Fluent Language: Set Goals and Measure Progress
Want to be fluent in a language? Learn how to set goals and measure progress.
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In today’s lesson, we’re going to talk about, what is fluency? Learner’s dictionary defines fluency, as the ability to speak easily and smoothly. Collins dictionary, talks about fluency. To work as a translator, you need fluency in at least one foreign language.
Let’s look at the adjective, form of the word. Someone who is fluid in a particular language, can speak the language easily and correctly. You can also say that, someone speaks fluent French, Chinese, or some other language.
So, I’m going to ask you to think differently about fluency, as far as, learning a new language. So, if you look here at these speech bubbles, right? It talks all about, becoming fluent in a language, and this could be your own language, your native language, the one that you learn. We all pass through these different stages of fluency, and at the very top that you can’t even see, because it’s so tiny.
You start with words and sounds. And then, those words and sounds start becoming phrases. And then, those phrases become longer phrases. Longer phrases with more polish, then become sentences. And then, those sentences become longer, more expressive sentences. And then, when you start talking two and three sentences in one go, they start looking like paragraphs. And then, they become paragraphs, maybe three to five sentences long.
As you develop more language and more ideas that you can express in that language, they become longer paragraphs. And then, when you become really expert and specialized on a topic that you know a lot about, you can speak in connected paragraphs. And then, you get into extended speech. Think about college professors, that type of TED talks, that type of speech. We all pass through all of these stages in a language. And it doesn’t matter, again, whether it’s your native language or a second language, a third language or fourth language, we all go through those phases of fluency.
But I think it’s really important to understand, that fluency, there are different, it’s just a continuum. You can still be a speaker of a language, if you’re speaking words, right? Up at the very top of that bubble or, if you’re speaking in extended speech, right?
Those are just different levels of ability. And I think, it’s really important to see that as a learner, that you don’t have to get to some magic point to be a speaker of that language, right? And I think it’s important also, to understand these different phases. It’s not a black or white point, just, you need to understand just as your skills grow, you can get better and better and better and better and better.
There is one point on that continuum that I want to talk about, and that’s the paragraph level. And that’s the point, where a lot of people consider themselves or are considered to be fluent in a language. And I want to give you some concrete examples and we’ll go into more depth in another lesson. So, if what I’m saying, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to you, it certainly will, in the next lesson. This paragraph level, this is the Common European Framework Reference B2 level. If you follow Benny Lewis, Fluent in 3 Months, that’s this level. If you studied a foreign language in high school and you took any of the advanced placement exams, this is the benchmark.
If you are familiar with the ACTFL, the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages scale, that’s this intermediate, high advanced, low level. If you understand, beginning teacher testing for foreign languages, which a lot of states give, this is the same level, the test that ETS often make, different states. So, if there’s any one black and white point that you want to think about, fluent or not, it’s, this is the point.
Remember you’re a speaker of languages at different levels of fluency all the way throughout the continuum, but tools and scales to measure fluency.
Let’s start with some informal tools. These are things that you can do yourself. They’re easy, they’re quick. I realize it’s really easy to measure your fluency or your progress, if you are an absolute beginner. The simple answer is, no proficiency, nothing.
However, I think it’s really important to understand, how to measure proficiency and fluency, because it’s going to keep you moving forward. It’s going to take everything from a spray and pray approach, to something that’s really concrete. And it’s going to really turbocharge your results, understanding how to move through the continuum of fluency.
So, the first one, you would’ve seen in our first lesson, and I like to call this, the path to fluency. And again, it’s really difficult to see the very top. You’ve got those tiny bubbles, the tiny bubble you can’t even read. You start a language with words, right? And you move through the continuum with longer and longer utterances, longer fluency, more developed language, more complicated language. Right? And we talked about that paragraph point being, that ACTFL intermediate high level, right? Just about getting into advanced, getting into that real strong paragraph level speech.
Tests for beginning teachers in a lot of States. Test for bilingual teachers in a lot of States, that’s the minimum standard. Advanced Placement program, French, Italian, Spanish, that’s the bench point for you to get a three, which is a passing grade on that test, quote and quote, passing. That’s B2 level on the CEFR scale, the European scale. And we’re going to give you some links to all of that and, if you don’t remember, don’t worry, because you’re going to be getting a workbook in another lesson, that’s going to have all of this linked out and ready for you to use.
Another one, that I really like to use is, another really informal one is, the hand. It’s really simple, right? If you, while you’re learning a language, you want to move through the hand. So, one finger, the pinky for words, right? Your tiniest finger, when you’re just speaking words. And then, when you start developing, you can get yourself into phrases, that’s two fingers.
Sentences, the three fingers. Paragraphs, and when you get to fluency, extended speech, you’ve got an open Palm. Okay. These are broad scales, but I think it’s a good little check-in. If you’ve got some intense time to work on your language skills, think about where you’re starting, are you starting at phrases and then, put some effort into it.
Check yourself out, a month later, maybe you’re up to those sentences, sentences to paragraphs. It’s just another way to help you understand, that continuum of fluency. And with that understanding, you can help measure yourself to move forward.
A great resource for anybody teaching or learning languages, is the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages. So, if you see here, they have their famous inverted pyramid. And look at the very bottom, that novice low, that’s an absolute beginner, when you’re just starting to learn words and sounds, okay? And you move up through that novice range, you’ve got novice low, novice mid, novice high, right? And then, when you move from that novice level, the blue, up into the green level intermediate, that’s the point where you can start creating with language.
You can start making your own phrases and sentences, right? To get out of that novice level. You’ve got to have enough words and phrases to put together to start creating with language. And whether you did that as you learned your native language, just by being immersed in it, living your life, being read to, being around your family, the media, or you memorized a whole bunch of words and phrases, either way to get out of that novice rage and into the intermediate range. That’s what you had to do to move through that ranges.
Now, when you move up through the intermediate range, you’re creating more and more and more with language. It’s still halting. It’s still, there’s not a whole lot of ease of expression, but when you get up into that intermediate high level, again, that’s what we talked about, the intermediate high, advanced low, that’s the point, that a lot of people would consider fluent. Move up into advanced high and superior, that’s speaking almost like a native speaker. And then, up into distinguished, just everything past that.
There’s another scale called the international or inner agency rather language round table, and they would consider everything on the pyramid, that you’re looking at here. They think in terms of five. So, everything that we’re looking at the pyramid here, is levels one through three and then, distinguished would be everything levels three, four and five. Really advanced native like professor level language, which doesn’t serve most people at all.
The state of Massachusetts for a teacher from another country would expect them to be at the advanced mid-level. A math teacher from let’s say, South Korea or a place that doesn’t speak English or Spain, they would have to test and show that their English was at that advanced mid level. Okay. And I’ve given you a link to their website.
Again, that’s going to be in the workbook. Amazing resource, you can just visually look, where am I on there. And they have all sorts of self-assessments on there. You can actually go to their website too and get language testing international. And for a hefty fee, you can actually pay someone to test your language skills and it will be an official rating.
We talked about the CEFR, those A, B and C levels. A, 1 and 2, that would be that novice level that we talked about, that those words and phrases up into sentences. Then you have B, 1 and 2, right? You’re getting into paragraphs here, creating with languages up into paragraphs. And again, that B2, a lot of people consider it to be fluid. The C level, C1 and C2, really, really advanced. So, they use, got basically, a scale of six, so it’s broader than ACTFL, but I think it’s, they’ve got lots of tests online.
And you could even Google CEFR proficiency tests and they’ve got all kinds of self checks. They have something called the, can do statements, that are based on that, the Association of Language Teachers of Europe. Again, this is all going to be in your workbook and you can go and really start thinking about specific concrete things, you can do in a language and that’s going to move you forward.
As we discussed earlier, you’ve got the Language Testing International, which is going to give you, official results. And this page here, it’s going to give you access links to all of the assessments that we talked about. So, you can do official assessments with Language Testing International. As well, you can arrange a test through them and you can get a really good concrete idea of where your skills are. I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you need it for official reasons. I’ve done this testing, and I had to present official results for employment, but it’s expensive. So, if you don’t need to do that thing, I wouldn’t recommend it, until you’re really advanced, because you can do lots of these assessments on yourself.
Another link from that page, the ACTFL page for the Can Do statements is amazing. They get really, really, really, really, really specific about what people at different language ranges and levels can do. And it’s going to give you so many ideas. It’s going to tell you where you are, and it’s going to show you specific things to learn to move.
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