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Please, proficiency not fluency

  Tags: Fluency
 Language Learning Forum : General discussion Post Reply
59 messages over 8 pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Next >>
s_allard
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 Message 1 of 59
12 August 2010 at 5:24pm | IP Logged 
I can't take it any more. I want to start a campaign to replace the term fluency with proficiency. Well, not totally. How many times do we see discussions about fluency (e.g. how long to become fluent?, fluency in how many languages, kinds of fluency, etc.) get bogged down in problems of definition of fluency. One reason we get bogged down is that fluency covers so many different things. In my view, most of the time we are talking about proficiency.

Fluency is a technical terms in linguistics that refers to the fluidity of speech. There are various ways of measuring fluency such as the number of syllables per minute. But the really important point here is that fluency has absolutely nothing to do with reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary or native-live pronunciation. Could one be quite fluent in a language with poor grammar, a vocabulary of 500 words and not be able to read or write? Yes, It happens even in our own languages.

Proficiency, on the other hand, is a global appreciation of the four traditional language skills: understanding, speaking, writing and reading. We try to measure things such as complexity, accuracy and, of course, fluency. The various systems of classification of language skills, such as CEFR, do not measure fluency; they measure proficiency.

I'm fully aware that popular usage and advertising use fluency all the time. There is this dashing image of somebody speaking a language smoothly, effortlessly and with perfect pronunciation ("She is fluent is five languages"). Sure that's fluency, but it does not indicate overall proficiency in a language. There is some sort of correlation, but it is not always the case. Fluency does not equal proficiency.

Any thoughts on the issue?
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jasoninchina
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 Message 2 of 59
12 August 2010 at 5:36pm | IP Logged 
I feel your pain. I think the whole discussion on fluency/proficiency is a bit painful. It's something that we can really obsess over but has no real answer.

Maybe this forum should issue an official statement on proficiency and be done with it.
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frenkeld
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 Message 3 of 59
12 August 2010 at 6:33pm | IP Logged 
One obstacle is that in everyday conversation one can hear that so-and-so speaks fluent French, but one won't hear that he or she is proficient in French - the word proficiency is not used conversationally.

Another obstacle is that the majority of learners in this forum are very focused on speaking, whereas traditional language study has often focused on the written language over the spoken one. Using the word "fluency" allows them to emphasize their interest in speaking the language. A single word or phrase that would still mean "proficiency", but with some emphasis on speaking proficiency, would have a better chance of catching on, especially if it also sounded a bit less formal than "proficiency".

In Russian there is an expression "свободно владеть языком", which literally means to "freely possess a language" - it is made up of everyday words, and it conveys easy facility with the language in a general sense, without being narrowly confined to the fluidity of utterances. I have not been able to come up with a good English equivalent. Something like Spanish "dominar un idioma" is probably a close enough equivalent, but I can't think of anything similar in English.


Edited by frenkeld on 12 August 2010 at 6:36pm

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Derian
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 Message 4 of 59
12 August 2010 at 6:55pm | IP Logged 
frenkeld wrote:
In Russian there is an expression "свободно владеть языком", which literally means to "freely possess a language"

"Swobodnie władać językiem". It's more like "having an uninhibited command of the language".
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frenkeld
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 Message 5 of 59
12 August 2010 at 7:44pm | IP Logged 
Derian wrote:
frenkeld wrote:
In Russian there is an expression "свободно владеть языком", which literally means to "freely possess a language"

"Swobodnie władać językiem". It's more like "having an uninhibited command of the language".


Yes, this is much better. I meant to say "freely possess" was a literal translation of the idiomatic expression "свободно владеть".

EDIT: Derian, regarding your next post, you may be right, but I'll PM you - I don't want to proliferate tangential stuff in this thread with another post.


Edited by frenkeld on 12 August 2010 at 8:52pm

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Derian
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 Message 6 of 59
12 August 2010 at 8:00pm | IP Logged 
frenkeld wrote:

Yes, this is much better. I meant to say "freely possess" was a literal translation of the idiomatic expression "свободно владеть".
Hmm. Anyway, the expression as a whole is the same in Russian and in Polish :-)

Is "władać" in Russian also typically used in the meaning like in "The emperor reigns (=włada) over the kingdom"?
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Thatzright
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 Message 7 of 59
12 August 2010 at 8:17pm | IP Logged 
This is true, and the original poster has summed it up quite well in his post. Being 'fluent' in a language has nothing to do really with how well one can understand it in its spoken or even written form, and only corresponds to how well one can express him or herself. How the language level ranking system used on this forum would be altered if changed to correspond to levels of proficiency instead of fluency, hard to say right away.
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frenkeld
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 Message 8 of 59
12 August 2010 at 8:54pm | IP Logged 
Thatzright wrote:
How the language level ranking system used on this forum would be altered if changed to correspond to levels of proficiency instead of fluency, hard to say right away.


Was s_allard's post concerned with the classification system or the general forum tendency to use the word "fluency" in the discussions? The former may be easier to change than the latter.


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