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English Fluency Doesn’t Mean Being Able To Speak About EVERYTHING

What Is English Fluency
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I’d be totally lost if you started talking with me about herbal medicine, carpentry or car tuning and modification.

On the other hand, I’d have a comfortable conversation with someone who’s dealing with knitwear because I’ve been working in a knitwear factory for well over three years now and I know the manufacturing process inside out!

Do you see where I’m coming from?

You can’t expect anyone to speak equally well about any given topic in English because every person’s profile is different ❗

I would find it difficult to name but a few popular flowers such as roses, daffodils and tulips. Some other foreign English speaker working in a flower farm could probably name any possible flower that can be seen in a flower shop!

And it’s not just limited to specific industry terms.

If you started bombarding me with the latest news from the English Premier League, nearly all of that information would be lost on me because I’m not into soccer. Well, if you were patient with me and took time to explain little details and everything, then yes, of course I’d understand. It’s just that when I hear other guys discuss soccer at work, I don’t even try to follow their conversations – let alone trying to take part in the discussion!

I mean – what’s the point in pretending to be a know-it-all if I actually don’t know much about this or that particular subject?

Don’t Mistake Inability To Say Something For Lack of Fluency!

As we just concluded, one of the reasons why you might not be able to speak fluently about certain subjects is your lack of expertise and knowledge about the matter at hand.

Or maybe you’ve had too little time to think about the particular topic to start telling a fluent story about it?

Have you ever seen video footage of celebrities or politicians being so surprised by paparazzi and reporters that they find it hard to come up with something reasonable to say? Moreover – these people in question are native English speakers, so what do you have to worry about being a foreigner?

Personally I’ve stopped caring about opinion of others a long time ago, and I warmly suggest you do the same.

Of course, it’s not an excuse for lack of functional English vocabulary such as various idiomatic expressions  that can be used when discussing just about any topic.

The point I’m trying to make here is – if you find yourself getting a bit overwhelmed during a conversation and you’re unable to form a coherent speech, don’t jump to the most obvious conclusion that your English fluency is bad.

Same goes with hearing another foreign English speaker.

Don’t judge others just because they’re struggling a bit with an English conversation in that particular point in time!

It Doesn’t Mean, However, That You Can’t Talk About EVERYTHING!

Now I’m going to deny everything I’ve said so far in this article.

He-he, I’m just joking! 😀

Putting all jokes aside, I admit that it does sound a little bit controversial. But I’ll do my best to explain my point so that you can clearly see where I’m coming from when making a statement in the above headline.

Basically the whole concept of English fluency can be explained by the following two premises:

  • Specific terms and vocabulary used when discussing familiar subjects;
  • Simple language used when discussing unfamiliar topics.

That’s it!

If you’re having a conversation, discussion or a debate about something you’re familiar with, you won’t have much difficulties speaking about it. Unless you’re experiencing one of those dips in fluency, of course, and then you have to resort to certain English fluency management techniques to get back on track.

If you have to talk about subjects you don’t know much about, the second approach applies – SIMPLICITY.

I believe that any foreigner – you and me included – knows SOMETHING about EVERYTHING. It may not be enough to participate in a high-level scientific debate, but enough to say a few sentences if the occasion demands you to say something.

Redefining English Fluency

I remember hearing the following language fluency definition: “One can be considered fluent in a language if one can converse about a wide variety of subjects with ease”.

I may have gotten the wording a bit wrong so I had to improvise a little bit, but I’m pretty sure I captured the thought precisely enough.

So, here’s why I’m not 100% OK with the aforementioned definition.

If foreign English speakers believe that they will achieve fluency in the English language only when they can discuss a WIDE VARIETY OF SUBJECTS (sounds a bit intimidating, doesn’t it?), they may develop a certain lack of confidence.

Fluency will seem like an epic task so distant and so unachievable, that it may result in a lack of motivation to develop and grow one’s vocabulary and phraseology.

I like to focus more on practical SITUATIONS instead of abstract subjects.

This is how I would define English fluency“One can be considered fluent when one can easily speak in English in regularly occurring situations.”

I think it sounds less intimidating and doesn’t place a massive mental burden on the foreigner who’s trying to achieve fluency in the English language.

This fluency definition also emphasizes the importance of regular situations and the need to learn essential vocabulary.

Putting grammar aside (the same grammar rules apply when speaking about last Christmas party or discovery of a new Earth-like planet – there’s actually no such thing as advanced English grammar!), one can acquire the essential vocabulary used in daily conversations relatively quickly.

You can spend decades learning sophisticated English vocabulary lists, and that’s all right if you aspire to achieve a native-like fluency.

But you can achieve real-life English fluency much, much faster if you first focus on vocabulary that you absolutely have to know.

Learn the essentials.

Become fluent in a year’s time.

THEN spend the rest of your life filling in gaps because after all, English learning and improvement is a lifelong process.

By changing your perception of what constitutes English fluency, however, you can make the epic task seem so much more manageable and achievable! 😉

Robby

P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

 

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Fluency vs knowledge – that’s right! I didn’t pinpoint the problem of this article from the angle, and I couldn’t have said it better!

    Thanks!

  • Thanks David, much appreciated! 😉

  • The sole reason of this article is to alleviate mental pressure which may arise when a foreign English speaker is getting overwhelmed during the process of English learning and improvement. 

    Getting too hung up on thinking that there’s so much I don’t know and I can’t say may have a really detrimental effect on one’s fluency, so I think it’s best to encourage my fellow foreigners by highlighting aspects of English fluency such as the one expressed in this article – IT’S OK NOT TO BE ABLE TO SPEAK ABOUT EVERYTHING.

    I’m not saying one doesn’t have to aspire to achieve more and more in terms of one’s ability to express different opinions, use appropriate expressions and vocabulary – if that’s how you see this article, sorry, it’s not the message I’m trying to communicate.

    So, to wrap it up, there’s no spoon here.

    Btw, I’m actually inviting everyone to wake up from the Matrix – read this article I wrote a while back: http://englishharmony.com/english-grammar-matrix/

  • Francisco Javier

    I meant “then again”, not “yet again”.

  • Francisco Javier

    “A wide variety of subjects” does not mean you have to be a specialist. It means you can talk about such things as the weather,   politics, leisure, events in the past, society, history, relationships, etc.

    You are not required to discuss mathematics, physics, linguistics, etc. as that is knowledge rather than fluency (it may be both).

    Yet again, if you can’t talk about a variety of subjects, then I’d say you are “relatively” fluent. 

  •  Seriously, what ‘problem’?

    If you’re not happy with where you are in English, then the only solution is:
    a) spending more time on English in general
    b) spending more time on focused practice and interaction, according to your needs and wants

    I don’t know how much time you devote to English, but if it’s one lesson a week, then you need to adjust your expectations accordingly.

  • ping pong

    You may dress it up whichever way you like but the problem will not self-destruct. There is no spoon, there is no spoon, there is no spoon… Sorry, it is still there.

  • Well, if you want to be critical, perhaps come up with a better answer.

    I agree with what Robby is saying above.

    I’d just add that, as a teacher, there are different expectations on what a learner should be able to do at each linguistic level (eg B1 versus C2). But even if you’re at C2 level and can speak about what Cambridge calls ‘familiar’, ‘unfamiliar’ and ‘abstract’ topics, well, we’re all human and even native speakers get stumped by topics they don’t know much about.

    So a good place to start is to be cool about it, and focus on what you most need to know to achieve your goals.

  • I like your way of thinking, so I do, but I’m afraid you might have gotten me wrong.

    I’m not encouraging English learners and improvers to worship mediocrity and stop making effort towards improved fluency, vocabulary acquisition etc.

    I’m merely pointing out that so many foreigners are intimidated by the very concept of English fluency because of the popular definition!

  • ping pong

    Let’s not solve the problem, let’s re-define it or better still pretend it doesn’t exist. Bravo.

  • Yes, being comfortable and confident makes up a big part of one’s fluency. After all, your demeanor reflects on your own speech and also on how others perceive you, so it’s undoubtedly a very important factor!

  • Thanks Muss, and you make sure to say hello to all those girls in your university! :-))) I’m just messing, too! 😉

    Putting jokes aside, yes, I agree with you 100% and you’re dead right in saying that we just have to do our best, say what we can in a given situation and the situation will take care of itself. 

  • Thanks for the comment, I’m glad we both agree on this subject!

    I know it’s not a new concept and many language learners wouldn’t feel too concerned about things they can’t say in their second or third language. 

    Yet I’m pretty sure a certain group of foreign English speakers would feel bad about themselves and blame their language skills in situations when they simply don’t know much about the matter at hand.

    That’s why I wrote this article, and it’s main goal is to dispel any doubts that in order to consider yourself a fluent speaker you have to be a very erudite person.

    Thanks!

    Robby

  • rayana

    my define for english fluently depend on how much you are comfortable in your conversation as long as you use right words to convey your message, what you think Robby?

  • Muss

    I think, sometime we don’t have to care about what seems to be right track of speaking english. As you’ve said once we just have to take profit to the situation as an opportunity to learn. You just try your best to give your contribution and take profit on what the others will say. So next time you won’t say that you are not familiar with the matter at hand. I’m not sure that even Shakespears-the father of english language- whould had been able to talk about every topic like his cutomary drama pappers.
    You guy know that ,we foreigner speakers owe you one for all your contributions to the fulfilment of our purposes. And again thanks a lot. I’m even able now to chat up  a beautiful and sexy girls in my university oh oh oh! I’m just kidding!

  • “By changing your perception of what constitutes English fluency,
    however, you can make the epic task seem so much more manageable and
    achievable”

    Definitely! Split it up into little steps you can take, one at a time.

    Yeah, there are some things that we’re not able to talk about. For me, I probably can’t talk much about golf, how to design a bikini or..Czech history.

    One thing I will add is that being able to respond and interact concerning a topic of conversation – even when you don’t know much about it – is one thing that examiners look for in English exams as a way of seeing how fluent you are.

    So you might not know much about, say, skiing, but you can say something general like “I know some people really get into skiing. Me personally, I’ve never really tried it, and I guess it’s not something that attracts me as I prefer summer sports.”

    Even though you don’t know much here, you’ve still responded to the topic really well 🙂

    So all up, I agree – don’t worry about what you don’t know, and as you’ve probably seen on TV, even top politicians and celebrities can’t speak about everything either.