of an Olympic sized pool versus a seasoned swimmer who simply has never swam that far. Who would have the best chance for success? Skills are acquired not simply memorized.

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/KenBookmye

Of course it will be decades before we know if any of the schools doing full immersion get a better result but I agree we should be teaching a foreign language in first grade.

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/gmbka

In Deutschland koennen Kinder im Kindergarten (day-care, not part of the school system) eine Fremdsprache lernen. Aber nachdem der Sprachunterricht in der Grundschule nicht fortgefuehrt wurde, vergessen sie alles wieder. Besonders schwierig ist es fuer Immigrantenkinder, denn fuer sie bedeutet das eine zweite Fremdsprache.

Inzwischen lernen auch die Schueler der Grundschule eine Fremdsprache, aber die Gynmasiallehrer beklagen dass die Grundschullehrer nicht die passende Ausbildung haben und sie, die Lehrer am Gymnasium, wieder von vorne anfangen muessen.

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TheSlavLad

Well I disagree with having an accent. Some people are very good at mimicking the sounds that you can often mistake them for natives. It all comes down to talent tbh., and also at a certain age your speech organs stop being flexible, but that's definitely not at the age of 12. I've been learning English ever since I was 6, and truth be told, the older I got, the better my accent got. I didn't start pronouncing the th sound the way it should be pronounced until as recently as half a year ago. I'm 20 now.

Also there are varying degrees of fluency, but I think we can all agree that being able to understand with ease and be understood without an issue would be a generally accepted definition of fluency, imo.

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/KenBookmye

Well I can't guarantee my professor was correct

September 30, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ImogenGraham1

i would say it is possible to be fluent in German just keep praticing

October 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jagerdts

yes just as normal English speakers struggle with English sometimes

October 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JillLewis

i guess it is. i can't believe your mother is from germany

October 4, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/thezhus

Why is that hard to believe? A lot of people are from Germany.

October 4, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TrioLinguist

Germans are actually the single largest ethnic origin in the United States (but I don't know where you're from).

October 4, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/thezhus

I'm from the US, and I'm aware that almost everyone I know has some German background. That's why I was surprised someone found this "unbelievable". haha

October 4, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TrioLinguist

Exactly, I myself am in fact 12.5% German in Canada, although you wouldn't have guessed by looking at me.

October 4, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/thezhus

In this day and age, what does a German "look like". ;)

October 4, 2016
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