with great difficulty!
We are trying to assess our proficiency, learning a language for the first time, so trying to assess how far along the path we are is very difficult. There is no end point, there is always room to improve even once you are fluent. We won’t know ourselves that we are ‘fluent’ until we have been fluent for some time.
Even if it was a straight path it would be difficult, but it isn’t. One day we are super confident, thinking we are making good progress, understanding things. The next day, things won’t make sense and we fall into pits of despair (partly because we become more ambitious in our expectations).
I think part of the problem is we try and judge where we are at off other people. This is a flawed process. We are imperfect at reading other people. Also , we have so many pre-conceptions, we remember chatting away to a visitor, who then complains that they have terrible English, when we have understood lots of complex things they have discussed. ~So, our ‘hopeles’ Welsh seems ever further off where we would like to be.
We also all learn in different ways, so we all allocate greater stress to different milestones.
I remember thinking 6 months ago, I am half way there to fluency. Now, I also feel half way there , yet have made as much progress as the previous 6 months, hopefully???, but my criteria has changed somewhat.
I use the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) level descriptors to assess my own students, and I use them to assess my own knowledge of foreign languages. They aren’t perfect, but then what is, and they do provide some kind of a more or less clear reference to what the learner needs to know to be called elementary, intermediate or proficient.
I must say that this describing me as fluent when I can barely say a few sentences is one of my pet peeves: while I do understand that the other person is trying to make me happier, I think it shows a lack of respect in my abilities to understand what is fluent and what is not, and also a certain image of me as of a capricious little girl who can’t handle being told she is imperfect and needs compliments and not the truth. I’m trying to be more tolerant towards this, but still it sounds like the person doesn’t really believe in me and my ambitious dreams:)
Do you get this from fellow language professionals, or is it mostly from non-teaching speakers? It sounds to me like the kind of thing you’ll hear from well-meaning non-teachers, which certainly wouldn’t mean that they don’t believe in you - just that they don’t really understand the process you’re going through very well…
I’m initially aiming for a realistic every day grasp of conversational Welsh, that’ll be my initial fluency, then I’m hoping to see ever more interesting horizons of fluency for me to aim for. [quote=“Pete2, post:1, topic:6858”]
I met someone recently who said they could think in welsh, i thought my welsh is better than yours.
[/quote]Something I found interesting recently was speaking to a fellow Welsh learner but she’d learnt via a different route to SSiW by doing evening classes, now has a GCSE in Welsh and is continuing studying. I found that she spoke very slowly, thinking through each sentence first and I felt that (in my humble opinion ) I could reply in a more instinctive way rattling through the bits I knew without really thinking about it so much. One of the big differences between the two of us was after a number of years of learning she’s built up a large vocab of nouns which SSiW hasn’t yet given me but I’ve only been at it since september so time yet! So I guess I’m saying, as I feel that you were too @Pete2 that fluency is a relative to the person and is a very fluid thing over time.
I don’t often get language professionals assess my progress in Welsh:) Which is very fair since I hardly have anything to offer in return. I did some exam past papers (A1, A2, B1) and failed the B1 ones glamorously, but still did better than I thought I would. That’s what I like about the tests - they are strict, severe and sometimes harsh, but unbiased, and if you pass, you have to accept that you are doing fine and can’t go on thinking “oh, they are just being nice to me, aren’t they”.
The more that you learn, the more that you realise how much that you have left to learn. In my opinion, the more that I learn, the steeper the climb in front of me seems to become. I start to realise just how much there is to do to become as good as I would like to be. I imagine people who start climbing might feel impressed with conquering a tough climbing wall and then before very long they may feel inadequate because they can’t climb the South Face of the Eiger on a wet and windy day.
If you look at where you have come from and where you are now - you have done the toughest bit by far and now you are propbably just feeling a little bit of frustration because you want to be purring effortlessly all the time and I guess that is just down to time to expand vocabularly, add in idioms and expressions and perfecting things like grammar - things that need constant practice and exposure.
I am incredibly frustrated by what is front of me, but very pleased at the same time at what I have already achieved. I feel that I am about 5% of the way to where I would like to be. It is that frustration that keeps me wanting to learn more.
I have a tendency to be indomitably optimistic about this for some reason - after a good experience I tend to think “Great, I’ve sussed this now!”, only to get bonked on the head by it the next time I fail to understand something or stumble over some simple phrase!
I think it’s a bit different for people who have the chance to live a large chunk of life in Welsh - but for those of us who don’t, I think we just have to be resigned to being happy amateurs! (Although increasingly very good ones of course! )
I don’t worry about whether I’m “fluent” (whatever that is) or not. My only criteria is that I can use Welsh in all the situations I want to and not feel I’m struggling to put my meaning across. I then judge progress when I find I can understand people (in real life or on the TV) that I didn’t before, so I know my understanding has increased. My ultimate goal is to stand behind 2 farmers in the post office queue and understand half of what they’re on about. I’ll consider myself an expert then!
I give myself a silent pat on the back when a first language speaker sprinkles their conversation with English words and I realise that I know the Welsh for those words. Perhaps they do too, but they’ve got into the habit of saying the English ones. Who knows? But it does make me smile a little when I go to a meeting of Merched y Wawr and the president says, “Oh Dee’s here. We’d better watch our Welsh and speak ‘properly’ now”.
Seriously - if it really matters to you whether your Welsh is ‘worse’ or ‘better’ than someone else’s, you’re going to be able to find all sorts of reasons to feel artificially bad or artificially good about it, none of which will be very helpful to the actual learning process.
Do you find yourself comparing your English to other people?
Fluency is a largely meaningless word. It’s certainly not a helpful target. I could sit here now and tell you I’m not fluent in Welsh, if I wanted to focus specifically on the kind of fluency I have in English - so if ‘fluency’ is ‘native-level balanced bilingualism’, that’s not me.
But clearly, I speak enough to live my life through the medium of Welsh.
I think you’ll have a far more beneficial time if instead of trying to deal with the slippery, moving, ill-defined target of ‘fluency’, you think instead about how much time you spend speaking Welsh, and how happy you are when you speak Welsh…
It’s so slippery and I really think that’s the best adjective (is it an adjective?) to describe this concept.
I have Welsh goals. To work more through Welsh (it will never be 100% if I stay in the job I’m in); to socialise more through Welsh; to finish Harri Potter, the re-read it and understand more (through Welsh of course ); if I am lucky enough to have children, to raise them bilingually.
However, none of those will dictate “fluency”. I can hold conversations entirely in Welsh (with a few English words), and I can understand the majority of what is being said to me. I understand a lot of the radio and have caught myself laughing at jokes I didn’t realise I’d understood (I still may not have done, but managed to find my version funny). I’m starting to learn what a word means through context without having to look up the English meaning.
Therefore, if a gun was to my head, I’d say I’m entry level fluent. I’ve also decided I no longer really care about the label. It’s all about how often I use the language. The weeks I use it a lot I feel happier. The weeks I use it less I feel frustrated. Then I tell myself off for being frustrated because it doesn’t solve anything.