Tests of Fluency
Fluency is certainly the most tedious word in language learning. Here is a word that is simultaneously ubiquitous whenever languages are discussed yet it also happens to be meaningless. And that’s especially troubling to consider once you remember that the very concept of fluency is an elusive target, one that shifts in meaning depending on context, location, and formality. Plenty of speakers—which includes native speakers—are adept in some contexts yet confused in others, which makes any definition of fluency a little messy.
To communicate through language doesn’t come with an on and off switch, a demarkation between ability and inability, as there’s too much ambiguity, intricacy, and variation for such a blunt distinction. If you’re generous, you can give a halfhearted definition of fluency as the ability to communicate effectively, or as the ability to express yourself in a language without difficulty. But if you want more precision you will very quickly face the tricky issue of realizing that many native speakers will fail your definition—I’m not sure how to say it, I can’t quite put it into words, it’s difficult to explain.
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