Interpreting the meaning of the word fluent is like trying to interpret art. Everyone has their own definition of what they think being fluent in a language is. You may look at a painting and think one thing, but the person next to you may see something else. The same thing goes for people’s expectations of your “fluency” in a language. When people ask me if I’m fluent in a language, I usually ask them what their definition is first. Two responses I have gotten are: “If you don’t make any mistakes and speak like a native” and “If you can say whatever you want to without having to think much”.
Unfortunately, a lot of people fall under the first category. In my experience, those are the people who usually say that a person isn’t fluent in a language until they go abroad; that going abroad will automatically make them fluent. Sometimes, going abroad isn’t even enough. I still encounter people who say that I am almost fluent in a language, whatever that means! Although I usually answer people based on their definition of fluency, there are two ways I determine if I am fluent in a language: 1. I ask a trusted native speaker that I know will not say that I’m fluent just to be nice. 2. My goal is to be conversational (talking about a wide range of topics that I’d normally talk about), so if I can talk about subjects that come up in daily life that aren’t super complicated or that I’m not interested in (ex. politics), I am happy with where I am. This means that you don’t have to speak perfectly nor do you need to sound like a native, although you should work on your accent as much as possible.
Not everyone shares my definition of fluency or goal in learning a foreign language, but for those who do, there are people out there who have become fluent in a foreign language without studying in the country where that language is spoken.
Benny Lewis is known as the Irish polyglot. He is the mastermind behind the website Fluent in 3 Months, which I have been following for years. He claims to be able to speak a language fluently after studying it for three months. While there is a lot of controversy that I have seen because of this, he can still seem to hold a conversation with someone after just a short amount of time. He has been an inspiration to many and has shown that you can study a language outside of the country where it is spoken and become fluent.
Grace, known as Ryuzaki1311 on YouTube, does not claim to be fluent in Japanese. However, she has gained a lot of attention for her high level in Japanese at a young age, which she attained by self-study. Now she is studying abroad in Japan, but you can see from her videos that she spoke well before leaving England.
Moses McCormick, also known as laoshu505000, is a well-known polyglot, who has learned languages as difficult as Polish in three months! People have taken notice to this and have even interviewed him about it. A lot of his videos are of him “leveling up” or practicing languages that he is learning or can speak with native speakers that he encounters when he goes out. Many, if not all, of these videos have taken place in the United States.
With today’s technology and language exchange websites, it is possible to become conversationally fluent in a language without leaving your home country. Before going abroad, I felt confident in my Spanish and French language skills, which actually worked in my favor. Going abroad will not automatically make you fluent in a language, especially if you are in a program where everyone shares your native language. Becoming fluent takes a lot of work and discipline, whether you immerse yourself at home or in the country where the language is spoken.
What is your definition of fluency in a language? Have you been able to attain that goal without studying abroad?