What is a fluent speaker?

I keep on seeing it mentioned and I was wondering:
is there any way of “measuring” it? Any official and detailed definition?
Or it’s just totally subjective?

Does “being capable of having a conversation” make sense?
As opposed to what?
non-fluent = “Just putting together single sentences, but not linking them in a sequence”?

Any ideas? :slight_smile:

This has been discussed quite often on the forum. You may like to look at these threads:


Hi Gisella,

I’ll keep this one brief, because every time I write something on this, someone copies my response and puts it on the “Dw i’n dysgu Cymraeg” group on Facebook as some kind of “Look at this fool who thinks SSIW is really good” sort of pathetic thing.


I think a lot of people get confused between two different things. 1. Fluency and 2. Mastery. Lots of people simply don’t know that “Mastery” exists, so they confuse “Fluency” as just being the ability to know every single word in the dictionary for a given language.

Fluency - coming from the word Fluid, is something that moves and grows, it grows in some areas, it shrinks in some areas, but it always moves.

For example, I’ve considered myself a fluent Welsh speaker for about 15-18 months now. Am I better now than I was 15-18 months ago? I am a lot better. Do I have a bigger vocabulary now than I did then? Yes, definitely.

So how can I be “More fluent” now than I was then? Because “fluency” isn’t a finishing line per se.

Fluency for me, although I try not to get caught up on it, is the idea of being able to function in a day to day life in your target language without the need to fall back on another language. If you can function for an extended period of time, you can deal with everyday situations, you can use your future and past tenses, you can express feelings, thoughts and emotions through the language, you can think on your feet in the language and you can do all of this without any problems - then its likely you are a fluent speaker.

The problem is… there is no “fluency test”. So one person’s “fluent” is another person’s “I am Intermediate”, which is another person’s “I’m a learner”. Fluency really is in the eye of the beholder.

Let me give you another example. I am a fluent English speaker - but there are lots of things/areas that I know absolutely nothing about: law, brain surgery, the mechanics of a diesel car engine for example. Now even though I am a fluent English speaker, if you made me attend a two hour lecture on the inner workings of say corporate law in English – I’d probably understand very little if anything, despite being a fluent English speaker.

The same is true if I take an area I know a lot about (Football or computers for example) and I started talking to a fluent English speaker who had never seen a football match in their lives, it’s likely they wouldn’t understand most of what I spoke about. Does this make them less fluent? No - because fluency is relative. We know lots about some things, and very little about most things.

Mastery is a totally different thing, but so many people confuse fluency with mastery. Mastery is when you are at a level where even if you’ve never come across words before, you’ll still have a really good idea of what they mean already - most native speakers of languages probably fall under this category.

Fluency doesn’t equal a number of words in your vocab, for me it represents your ability to live in the language. This is the reason why you get the odd scenario where a 7 or 8 year old kid who has been speaking a language since birth can still not have achieved fluency, whereas an adult learner with 3-6 months experience could maybe… with masses of work achieve it.

There will be people who will feel fluent after a short period of time, and there will be people who will feel fluent after a long period of time, or even never.


Thanks, Alan. I had searched for “fluent” and didn’t get most of these in my results. I’m going to read them now.

Really? :rofl:
I guess I’ll have to check that group out. :sunglasses:


@gisella-albertini Great. Be sure to scroll to the top of the thread in each case - for some reason they haven’t all opened right at the top here in each case… But @Nicky’s post above is excellent - as good an analysis as I’ve seen on the topic.


I agree. Also, something to do with a language flowing from our lips. Not really necessarilly a university level qualification. I just checked with a family member, who is a teacher in England. She said that a seven year old would generally be fluent.

"Really? :rofl:
I guess I’ll have to check that group out. "

The group is really good, but like any FB group there is always the odd negatve person. Plenty of SSiwers and others on there with a more respectful and support ive approach.

Also worth checking out FB Iaith group for dialect words. Run by very fluent regional speakers, so a bit hard to follow. However they encourage learners who want to learn some regional vocabulary.


No, definitely not something that can be learnt academically. Aptitude and constant practice seem to be what count. You can learn a lot about the cultural background and history surrounding a language at a university level, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a good speaker in itself. I suppose it’s similar to, say, music, where you can be excellent at music theory but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily a good musician; and so on.

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This is a really interesting conversation. I have just a couple of things to add to the mix. Confidence. I’ve met people who ‘know’ everything about Welsh, but are afraid of making mistakes so don’t open their mouths. They can’t be called fluent. I think it’s really important, much more important than ability, or vocabulary or grammar.
The other thing is the fact that ‘fluency’ is, for far too many people, somewhere over there, an ever receding, end of the rainbow destination. I met someone who said, in a semi joking way, that he wouldn’t do the last SSIW lesson of level/course 3 because that would mean he was ‘fluent’. It links with the fact that many people, even native mother tongue Welsh speakers, think that someone else, over there, speaks ‘proper’ Welsh.


I will take a while to finish reading all the older threads, but in the meantime:

I like these definitions. However, an interesting answer I got yesterday from someone who studied English at school, can read books and watch films and pretty much understand what’s going on, often speaks it and writes it and spent more or less the same time as me in English speaking countries:

“The only language I’m fluent in is Italian. Fluent means being able to think of something and say it right away. Words should flow smoothly, I shouldn’t stop and think about words or about how to make sentences”.

And well, it makes sense too!

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I don’t intend this to sound flippant (because I guess it might do), but I remember someone saying to me when I used to deny being fluent that fluency in learners is something that reaches other people’s ears before it reaches your own.


I think it was @Iestyn who talked about fluency in other languages verses fluency in Welsh in that it seems more of a big deal in Wales than anywhere else. In other countries you either speak the language or you don’t. I know it’s good that we have so many people learning Welsh but is it good to have so many learners … if you see the difference.


Some exceptionally good points made. I have a lot of friends in Aber who come from EU countries for example who have only started speaking Welsh or English since moving here - and I’ve never heard them ever talk about fluency, what skill level they are etc… they just say that “I can speak Welsh/English/any other language”


Well from here in Italy, I can tell it is true we basically never use “fluency” (and related terms) except in academic contexts or job interviews, while English natives seem to use it a lot, not only about Welsh.

However, we don’t only refer to languages as “yes I speak it”, “no I don’t speak it”.
We ask parli inglese? oppure direttamente parli bene (l’)inglese?
We can answer:

  • Sì lo parlo un po’ = a little bit
  • Sì ma male o non molto bene = bad or not too well
  • Sì abbastanza(bene) = quite (well)
  • Sì lo parlo bene = well
  • Sì lo parlo molto bene o benissimo = very well

And if we’re studying it or learning it we add sto imparando oppure sto studiando

It just sounds more informal. And at the moment if they asked me about Welsh I would answer:
Per ora solo un po’, ma sto imparando! :slight_smile:
But I expect to say Sì abbastanza e sto imparando within a month or two. :wink:


Ive just filled in one of those equal opportunity type back page thingies, which had a simplified approach to proficiency in the Welsh language. They weren’t bothering with those tricky Level letters or numbers. So, the choices for spoken Welsh were:
Fluent [ ]
Fairly fluent [ ]
Learner [ ]
Little or no knowledge [ ]

I clicked “Fairly fluent” as I didn’t really want to be tagged as a learner. Hopefully that was ok as I mentioned, it was only for statistics gathering.