We’re betting that you found your way to our website because you’re interested in improved fluency for your team or yourself. Maybe Spanish would improve communication at your workplace (or Mandarin, or English).
Or perhaps you have an overseas assignment for an employee, or you want a specific employee to improve their already high level of English.
As you decide how to approach this language program, it’s important to understand what language fluency actually is. And since “Fluency” is part of our name, we think we can help explain.
What Are the Different Levels of Fluency?
First, did you know there are different levels of fluency — and different ways to measure fluency? At Fluency Corp, we use the CEFR levels put in place by the Council of Europe in the 1980s and 1990s to describe the various levels of speaking a foreign language.
The levels go from A0 (no knowledge of the foreign language) up to C2 (upper advanced ability to speak a foreign language).
Understanding fluency levels is a lot easier with examples, so let’s look at a couple. Someone who is Level A1 (low beginner) would be able to speak and understand sentences like these (it would be the same for any language, but we’re using an English example below):
I’m from Japan. I am 39 years old. I am married. I have three kids. Their names are Miko, Mitsu and Suki. I don’t eat meat. I like swimming. I live in Texas now. It’s very hot in Texas. I am an engineer.
If that A1 speaker puts in the practice time, they could eventually advance to Level C2 (advanced native speaker). Someone with that level of fluency would be able to speak and understand sentences like these:
It’s ridiculously easy to live in Texas because you don’t have to struggle to find reasonably priced real estate and a high-quality school for the kids. The homes are half the price of houses in Seattle and twice as big. In regards to the schools, we could’ve put the kids in a private school, but, in the suburbs, there really isn’t any need. The public schools out there are superb.
Even though we consider ourselves city people, it’s not too bad living in the ‘burbs. We usually hit up a new restaurant every couple of months, and that appeases our appetite for dining out.
We still budget and plan for the future, but we get to splurge more than if we were living on one of the coasts, where the cost of living is simply outrageous. The only downside for us would be the public transport, or, should I say, lack of.
So, as you select a language training program, think about how much fluency you need for your specific situation. For example, someone who’s about to take an overseas assignment in Madrid needs a higher level of Spanish than someone who interacts occasionally with Spanish-speaking employees.
But do they need to become a C2 level speaker, or will all business be conducted in English, so they really just need the basics to live their life in Madrid? Things to consider. Also consider the time parameters you’re working with. If you’re going to Madrid next month, you’ll probably want to take more classes per week than you would if you were going next year.
Or, if one department in your company is primarily Spanish speaking, what level will they need in order to communicate with another department, and what vocabulary is needed to have those conversations?
Fluency also depends on your background with the language you are learning. For example, you may have become fluent in Spanish in college, but then discover years later that you aren’t as fluent in the specific Spanish vocabulary required for your field, or that you speak a different dialect of Spanish than the one you previously studied.
How to Become Fluent in Another Language
Now to the big questions: How do you or your team become “fluent” in your target language? And how long does it take?
After years of experience as language coaches, we believe there’s one factor that’s more important than any other one in becoming fluent — and in how quickly you become fluent: conversation practice.
If you studied your target language during high school or college, we’re betting your classes did not give you enough conversation practice. Memorizing vocabulary lists doesn’t do a whole lot to help you speak the language as it’s spoken by native speakers in everyday situations. But isn’t this why we learn new languages in the first place?
All of this is also why we don’t recommend language apps as your sole tool for becoming fluent. We love apps as a supplement to language classes. But they just can’t get you to the same level of fluency that talking to a real, live person can. Describing his experiences using Duolingo to learn Mandarin, tech writer Andrew Moseman said:
I learned basic sentence structure, simple words and phrases. Eventually, I knew I needed something more—real people to talk to…
How quickly you gain fluency will depend on how much time you spend with your target language. Getting from one language level to the next typically takes 250 hours or more, But, at least for us at Fluency Corp, all language-exposure time is not created equal.
We give more weight to active participation with the language (where the brain is pushing to express thoughts) and less weight to passive activities (like reading a book, which does not give ear training).
For example, if you and a friend are talking for one hour, with constant back and forth, this is considered one hour toward advancing your fluency level. But if you read a book for one hour, that would only be considered 30 minutes toward true language proficiency. Why doesn’t this count as a full hour of language exposure?
While you are taking in syntax, grammar and new vocabulary when you read, you are not producing the language and thinking on your feet to respond to someone’s questions and expressing your thoughts in stories.
Every Bit of Fluency Counts
If you’re feeling intimidated right now by how long it takes to develop native-level fluency, let us reassure you. It may take years until you’re a C2, if you even choose to reach that level at all. But you will start seeing benefits from studying your second language a whole lot sooner.
For example, if you work with colleagues who speak Spanish, your efforts to become fluent Spanish demonstrate your respect for them and could help strengthen your work relationships. Or maybe your parent company is originally from Japan, learning basic phrases for 50-100 hours will change the way you relate to your Japanese counterparts.
We hope this article has helped you clarify your goals around achieving language fluency. We would also love to help you reach your fluency goals. Fluency Corp instructors are all native speakers of the language they teach. They focus on giving you the conversational practice you need to develop fluency faster.