https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Judit294350

Fluency and Nuance

People often ask about how long it will take to become fluent in a language – or how many words you need to know to communicate with people. Today was interesting. We learnt 33 synonyms for “very” (nagyon). Maybe a few more than English.

So, do you need 34 words for “very” to talk to people? Certainly not. But, what about if they use one of those synonyms when talking to you? How do you interpret what they are saying?

And why so many words? Actually each word expresses a slightly different nuance. Some are reasonably neutral; some express horror; some are weak; some are very strong; some have their place in the register of the educated or official; and some are slang to be used only with good friends.

So, yes, with a couple of thousand words you may be able to communicate basic needs but your language will be a blunt tool with no shades of meaning. But more importantly, 2000 words is not enough to understand native speakers talking about the most basic things.

August 8, 2019

91 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Boo721127

Yes.

That's why I'm here. To actually start learning German. Because I've never taken an actual lesson before Duolingo.

I watched German TV as a kid. I've been to Germany... tens of times, lost count. The little I know does make a huge difference when it really matters.

But then there are situations like when people crack jokes and I'm the only one who just stands there with a dumb look, not understanding what's funny. And I can't carry out a real, natural-feeling conversation for the life of me.

But it's up to me to fix that. Even though it will surely be a long road...

August 8, 2019

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

"But then there are situations like when people crack jokes and I'm the only one who just stands there with a dumb look, not understanding what's funny."

You can be perfectly fluent and still might not understand a good deal of humor. A joke often refers to things all the natives know, but you might never be exposed to in your language learning process. For instance, there may have been a funny scene from an otherwise forgettable movie 25 years ago in that country. If somebody quotes the scene to make fun of the current situation, everyone who saw that movie 25 years ago might laugh, but you would have no clue what it was about, even if you spoke the language perfectly.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/b05aplmun.ca

That sort of cultural information is part of fluency. Culture and language are not entirely distinct.

August 9, 2019

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

You can only do so much in terms of fluency.

A good example of that is the part of culture native speakers build during their childhood and teenage years, it's the least accessible to foreign speakers, both because they're rarely becoming fluent in a second language in their childhood and teenage years and because it's not necessarily as motivating as an adult to expose yourself to pieces of culture targeting children and teenagers even assuming you even know what you missed in the first place.

Nowadays a decent part of this childhood and teenage culture is shared because of globalization, but even then there are many things that are not shared (and even those which are, their accessibility can vary depending on where you're from).

And that's only one example, there are many things foreign speakers can miss compared to native speakers, even if they can express themselves and understand 99.9% of the language. You're never fluent to the point of being a native, unless you're actually a native. In fact it's a disconnect that you can find even inside a single country, between social classes for example, some jokes can simply not be understood. Or regional culture, if I were to go in some parts of France right now, it's likely that I would not even understand the meaning of some words, let alone some jokes.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Kelvin401862

I was thinking the same thing. I am part of several sub-cultures that speak either a dialect, or jargon that is not shared by the larger culture. And I think this exist everywhere.

So to some degree, total fluency is a myth. For example I was in the military for many years, I'm a retired Naval Officer, we speak a language that is all our own. We have a culture that is hundreds if not thousands of years old.

The larger culture understands some of our language, but much of it will sound like a foreign language to them.

I think of it as pools of fluency, you maybe able to speak in general, but not understand the jargon or slang that is spoken by many of the sub-cultures that are all around you.

August 9, 2019

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

Yes fluency works in sets, you can invest in several sets during your life, but the time you spend in them and the experiences you had will determine how much of each set you can explore. For most countries, I would bet that even a whole human life would not be enough time to explore all the nuances of one language and all its regional variations, as well as all its technical jargons, all its slangs, etc...

It's fine to tend towards perfect fluency, but we have to be realistic in our expectations.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/7.Julia.7

What you said about France reminded me of something. I am English-speaking Canadian, in a totally Anglophone city/province. When I did finally go to the French-speaking province of Quebec, I was staying with several room-mates, all of whom were from France. Well, they were all from different regions of France, and, yes, there was so, so much inside jokes, understandings, words, etc., between them that I could not grasp. There were times, where, even when I understood the words - when they were speaking French - the meaning was lost on me. They especially had a ton of jokes and such about one room-mate who was from the region of Bretagne, in France.

There have also been word-plays, especially in advertising, that, even when I can read them, I just don't get it, or I do get it but can't find the humour in it as a native speaker would. And to this day I don't get the pun on the chain of restaurants in Quebec called Frites Alors, which I kinda assume is a play on zut alors, but I don't get it....first say that chain probably 20 years back, and never did get it. Writing this reminded me of that.

August 9, 2019

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

Don't worry, the pun is not very impactful on me either. Sometimes there are puns/jokes that simply don't connect with people very much, and marketing is especially good at creating stupid content all for the sake of staying in people's minds as long as possible (which apparently worked, 20 years later you still know the name of their brand).

Indeed it seems like it's playing on "zut alors" but if that's all it's got then it's not worth a smile in my book. Perhaps it's also using the way we use "alors" to indicate a change of plan such as "Bon, bah on va prendre X alors", indicating that people should change whatever their plans are to eating fries instead? Or maybe there's a reference that I don't know about, since it's Quebec there are plenty of references that I wouldn't know about as someone from France. Either way, I don't find it especially funny/impactful either.

Indeed Bretons (those living in Bretagne) are often the target of jokes from people living elsewhere, but it's not the only region like that, it's just that they have a strong sense of identity despite being in the nation of France, and they're not afraid to show it, it probably makes them an easy target. Their geography also gives them bad weather, which does not help their cause when tourists from elsewhere spend their holidays there.

August 9, 2019

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

Ha ha, that is exactly what happened to me, thinking I understood Bergamasco, the dialect of Bergamo, Italy... when a group of friends cracked a joke in Bergamasco. I'm listening along, thinking I'm getting the gist of it, when all of a sudden the whole group bursts out laughing and I was stuck with that dumb face.

I do agree with Judith that with a couple thousand words you can get by at least as far as satisfying tourist's needs, and that in itself is fun and shows the locals that you are interested in their language and culture.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/DavidG565085

The only way to become truly fluent in a language is to continuously talk to or listen to native speakers.

August 8, 2019

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

Indeed

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/EricMuelle1

I have a pretty big English vocabulary, and I learn new English words all the time. You're never going to know every possible word that others could use in your own language (especially English, as it has a LOT more words than most other languages), much less languages other than your native one. The point is to be able to infer the meaning of words you don't know from context, like you do in your own language without realizing it, that's a big part of what fluency is.

Interestingly enough, studies show that most native speakers have a vocabulary in the tens of thousands, but they only use a couple to a few thousand on a regular basis. When they learn a second language they only learn a couple to a few thousand words, that's not a coincidence. You learn the words you use regularly. If you want to have a larger foreign vocabulary you need to write/speak in circles that don't use everyday words. But a few thousand words is enough to understand most of most conversations.

August 9, 2019

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

especially English, as it has a LOT more words than most other languages

Really? According to Wikipedia there are about 16 languages with similar-sized or larger dictionaries than English.

August 9, 2019

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

It's really hard to quantify a language based on the number of lexemes. Lithuanian, Japanese, Korean, Finnish and Swedish beat English on the number of dictionary headwords. But that would ignore homophones in English. Besides, the number of words does not necessarily make a language more descriptive... my husband says Russian is far richer than English. Here's an interesting article: https://blog.ititranslates.com/which-language-is-richest-in-words Thank you longusername for the link to the Wikipedia article.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Zia177448

Thank you for that link!

Of course Finnish is all the way up there, even if you take its longest dictionary. That makes me feel a lot better about it, since I reached approximately those 2000 words and was so far from understanding basic conversations that it wasn't even funny.

With Spanish, I've reached ~2500 words and can already get much further than I could with Finnish. (So yes, I can confirm the "2000 words" thing being a bit of a myth.)

(Of course Finnish being a agglutinative language drives the word count up and Spanish being related to languages I'm already familiar with makes understanding it easier in general, but I do think it also has something to do with the size of a vocabulary in general.)

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/EricMuelle1

I had't seen that list, I just remember one of my French books mentioning how many words French had compared to English an English had a LOT more, and I remembering seeing that German was closer to French than English. I'd have to dig up the reference to see exactly what's causing the difference, though. My guess is there are some words that my source didn't count as contemporaneous. I also wonder what words like "Zeitgeist" and "coup de grace" count as, since they've entered common English usage.

August 10, 2019

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

With 2000 words you do can understand basic situations and communicate in a rudimentary manner but you can't engage the same way with people, words and their particular cultural values and perceptions of the world, this is true not only for non-native speakers but native speakers struggle too with unfamiliar words and concepts.

Having a clear language goal could be useful in this regard because knowing the use you'll give to the language you're learning you can take decisions about the way you want to develop it.

In my case I tend to focus on understanding cultural differences and coloquial terms useful in my social-communicational contexts rather than delving into lit. and rhetorics. My English is still stiff -you may have noticed it- as opposed to my native lang, but a good writer knows best how to use these shades of meaning to resonate with their reader emotions and thoughts.

But no matter what your focus is, as a notable writer Orwell once noticed, the ratio of words increases the ratio of thoughts, developping a language is also developping your thought.

August 8, 2019

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

If we are lucky the local we are speaking will dumb down and use a thinner dictionary when in our company. That's what we do when speaking to others who aren't as practiced in English. Give and take.

August 9, 2019

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

Indeed!

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/b05aplmun.ca

And if we're really lucky, they'll pick words we actually know, rather than synonyms they think are easy, but happen not to be the ones we know.

August 9, 2019

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

IMHO fluency only refers to your ability to express your opinions, desires, etc. without unnatural hesitation (due e.g. to missing vocabulary or trying to arrange correct grammar in one's head). If you only know 1000 words but you know them really well, there are many situations where you can express yourself clearly and fluently, even though there are many situations where you can't.

Even in English I can't always express myself fluently, especially if I'm in an unfamiliar domain of speech (stiff formalisms, imported Latin and French phrases, specialist terms in medicine, science, industry, economics, etc.) or if I'm tired, distracted, or my brain has just been deeply engaged in some other activity (e.g. programming or using another language).

All that said, it's always better to know more words (except perhaps when trying to walk before one can crawl), all the more so if they're known actively and not just passively.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/EricMuelle1

Fluency usually means being able to speak the language as well as the native speakers, pronunciation included. If native people only use 5000 words despite knowing more, then I think knowing 5000 is good enough to be considered fluent by this standard. Of course, a lot of people are using your standard of fluency nowadays, too. Depends on who you ask.

August 10, 2019

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

I don't think it's that black and white. If someone learns 2,000 words that are mostly synonyms or consider different forms of the same words as different words in their list of 2,000 words, then sure, they won't be able to communicate that well.

But that's not the case if someone learns the 2,000 most frequently used words, especially combined with knowledge of the culture of their target language.

I've had hours long conversations in my target language in the past while still only knowing the first few hundreds of most frequently used words, and can play video games in it and mostly understand it. (And I don't count different forms of the same word as different words.)

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Judit294350

I wasn't suggesting someone learn all synonyms - but rather with 2000 basic words your ability to understand is limited. Many people here are learning French or Spanish which has a huge number of cognates with English so you often have a fair idea what a word means even if you have not learnt it. Hungarian is not like that - with the exception of a few Latin derived words and some recent English loan words (some re-spelt so unrecognizable unless you say them aloud eg lájkol - to like something on Facebook) every word has to be learnt from scratch. Even words with a common Hungarian root have to be carefully distinguished.

I already had 2000 words when I started DL but my ability to converse was limited. With well over 5000 words I can now understand most of a "normal" conversation but last night I attended a play and came away with barely the gist of it.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shelby.AM

Plays can be quite difficult in any language! Don't be disheartened.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Blackwater13

Hi Judit, in what language did you manage to learn 5000 words? Is it possible to learn that many words with Duolingo? I'm asking because I'm practicing German since some time and I'm only about to reach 3000 words... and it feels like I'm not advancing at all...

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/sea-mist

Blackwater, you should have done all the words here at the levels you've got your things at. All the words are apparently given in the first one or two levels, the rest of the levels are just practice. You need seek sources other than duolingo if you want to learn more words.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Cleanthe3

Hello Blackwater13, if it's only about how many words you learn, did you do the reverse tree ? Did you read every sentence discussions in German? Did you read all the Stories ? We can add a lot of vocabulary but only if we use everything DL has to offer.

After 1,5 year on DL, I haven't done everything. After 8 years of German at school and 3500 words learned on mosalingua (a flash-cards app) I added almost 600 words or sentences in my Anki folder thanks to DL and it's not over yet. Now I watch documentaries on youtube and I'm learning even more . An never-ending story ! ;)

August 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Blackwater13

Hi Cleanthe3, it's pretty clear to me that I have to use other resources to expand my vocabulary. I thought that with Duolingo's expansion last year I would continue learning new words and will keep Duolingo as my only learning resource.

August 12, 2019

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

I assume Hungarian.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Blackwater13

I doubt that at level 19 one can learn already 5000 words...

August 9, 2019

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

Blackwater13 It comes through in her post that she is attending classes. And for most people me included, you start seaking out the lanuage all over.. For me I like music, youtube, news, dictionaries and so on.. Most people have a reason outside duolingo to learn the language. Only using duolingo gets sad eventually. I speak to people in spanish for example. Thats where I learn most of my vocabulary.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mwbrand1

I doubt that at level 19 one can learn already 5000 words...

That may be true, but for many us, Duolingo is not our primary learning source. I realized over a year ago that Duolingo was weak when it came to teaching listening comprehension and speaking skills. I still use Duolingo to reinforce my vocab and grammar, but my primary learning resources have shifted.

I suggest you look at the Deutsche Welle German course. They have a placement test so you can test how well you are doing. Here is the link:

https://learngerman.dw.com/en/overview

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Judit294350

No - I didn't learn them on DL. I just use DL to tick over my Hungarian while not in school - where I learn about 1000 words in a month.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/tar2014

The key is not just learning words. To become more fluent you have to apply these words in communicative situations. Get a course book that is dialog based and has exercises.

August 10, 2019

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

You would know what fluency is, wouldn’t you? Btw there’s no such thing as more fluent. You are either fluent or not. Your comment, as usual, makes little sense.

August 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mwbrand1

But more importantly, 2000 words is not enough to understand native speakers talking about the most basic things.

I completely agree. I'm currently at around 2500 words that I feel I know well, but it's just not enough to discuss things at any real depth. My goal is to continue expanding my vocabulary at the rate of about 1000 words per year (3 words per day). And when I learn a word, I want to really know the word, not just one and done words. I'm hoping when I hit 5000 words, I will be able to communicate with some minor degree of proficiency. Hopefully, I'll be able to join in on a discussion and maybe even tell or joke or two.

I know I will get there! It may take awhile, but I am very determined.

August 9, 2019

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

Learning languages is also a "use it or lose it" thing..

Yes your right, you can not communicate very well with only 2000 words, but it is a level where you start to learn a lot more words fast when you use the language. What do you do if they use a synonym or slang of a word and you do not understand them? You have two choices! Either you die in shame and low self esteem, beat yourself up, and run away, or you ask the person what it means, and tell them you dont understand. You know how to do that with 2000 words in your vocabulary. In Spanish, I would ask, No entiendo esa palabra, ¿puedes explicar?, Or I do not understand that word, can you explain? I think I say "yeah, mi palabra nueva para hoy, gracias Raquel" (I have two Raquels as language partners, hehe), to my language partners every single day when I speak to them.. or, "Yeah, my new word of the day" in English..

I spent a weekend in Valencia last month, and I learned so much Spanish, much more than I ever hoped I would. But I did speak to people, I did not hide behind bad selfesteem.. Mysore Ashtanga yoga class in spanish was quite interesting, and the teacher did not speak english.. hehe. Some embarrassing moments happend indeed, but you know what, people LOVE to laugh and smile, and I got a new friend to practise Spanish with. The yoga teacher. She is awesome, and now we laugh remembering the ackward yoga class.. hehe

August 9, 2019

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

It's worth a note that language learning is very much a "rich get richer" sort of experience. The more words you know and the better you understand the language, the easier it is to learn more. Kind of like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Well, up to a certain point anyway.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Judit294350

or you ask the person what it means, and tell them you dont understand

Only possible in limited situations. I am often in a group of native speakers - if I halt the conversation every time I don't understand it would annoy the group and eventually I can se them making excuses to reform without me. Or last night I attended a play, do I stand up and ask the actress to explain a phrase she used? However, today I went on a trip with friends and while sitting in the car, one-on-one, my travelling companion would rephrase as needed while talking with me - but when she interacted with the others it was at full speed with a full vocab.

August 9, 2019

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

Damn now I'm curious bout' that yoga class.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Moira582602

Judit I take my hat off to you as Hungarian is very difficult with its vowel harmony and word order. Have a couple of lingots. Good luck with it. Hungary is a beautiful country and the language is difficult but interesting. You give such good advice in your posts. Yo napot kivanok.

I agree, it shouldn't be a race to see how many words you can learn. That's not what language learning is about, if you want to really communicate. Especially as the meaning of a word in one language may not have the exact range of meanings as it does in another - what we call nuance or semantic range.

You need to ask yourself what you want to do with the language you are learning. If it is just basic communication, you won't need that much. But if you really want to get to grips with it and talk it properly it will involve a lot of work - more than Duo. Not just vocab but also a firm understanding of how the grammar and idiomatic phrases work.

Language is complex, so don't underestimate it. There are many more languages with a greater vocabulary range and much more complex grammatical structure than English - especially if you include the African, Inuit and Asian languages. And that's not including words that look the same but tone is different, changing the meaning (as in many Asian and some African words - with high, low and middle tones, some even more complex).

David is right. It's not the number of words you know it's talking to native speakers and listening to them. (Have a lingot David for a sensible post).

Bagobones which London slang are you talking about? There is no such thing as "London slang." I lived and worked in London for many, many years. There is slang used by different age groups, different ethnic groups, gang culture, different music cultures and in different areas of London. But there is no such thing as "London slang." Don't kid yourself!

Have you ever been to London other than on holiday? You will never experience the variety of street slang on holiday. White City (where I used to teach) has different slang from Tower Hamlets, from Dagenham from, a Paddington estate (also where I used to teach) or .....name any estate in London. They all have different "slang". Be careful with your boasting - a little knowledge is a dangerous thing (can't remember who said that). If I took you to a school in the Isle of Dogs, you would not understand their slang, nor would you those from a tough estate in Tottenham. If I took you to a club in central London the street language "slang" would be different from a rap youth club or from a visit to Lewisham Market listening to London raggae. There is no "London slang"

As a native English speaker and someone who lived in London for more than 20 years, with a London-born husband, if we don't understand all the branches of "slang" used in all the different parts of the capital we lived and worked in, how can you with basic English! You probably know some "slang" words from one area or activity - and that is good if that is where you mix. But "London slang" ........no such thing.

But I do agree with you, you do need a sense of humour in language learning. Without it you'll never learn a language. We learn by our mistakes - some of them hilarious. So keep learning and laughing. Keep at it bagobones and good luck with your learning and exploring.

You will only really learn a language well, not by being just a tourist, but by living there for sometime, mixing with people from different walks of life, travelling by public transport and shopping in markets where you have to speak. Being a tourist is fun but you will only need a limited amount of language and it is brilliant to pick up enough to basically communicate for your visit. Very worthwhile. But to be fluent is another kettle of fish altogether - it takes years.

So good luck folks, whatever your reason for learning another language.

August 9, 2019

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

Take the term "london slang" loosly. And its exactly what I am talking about. I am talking how my cousin speaks with his friends, for example. Brixton rastafaris, pakistanis in Finchburry etc. London people usually talk very fast English, no matter where they are from and which variant their neighborhood speaks. My brother lived in Angel for 15 years. My uncle is from UK, not London, but a place with a heavy dialect. Manchester.. I know UK very well, since I got a lot of family there. Also I have been married to an Californian for over a decade, and lived for long periods both in the UK and USA, and as a former social worker often working with gang prevention projects, I have spent my share of time with street language in those two countries..

My point is, with a good knowledge of the basics, you learn the local variant very fast if you move there or spend time where they speak with a heavy dialect or street slang.. I am not saying I understand it right away automatically, I am saying it takes you a lot less time to decipher the local variants of English when you know the basics well, for me that is C2 cerf level. Back in the 90s I worked the rough areas of Oakland, California. Going there now, it would take me a little time to work out the street slang there now, but within a week I would understand most of it, and have no problem understanding them..

And it goes for my native Norwegian as well. Its not easy for even a Norwegian to go to Oslo east and understand the youth of those areas, but all Norwegians or people with b2 level and above would learn to understand it within hours of speaking to them, if they spent some time with the youth there. Its still Norwegian (with some arab words.. hehe), spoken very fast...

Oslo east street language, not for the avarage Duolingo beginner, but not that hard either for a b2 level cerf:

https://tv.nrk.no/serie/17/sesong/1/episode/17/avspiller

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Janet240859

Great explanation.

August 8, 2019

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

Great post, Judit294350

I wonder if I'll ever become a fluent speaker but I came to French for the reading. I'm a voracious reader of English and I've always wanted to read French writers in their own words. It's very difficult for me to have a conversation with a French speaker, mostly due to poor hearing (tinnitus) but I can read the daylights out of Balzac and Proust and that was my main goal. For me personally, I could not imagine becoming fluent in any language without being a voracious reader. Also, I love binge watching Netflix French drama with French subtitles. Zone Blanche was terrific.

August 10, 2019

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

Great post Judit !

August 8, 2019

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

At least you would be able to meet some non-native speakers of English part of the way (and vice versa).

August 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Annika579617

During my studies I got a Dutch vocabulary list (Dutch is my native language) of over 20000 words. It came from a study where they collected the most used words in Dutch. I understand 90-95% because I'm a native Dutch speaker (and a language nerd), but of course many words are not necessary in daily conversations. Still I think it's unfair to say knowing 2000 words (so 10% of my list) means you're fluent in a language. Even going up to 5000 is only a quarter of a fluent speaker. Maybe at 10000 words your knowledge is comparable with the lowest educated natives and you can start considering yourself fluent.

There is no clear definition of being "fluent". I'm quite fluent in English. I understand almost everything without subtitles, I can have conversations for hours in English, I think in English sometimes. I still don't consider myself a fluent speaker.

According to a test I score at a B2 level (almost fluent) in French listening and reading comprehension. My French speaking and writing is a complete mess. I don't feel like I deserve a B2 grade. In German I'm able to have basic conversation and understand almost everything. I watch German tv without a problem and understand almost everything. I don't feel fluent at all.

I would suggest to stop trying to become fluent. Without moving to a country where you constantly hear your target language it's almost impossible to become as good as a native.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Zia177448

To me, fluency is such a weird goal to have anyway, especially at the beginning. People aiming for that right from the beginning are probably setting themselves up for failure. If you really need goals, aim to be able to pick out a few words in a text or conversation, read a beginner's story, a children's book, be able to ask simple things, understand a simple news text, a song, the weather forecast, a children's chapter book, a movie, have a simple conversation with native speakers. Reach that goal, be proud of how far you've come and move on. And just keep moving.

If you become fluent somewhere much further down the line, that's great! If not, you're still moving in the right direction, which is also great!

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/b05aplmun.ca

It's possible to have long-term goals and short- to medium-term goals at the same time.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/sea-mist

"To me, fluency is such a weird goal to have anyway"

Not really, some start this whole language learning journey as we need to learn the language and become fluent to be able to do something we wish to do. So our goal is to become fluent as anything less than achieving that will not work out for us. Doctors spend years in medical school but still have the goal the whole time to become a doctor even as first year students they still have that goal as it's the whole reason why they are doing their studies in the first place.

My goal from the start was to become fluent. That does not mean that I have not broken my goal down into steps and are trying to achieve one step at a time to get to my goal. (my steps are each language level.. Im heading towards B1 now).

August 11, 2019

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

Smart goals, good advice c:

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SamHunter20

fluency is such a weird goal to have

Why? Surely if you want to use a language then you want to use it as well as possible; at least to be able to talk to natives - at their speed - on a wide range of topics. Why spend time learning vocab and grammar just to say you've tried a language? Not intending to take a language to fluency, to me, is the weird goal.

August 11, 2019

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

While I agree with the message of this post, that true mastery of a language is something that takes more than a few thousand words, I disagree with how it's portrayed. I'm a native English speaker, but I make mistakes all the time. I'm sure an English major could listen to me speak or read this very message and notice a lot of misused words or grammatical mistakes. None of that matters though. What's important is getting what you feel into words that allow others to understand your position. Of course you won't be able to do that with 1000-3000 words, but even I have a hard time doing that with speaking a English for my entire life.

My point is, no one should let this post dissuade them from continuing to learn their target language. No, you won't be a wizard at your target language after 6 months or whatever time frame people tell you. Yes, you will be making mistakes a year from now, but if you look at yourself speaking in your native language you will notice the mistakes you make there as well. Learning to communicate as effectively as possible is something you can spend a lifetime at and never be perfect. So don't be afraid to try and learn a language, and most importantly don't be afraid to talk to people. Make the mistakes, learn from them, and get better.

August 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Ampharos64

Fluency is absolutely achievable in six months in a closely related language. https://www.state.gov/key-topics-foreign-service-institute/foreign-language-training/

This also doesn't take into account how much easier the passive understanding aspect is.

August 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Judit294350

600 hours - in a professional course (not just DL) - plus self study. That's 1000 hours minimum - if you are a good student. Yes, possible at 5 hours a day over 6 months. For many people the self study ratio is higher - more like 2-3 which puts it up to 10 hours a day.

August 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Einat162

And immersion or background is important- there's a youtube channel of a guy documenting he's learning progress- from first to last video (he gave a local radio interview in target language) it was 5 months. Only later did I realize he was exposed to it as a cultural thing, and (I assumed) learned it in early stages of school (until a certain grade, and then they don't use- so they lose it).

August 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Judit294350

no one should let this post dissuade them from continuing to learn their target language

I had no intention of dissuading people - but rather give a reality check.

August 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Moira582602

Woolishaff you speak so much sense (have a lingot from me). I couldn't agree more with you. I wonder how many people in this discussion have actually spent any time in the countries that speak the language that they are learning; shopping, travelling by public transport, meeting strangers, friends, doing ordinary everyday business? If you have you will understand that many of the discussion points here are pure fairyland. It is one thing to speak a few words when you go as a tourist. It is quite another to be fluent enough to hold a long and complicated conversation - which is a technical mark of fluency.

It's not about the number of words or synonyms you know. It's about understanding a native speaker, communicating with them and pronouncing words correctly with correct intonation (music) . Duo doesn't check your phonetic reproduction, and that is crucial in language learning.

You can not become fluent in a language in 6 months. Not everything you read on the internet is accurate. Take it from someone, now old and grey, who has lived in other parts of the world and spend a long time learning the languages of where she has lived (and studying linguistics - how language works). It is frustrating, funny, challenging and brilliant to learn another language. When you can hold a proper conversation and understand the complexities of the language and crack relevant jokes in it, the feeling is just beyond happiness.

Yes, French is not related to English. Right again Wollishott. English, although classified as a distant relative of German (linguistic families are broad, diverse and not as closely related as you might think) is actually an amalgum of different languages. All to do with it's history of invaders and settlers (as any primary school kid will tell you). So we have some Celtic (Picts were the first settlers but we know nothing of their language), Scandanavian languages, early German (not like modern German), Latin and other languages mixed in as peoples settled in Britain. Language isn't static and never has been. English grammar is not the same as German, nor French. As to English phonetics - anyone who has taught a child to read in English, will understand the difficulties of English pronunciation. Oh the joy of having a language like Hungarian or Welsh where, unless there is a loan, word each phoneme has one sound. It was tried with the ITA alphabet - didn't work. Pity poor dyslexics, like me, with English spelling!

Let's all be sensible. Language learning is complex. Duo is a good beginning but you will never become fluent with it. So everyone keep at it but remember it takes years to become fluent in a language. But it is the learning that is fun and challenging. That's why we do it. Enjoy yourself, be realistic. You are at the start of a wonderful and exciting journey.

August 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PerfectEng554596

Dear Moira:

I couldn't agree more...with all that you have said. Language learning takes time and it is complex even if someone is very "language equipped" meaning they pick up new languages easily. I get so upset when Chinese parents expect their young kids to learn English in 6 months and be near native...really? You didn't learn your first language that fast so what makes you think you will do that in a 2nd language? It takes time and practice.

To everyone else:

Fluency can be tested and all that means is you can read, write, listen and speak in that language at a certain level. For English language learners you can take a TOEFL, IELTS or even the Duolingo test...it will tell you how well you do with each task. In Chinese they recommend the HSK, (I've never done it but I'm told if you test at level 5 or 6 you are considered fluent). I am far from even slightly fluent but I have survived in China for 12 years with basic survival language...and I survived 3 years in Kazakhstan with basic Russian...I didn't starve or get lost or have any real issues, I rarely needed any help, but when I did there was usually someone nearby willing to help.

Language can be a useful tool...just learn some and then use it.

August 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Vicki966016

thanks for sharing

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Vicki966016

There is more need for idiomatic and slang expressions. The spoken word is more fluent in slang expressions that are missed in formal teachings.

August 9, 2019

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

Vicki966016, not really.. As with the thai boxing I do. Learn the basics really well, then you can play with the advanced stuff after if you feel like it. But to win matches, you win it with knowing the basics very well. Then you can adapt easy to different styles of the oponent.. The KISS rule applys there, or "Keep it simple stupid", as the expression goes..

For english, with knowing the basics really well, it does not take me a very long time to understand Detroit street slang, or London slang spoken in 20000000 miles in hour, because I know the basics so well, so its easy to adapt.. And its not important to remember the Detroit street slang after I have used it. And its ever changing anyways, just like the slang we use in Norwegian..

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Judit294350

Yes, but at the cost of other basic vocab. And you also need to know when to use them. With our synonyms under our belt we then had to add them into sentences. The class chose an acceptable synonym less than half the time (although now we should do better) You cannot just throw slang and idioms in willy-nilly.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jurita8

I am learning German. And I am very happy that I found Duolingo. Duolingo is easy to learn and practise every day. I am very glad to use it. From september I have to go to University and I will learn German a lot. So Duolingo is the best way how to learn grammar before studying seriously.

August 9, 2019

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

Absolutely wrong. Duo teaches you some basic skills, but grammar is the last of them. If you mean you'll be a German major, you won't need Duo at all, since they'll teach you the language on a whole different level. Due was never meant to be a tool to give you full competency in any language. It's meant to get you started — from zero to lower intermediate at best. Also, if you rely exclusively on Duo, you'll be in for a surprise when you first meet the language in a native environment. Don't even expect to understand a movie, let alone people in the street.

I'm not saying Duo is useless, but we all need to lower our expectations. But in this day and age, one can find countless resources online to improve grammar, listening skills and accent, and to compelement your Duo training. E.g. you can follow Easy German on youtube, an awesome channel with english and german subs.

As it seems, a lot of people here mistake fluency for native level. Fluency can be achieved with some dedication, but speaking as a native is a totally unrealistic goal for most of us. It'd require a long time immersive exposure to the language, to say the least. Age is less of a factor than most people seem to believe. It's not just your accent that gives you away in seconds, but also the way you express yourself, your phrases and idioms (or lack thereof). In German-speaking countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) literally every village and city has their own specific accent, vocab, mannerisms, colloquial expressions etc — to a point that they sometimes don't understand each other unless switch to hochdeutsch. You don't stand a chance (for a good example watch Inglourious Basterds). But i guess this applies to more or less any language.

Also the English we non-native speakers speak — the so-called continental English — is vastly different from real English. It's a vulgarized version, stripped off of all unnecessary artsy-fartsy stuff like colloquial phrases, abstract tenses, etc. I've never in my life heard anyone non-native use future perfect continuous in a sentence, for instance. Most people seem to be happy with this level of English once they reach it.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/tar2014

I think that duolingo actually teaches you a lot of grammar and that's specifically what I like about it. You may not have noticed that most skills have a bubble with a light bulb. Just click on it and you get grammar. The other stuff you said makes little sense. Languages are communication tools and work on different levels. But it always takes two to communicate. This is why the language in tv shows is different from that in sociology courses.

August 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/sea-mist

It gives the basics in grammar but if you go and get a grammar book you will learn a lot more than what duolingo is teaching. I spent 5 days off of duolingo using a grammar book instead and that improved me quite a bit.

August 11, 2019

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

It’s always a great argument to throw in “makes little sense”. Espacially if coming from a person who does a ton of languages simultaneously, with little to no real progress. I at least own two languages beside my native tongue — not the ones i do on duo — so unlike you, i have some experience first hand. As for the light bulb, thanks for the tip, Captain Obvious, but it’s miles away from proper, systematic grammar that you can pick up elsewhere.

August 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Blackwater13

Hi Wollishoff, I quite disagree with you regarding the grammar part. Duolingo teaches you grammar pretty well. I've attended the german classes A1.2, A2.1 and A2.2 and thanks to Duolingo (i've completed the tree before attending the classes) my grammar was perfect and I was already mastering what was taught in the class. I have to say that I haven't learned anything new in the class on top of what I've learned with Duolingo...

August 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Kelvin401862

Very interesting, thanks for posting.

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Mary432092

Nicely put, Judith. I don't like to discourage beginners with high expectations from Duolingo, but one must be realistic. I'm half way through checkpoint four of six in German now. Duo says I've learned 1742 words. If that is all I knew, I wouldn't be able to communicate in the real German world. Yes, it would be possible at this point to express myself. But the problem is what a native speaker says in response. Those who really want to or need to learn a language, must use a variety of platforms.

August 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Ampharos64

It depends on language. Of course, it also needs to be the right words - the most frequent. I found it took 3k to really be comfortable, but 2k goes a long way in French because if you speak a related language, like English, it turns out you also have a good shot at understanding the other 2k words they used. Context helps a lot with others. If someone completes Duo and yet couldn't understand a podcast like innerFrench, for example, which features a native speaker discussing various topics in a straightforward way, they didn't learn the words.

August 10, 2019

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

French and English are not close languages, in fact they are rather distant. French belongs to the Romance languages, while English belongs to the Germanic language family. They share some vocab derived from Latin, but it's not substantial. It wouldn't get you anywhere. Also, with your English mouth you'll have a great deal of trouble mimicking the proper French pronounciation. I have yet to see a briton who can blend in when visiting a French speaking country. OK i knew some bilingual people in Montreal, though obviously they were exposed to both languages from age 0. I don't think Duo makes you understand everyday French talk, unless it's entirely about a valise grande. You can catch some fragments of a discussion at best. When you complete your tree it's not the end of the road, it's the beginning. You have a foundation of some sort, and it's up to you how you go on from there.

August 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Ampharos64

French is the closest Romance language to English, with English having by some counts more Latinate vocabulary than Germanic. It's the Germanic grammar English retains, but the grammar of the two languages is not so very distant -it's not like Japanese- and vocabulary tends to have more impact on passive comprehension than grammar. It's also possible French influenced the shifts in Middle English grammar from Old English - which is an absolutely unrecognisable language. French and English share of course a direct historical relationship through the Norman conquest, with a few Middle English scholars having even made the argument that English is a creole! The more literate a learner is in English, the more freebie vocab there is in French, too.

I spoke French at least comprehensibly after six months - I'm not there yet except for reading comprehension, but from English, it's possible to reach B2 fluency in that time. It's not necessary to aim to blend in with a native-like accent, the pronunciation isn't equivalent to accent, and if a learner isn't listening to the language extensively, they should be. The focus of the original post though was more on passive comprehension. Native French speakers are quite capable of doing things like speaking more distinctly to be more easily understood - just as we would in English.

August 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SHT3z2e4

What an interesting conversation! For me, studying foreign languages has increased my sensitivity to the difficulty of all communication. It has also increased my feeling of grateful wonder when successful communication happens.

As others have pointed out, "fluency" is a relative concept. One can speak with varying success with members of a people group, or a discipline, or a workplace, or even the participants in a personal relationship. Yet no matter how much one believes one knows and understands, I feel there is a huge amount that remains unknowable (even in the parts we assume that we know).

What is fluency really about, then? Do we seek to understand or get along with people only in order to complete other tasks? Do we want to connect with people, and if so, what if misunderstanding and permanent gaps in knowledge are necessary parts of that connection?

For many years I have felt daunted by the mystery of communication. How does it happen at all and what purposes does it serve? Many people are familiar with the color question: we both call a thing blue, but is what I see the same as what you see? For something so basic it doesn't seem to matter what you or I see: we don't get in a fight over it. (Or do we? Now I'm remembering that dress meme.)

Whenever we successfully communicate, do we only seem to understand one another (a different way to say it is that we seem to flow together) because the differences in how we understand something do not interfere with our goals, and therefore stay invisible? In so-called success, do we wrongly conclude that we understand and thus miss out on further understanding? Perhaps just as importantly, do we miss out on the chance to never understand parts of another person and thus be reminded of our limitations and that they are as complex as we are?

Countless times, I have thought that another person and I understood one another only to learn, through feelings or events, that I was wrong. The same goes for professional situations. How much is my relative fluency worth, then, in languages I should supposedly know by heart? Would any level of detailed knowledge of the vocabulary of a given situation prevent such failures? I doubt it.

I used to say to people, "would you rather know me or love me?" Part of what I meant by this is that knowing harshly reduces a person to a set of problems that can be solved, whereas loving accepts their irreducibility and participates in life with them anyway.

I have chased "knowing" many times in life, hoping it would give me more power and rescue me from various failures. Bad idea! Fluency sounds to me like a synonym for control, even in the seemingly simple matter of learning a language. I think it starts from a good place -- the desire to connect with people (and, to be honest, to tickle my brain) -- but if I do not remember that I can never entirely know anything or anyone, I risk pursuing false goals straight through the people I supposedly would love to engage with, but who in light of that false goal seem to be blocking my success.

Sometimes I wish that we could approach every single communication event as a cross-cultural one. I wish we could adopt an attitude of hospitality, compassion, and humble eagerness to learn (including mistakes). I wish we could adopt this attitude even with the people we assume are most familiar with. With an approach like this I feel like we could catch glimpses of how unfathomably complex and lovable we are.

August 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PerfectEng554596

Dear SHT3...

You have the right concept about language and you could easily work in China with that attitude. Language is about communication, and often it means NOT using words. I believe the quote (sometimes attributed to St. Francis) goes, "Preach the gospel and when necessary use words", in other words let your actions speak first. I have found that a smile (no words) can open a door, later people will listen. No one really cares how much you know, until they know how much you care (another pithy saying I like)...LOL

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

August 12, 2019, 9:18 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SHT3z2e4

Thank you PerfectEng, I really appreciate your thoughts as well! Those are great quotes to remember and live by.

August 13, 2019, 2:13 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Linda7Italian

Great post Judit.

August 8, 2019

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

I Googled ”nagyon” and learned it’s Hungarian.

August 9, 2019

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

thanks

August 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/tar2014

I hate it when I look up a word and they give me just a synonym and then when I look up the synonym they give me its synonym which is the original word.

August 10, 2019

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

You better not look up anything, language learning gives you endless confusion as your inconsequential comments on this forum prove it. You never stop embarrassing yourself.

August 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Einat162

I know what you mean: on my tree there is a skill about politics and another about the school system, both required to know a little more beyond words and grammar. When doing those I kept thinking "I wish I knew everything other than these....".

August 10, 2019

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

thank you for sharing

August 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Moira582602

Thank you bagobones for sharing your background. It was very interesting. I think many of us have friends and relations all over the world. It is good to learn from them. But better still to live in a different culture and learn from the people who live there and are native speakers, if you want to get to grips with language. Language is never static.

That is one of the challenges of learning a language properly. I think that is the point many of us are making.

So keep learning and be open to new things, new vocabulary, new ways of expressing yourself so that people will understand. And better still visit the country of the language you are learning, mixing with native speakers - really the best way of leaning.

August 10, 2019

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

Je besoin de les lingots trois. S'il vous plait.

August 11, 2019

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

like i always say: life is a highway. but lady, if you could stop cussing (swear words!)_ so much in your post, that would be nice so my newphew could use the site

August 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SamHunter20

Who is using bad language? I can't see any swearing in this thread. In fact this whole site is pretty wholesome.

August 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Einat162

Either Duo team were quick to respond, or that person was talking about Twich platform.

August 11, 2019

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

Your nephew will learn curse words eventually whatever you do. Might as well teach them yourself so that you can have some degree of control on how he handles them, otherwise he'll learn through his interactions with others anyway.

The reason he can't use this site is not because people use curse words, it's because you think that not exposing him to curse words will protect him. Please don't try to shift the responsibility on other people for your own choices of education. Either allow him or don't, that's your call, but don't try to make it appear as if it's other people's responsibility if he can't be on this website, it's not.

August 11, 2019
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