BBC Article: How do we measure language fluency?
I found the following BBC article very interesting and thought others might as well:
"...like so many of my ex-students who expected to go from “beginner” to “native” proficiency in two months...my Italian grammatical range has improved dramatically in my nine years in Italy, as a writer I yearn for flawless, native-like accuracy and syntax. I’m not there yet, and there are many days where I despair that I never will be..."
I can't understand why you're getting downvotes Uphilldweller. The section of the BBC article you've highlighted is obviously an unwelcome dose of reality for some.
I guess those that have spent 6 months on Duolingo and are on Level 25 don't want to hear that they're definitely not fluent speakers (in the language they're learning with Duo), will probably never be so, and they are likely to be beginner-level at best.
Obviously the truth hurts!
Grant when a hardened foreign based journalist complains at how hard and long is the road it makes me think "no I'm not alone keep going".
Your post made me smile. Good luck with the Russian studies.
That's kind Uphilldweller, thank you.
On learning Russian, I've been very lazy, but have (belatedly) put in a bit of effort during the last 12 months - and it's starting to pay dividends.....
Anyway, your "fortunes" have changed, and your comment has since rightly been visited by friendly upvoters.
Unfortunately, there are a LOT of mean spirited bullies in this forum who feel entitled to censor every comment not made by one of their "friends".
Six months on Duolingo alone is a bad idea, agreed. For native English speakers with an easier language like Italian, though, there would be the question of what the person is doing if they're still beginner level after six months - clearly not learning. Russian is not comparable at all, it's much more difficult.
If you are only using DL - then 6 months or 6 years - you'll still be beginner at best.
I agree 100%. DL is a great start, but that is all it is. A stepping stone to other ways to building your skills. Also, it is great to be able to repeat lessons to consolidate learning. It is NOT cheating. There is no Million dollar prize for best and smartest.
Sure, but no one should be doing that, whichever language they're learning. The tree doesn't take that long to complete.
I don't mean to level five. That's not really necessary, skill level one should be enough to gain the basic vocab
Trouble with level 1 is it concentrates on recognition not recall. It is not until the later levels that you have to type out your translations from memory. Recognition may be enough for reading - but it isn't enough for speaking (or writing) where you have to produce sentences.
I know I probably recognize at least twice as many words as I can recall. As result I can read or understand conversations but don't do so well expressing myself either in writing or speech.
A complete French tree (to level 5) in 6 months? 782 crowns? That's 4 crowns (not lessons) crowns a day. It is certainly doable but most people on DL are not putting in those kind of hours.
@Judit294350 Ah, I don't mean to level five. That's not really necessary, skill level one should be enough to gain the basic vocab, at which point a learner of a related language can read. I spent two months on it, and then a month reading the first Harry Potter book and learning all the new words with Anki. That vocab is enough to understand most everyday French with, and to go onto more complex texts. With the faffing around not learning in between, it was slower than necessary if I'd been more focused and less scared of the language. A lot of people are I think, unfortunately.
Not putting the hours in, whether someone has time or not, does still mean that they are not actively learning the language. I started learning to knit years ago, I knit occasionally, am I actually learning to knit currently, no, because it's been well over eight months since I last made anything. Even if I were spending thirty minutes a day practising basic stitches, that would be nothing. Claiming 'I've been learning to knit for years and I'm still not proficient, learning to knit beyond a beginner or intermediate level always just takes a long time, most people will never become proficient' would be misleading. My mum, on the other hand, put the time in on knitting and not her Spanish - guess which she's good at and continues to improve in. If someone doesn't have time to learn, they're still not learning, they simply have the intention of doing so at some point.
It depends on what you classify as a 'beginner'. Some of us are not in a great hurry and would prefer to learn without having to be told at what speed we should learn. All learning is relative. No matter how difficult you think your chosen language is , there is always more difficult languages to learn and ALWAYS more to learn
Beginner is A1 to A2.
The thing is, anyone going that slowly in a easier related language is probably spending more time forgetting than actually learning. There's always more to learn, certainly, but there's a big difference between, for instance, someone coming across a new word in a novel, and someone who hasn't got the basic vocab down yet. Learning a basic vocab shouldn't take long, and in easier languages, is comfortably enough to start reading and begin moving on from beginner to intermediate. When able to do that, two years is easily enough time to attain B2 - at which point someone can speak the language and it would be unfair of a native to say they didn't.
The FSI estimates of difficulty are not relative, but well-tested.
If someone doesn't want to attain B1-B2, that's fine, but if they're not using their target language they're not really learning it, and should not be surprised, like the writer of the article may have been, if it's pointed out they don't know it.
I'd argue that A2 is lower intermediate and not beginner, A2 is conversational & takes longer to reach than going from A2-B1.
According to studies A2 is the equivalent of GCE in the U.K, meaning it takes 3-5 years of study in high school while B1 takes 1 year after that & B2 only 2 years after. A2 is the real milestone imo & you learn all the fundamentals and become conversational at this level.
Not by the table given by the Council of Europe - https://www.coe.int/en/web/common-european-framework-reference-languages/table-1-cefr-3.3-common-reference-levels-global-scale A2 is not conversational it's "Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters."
A2 is also about 1000 base words while B1 is about 2000 (B2 4000, C1 8000). You cannot be conversational with 1000 words - you may be (barely) able to express basics but you cannot understand the other half of the conversation.
If A2 takes 2-3 years study I say that is due to poor or inefficient teaching. I passed A2 in Hungarian in just 120 hours of classes.
@piguy3 - word counts were from https://universeofmemory.com/how-many-words-you-should-know/ (in the comments he says how he arrived at them)
Yes, and what I found telling is he also thought he was doing well after 2 years
I can relate all too well to overestimating one’s own abilities. A “heritage speaker” of Italian, I’d been living in Italy for two years when I overheard a receptionist refer me to me as “that foreigner who doesn’t speak Italian”.
To be fair, their Italian was probably relatively fine and the receptionist was probably simply a nasty piece of work. If it wasn't the imperfect Italian it would likely have been their clothes or something else attracting the receptionist's bitter, downtrodden, impotent bile.
But I see the point.
Yeah, I've often heard native speakers say that other native speakers can't speak the language if they don't like that person's accent, grammar, word choices, etc.
their Italian was probably relatively fine and the receptionist was probably simply a nasty piece of work
In that case why did he then go on to study and improve his Italian (for several years)?
There's always more to learn!
I've been speaking my native language for a long time now and I discover words I didn't know yet on a regular basis. I haven't mastered any dialect other than my own, nor am I skilled enough with words to be a good poet, storyteller or public speaker.
Either their standards for their initial claim to speak the language were ridiculous -as in, they never actually knew more than tourist Italian- or the receptionist's expectations must have been, though. A native English speaker -who is a heritage speaker of Italian, to boot!- who has spent two years actually learning Italian -and they had more than that in total- is either doing fine or must have a learning disability seriously impeding their learning. It's a good amount of time to spend with the language. Native-like perfection isn't as easy to attain, but with speakers of English as a second language, the only natives who'd judge, say, an Italian who'd seriously spent two years on English and attained C1 -no problem in that timeframe- as being unable to speak it are xenophobes. Being native-like isn't required to speak a language, and non-natives may even be better on at least some aspects, there's enough speakers of English as a second language who are more literate and write better than some natives.
No - he didn't spend two years learning Italian - he spent two years in Italy. Quite different. This is part of the immersion myth. Passively absorbing a language doesn't make it magically appear in your brain - and no, this is not how children learn. They are corrected and helped for years before they really grasp a language.
I have met many confident Hungarian heritage speakers - their ability varies. In one case the speaker used no inflections - only the infinitive and nominative. She thought she was speaking Hungarian as kind friends and family in Hungary could usually work out what she meant (but not always) but she actually had no clue what the conversation around her actually was.
Sure, but that would fall under what I meant by 'actually learning Italian'. She'd have to have not been learning, and pretty much going out of her way to avoid it. No watching Italian TV, no reading Italian books. Immersion does work, it requires active engagement and comprehensible input - with the latter being much harder for native English speakers to obtain in a language like Hungarian. Italian, though, not a problem. A heritage speaker should surely have the vocab to be able to use the Italian media they'd be surrounded by, and to learn from context. That is, if they're really a heritage speaker and not just someone who knows some tourist Italian, in which case it was their own self-estimation at fault, it says nothing about what's actually possible. The kind of errors made in the case of closer languages are also less drastic than in the case of more distant ones.
The role of explicit mistake correction in first language acquisition is not clear cut -one study suggested it didn't help, another that it isn't really used-, and factors such as the role of automatic reinforcement can equally apply to second language acquisition.
I say it often, but when you consider that many of us went through years and years of school with English classes, I think that really should set the expectation about when one just might start to become expertly fluent in a second language. So by my calculation, twelve years minimum, and that's only if you're fully immersed as well.
It's helpful to put things in proper perspective. I think too often we compare our results with others who have completely different skill sets and life experiences. Just because Joe Neighbor is fluent in two languages doesn't mean he only learned it in a year just through an online course an hour each day.
Interesting discussion about what fluency is and the range of what could be considered fluency. My goal of living in Vietnam for 6 months was fluency and I quickly abandoned that goal and just settled in to get better at day by day conversations. I learned more without the pressure of doing everything. Towards the end of my adventure I was asked to speak to a group of people at a Buddhist temple. Instead of freaking out or trying to impress everyone, I kept it simple and what I learned here helped a lot. Most of the time it is best to use simplest words to express your feelings and be understood. And that includes your native language.
The summary of the article was good, ".... learning a second language is like entering into a marriage. You think you know your partner when you put the ring on their finger, but it’s only the beginning, and the commitment is for life."
Interesting article. I once wrote an Italian fairystory of how I was given fluency for a year, and it brought home to me how joyous it would be. I never will be fluent but the trying is still joyous as I find my speed of thought and speech improves. I'm currently testing myself with Italian Cruciverba, cryptic and regular, and it's a really rewarding exercise I highly recommend, in any language. Ciao.
Linda, your attitude and love of Italian are so inspiring. I always enjoy seeing your comments; I find them motivating.
Is the reason you feel you won't ever be due to your personal definition of fluency meaning being native-like?
NOBODY speaks perfect ANYTHING. To me, being fluent means that you can understand what people around you are saying and you can say FLUENTLY what you need to say. It doesn't mean you speak perfectly grammatically.... Most native speakers don't even do that! There is NO perfection on planet earth. As our great beloved Canadian poet Leonard Cohen stated: "Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything) That's how the light gets in"
I appreciate the definition of the A1 B1 etc in this article. Everybody has been talking about it but this is the first time I have seen it laid out! I guess >I< think you can be fluent from B1 on because to me fluency is the rapidity with which you can understand and respond, not the perfection of your accent or grammar. Also, I think fluency is SPEAKING not being able to read and write. That would be literacy, wouldn't it?
Fluency isn't just speaking, it's the ease at which you understand and can use the language in real time. You can make a lot of grammar mistakes but still be considered fluent while you can understand every grammar concept but yet aren't fluent.
Imo people shouldn't worry about the CEFR levels unless you need certification for a job or school, especially if you're learning online.
Go check out A2-C2 level oral exams on youtube, you will be amazed at how well some A2 test takers are comfortable with the language while some B2-C1 test takers are super nervous and still aren't fluent.
I agree that fluency and proficiency are different but related measures. And although being comfortable in speaking is a big part of fluency, you also need to be understood. Your grammar doesn't need to be perfect but you are better not to say "boot" when you meant "onion".
But the other side of fluency is understanding what is being said to you - both grammar and vocab. Here CEFR levels do come into play as they indicate your level of understanding of grammar and roughly the size of your vocab.
In theory every level doubles the vocab. So B1 to B2 goes from about 2000 to 4000 (base) words. A "base word" is a family of words like “tough”, “toughen” and “toughness”.
I agree with you Susan Rankin1. Not only is perfection impossible even in your native tongue, trying to achieve it puts added pressure on you when you are learning another language. This is something we are supposed to be enjoying.
".... learning a second language is like entering into a marriage. You think you know your partner when you put the ring on their finger, but it’s only the beginning, and the commitment is for life."
Love this! It's so true, especially with languages like Chinese. The problem is when you have put a ring on the finger of more than one!
good article. This quote was illustrative of some of the discussions on duolingo: "like so many of my ex-students who expected to go from “beginner” to “native” proficiency in two months – [he] may have underestimated what it means to “speak” a language."
Thank you for sharing! Language learning is just that....learning. I've been speaking English for my entire life and I still learn more about it as time goes on. Studying languages is fascinating, and there is always more to learn.
Yes, it's good. I didn't know that fluency can be assessed by speech rate and utterance length. Great food for thought!
I can swear in over 20 languages. Does this mean I speak 20 languages?
Because, really, I can hold a conversation in only 3 or 4. (so long as they involve swearing...)
Also: Danke - Heilige Scheisse, das war ein verdammt interessanter Artikel, Arschloch!
For years after I learned French mostly by ear as a kid, I had to swear in French to be able to start speaking it! I didn't realize that til somebody told somebody else that I was swearing at them!
hehe - yeah - I watched a film when I was around 20 called, "La Haine" and it said in graf on a street wall, "arache ton mere!", so I would say this to French tourists and watch their reactions. Eventually one of them explained it to me as my French teacher and dictionary did not.
Swearing and rude/sexual words are highly useful in language acquisition, due to the fact they might be inserted and used for words that are missing from the vocabulary, or to form sentences that are funny!
When things are fun, they are easier :)
Kamu mau kontolku? IYA DONG!
Now, this is basic syntax for possessive in Indonesian - I don't know what word to put there, so I substitute with a rude one I know, because it makes my girlfriend laugh and say, IYA DONG!!! so I remember that -ku is "mine/my" (and -mu is "yours") for all other things.
All thanks to rudeness :p
(for which the French and English are famous! heh)
ALSO native speakers say swear words, alone, distinctly, loudly and clearly and there is NO QUESTION what their emotion is, so it is easier to hear, and repeat than the slurred together complicated sentences of normal parlance!!!
Love these real life examples. I started believing that fluency was simply practice with DL supplemented by textbooks. Over 2 years (and many hours of practice later) I came back to earth with a thud. The enormous amount of memorising that cannot be avoided, and the speed at which language is spoken are the real killers. I would LOVE to know anybody who has overcome these hurdles efficiently ( i.e. not a huge amount of time) and can speak their chosen language almost like a native.
I guess you can only master one or two languages, my native language is Dutch and I consider my native language the only language I know well, one should be realistic, I have never lived in an English-speaking country, so even though I have no problems talking to native English-speaking people, you will hear directly I didn't master the language. Keep your heads up, everything has its perspective, if someone addresses to you in another language, and you respond in the language, you 'll make an impression !
The above comment makes me think your English might be better than many native speakers!!!! From what I have seen of the Dutch, their education system is amazing and they seem to turn out average intelligence people who speak five languages very close to fluently by the time they finish high school... I WISH we would copy their language education in OUR schools!
Just another person with an opinion is all I see. Don't let other peoples hang ups or struggles be your own. After reading a few of the things this person has wrote, I can't help but think some of her problem is the person in the mirror.