Everything You Thought You Knew About Language Fluency Is Wrong And Here's Why (Video)

  • Written byDonovan Nagel
  • Read time1 mins
  • Comments6

Everyone interprets the word fluent differently.

In fact it’s probably the most misused and misunderstood word in language learning discussion. It’s an easy word to use but very hard for most people to define if you ask them to!

Today I want to explain what fluency is and what it isn’t (which I believe differs to what a lot of other people say) and also build on a few points I’ve made in the past.

And since I’ve been working so tirelessly lately on my big Arabic project I thought I’d give my fingers a break from typing and post a video for a change. 🙂

Share your thoughts below and help continue the discussion by sharing this post (or the video) on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.

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Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Icelandic


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I agree wholeheartedly its not just about either fluent or not, its a matter of how fluent. Another concept I think should be included in the discourse surrounding fluency is topical fluency. A language learner can get extremely fluent in topics that they often deal with e.g. asking for directions, ordering at a restaurant, or telling people about their likes and dislikes, but when the topic of conversation switches to something they are not used to speaking about such as politics or art their ability to speak fluently screams to a half.

I often find that I am able to impress people with how quickly and smooth sounding I can speak about some topics. However when the conversation topic extends out of my range I start faltering pretty quickly.

Good video!

Donovan Nagel

So true, Scott.

I guess that's why some people who show off their abilities (YouTubers especially) tend to talk about the same topics all the time.


Yeah, its easier to impress when you know what you are going to say before hand and have time to rehearse and plan it too. It's a lot harder to speak on the fly with an unpredictable partner.

There's nothing wrong with practicing a monologue and performing it as a way to get better. However, it can be a bit misleading if you assume it represents someone's real conversational ability.

dried peanuts

any piece of language learning advice you hear is at least 40% right.

Donovan Nagel

What makes you say that?

I'm sure there's a lot of advice out there that's less than 40% right ;)


Perhaps even the bad ones contain some untold truths, like that time I saw a blog of a Korean learner who only talked about grammar and how Korean is difficult, no surprise, after ten years of learning his listening skills are still terrible. So it was useful as a counter example.

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
- Ludwig Wittgenstein