What Is Fluency?

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In order to figure out whether you are fluent in a language, you need to analyze your own language abilities. According to the "official" definition, fluency refers to an ability to converse fluidly and easily. Do you feel comfortable speaking the language? Can you communicate easily with native speakers? Can you read newspapers, listen to the radio, and watch tv? Are you able to understand the gist of the language as it is spoken and written, even if you don't know every single word? Can you understand native speakers from different regions? The more fluent you are, the more of these questions you can answer "yes" to.


A fluent speaker may have some gaps in vocabulary but is capable of figuring out these terms in context. Likewise, s/he can reword sentences in order to describe an object, explain an idea, or get a point across, even if s/he doesn't know the actual terms.

Thinking in the Language

Pretty much everyone agrees that this is an important sign of fluency. Thinking in the language means that you understand the words without actually translating them into your native language. For example, non-fluent speakers would hear or read the sentence "J'habite à Paris" and would think to themselves (slowly if they are beginners, more quickly if they are more advanced) something like:

  • J' is from je - I...
  • habite is from habiter - to live...
  • à can mean into, or at...
  • Paris... 
  • I - live - in - Paris.

A fluent speaker wouldn't need to go through all that; s/he would intuitively understand "J'habite à Paris" as easily as "I live in Paris." The reverse is also true: when speaking or writing, a fluent speaker doesn't need to construct the sentence in his/her native language and then translate it into the target language - a fluent speaker thinks of what s/he wants to say in the language s/he wants to say it.


Many people say that dreaming in the language is an essential indicator of fluency. We personally don't subscribe to this belief, because:

  • We've only dreamed in French once (13 years after we began to study it) and we've never dreamed in Spanish.
  • We know a number of people who have dreamed in a language after only a year or two of study.
  • We once had an entire dream in Polish, which we studied for a total of about 12 non-intensive, non-immersion hours.

We certainly agree that dreaming in the language of study is a good sign - it shows that the language is being incorporated into your subconscious.

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Team, ThoughtCo. "What Is Fluency?" ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-fluency-4084860. Team, ThoughtCo. (2021, December 6). What Is Fluency? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-fluency-4084860 Team, ThoughtCo. "What Is Fluency?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-fluency-4084860 (accessed February 9, 2023).