I'm sure anyone who has majored/minored in a second language or is bilingual has been asked countless times, "so are you fluent?" This is always someone’s first question when he/she learns that I speak German and Spanish. Each time I hesitate with my answer. How do I explain my level of fluency?
Since birth, I’ve heard German spoken to me by my dad’s family. On family vacations in Stuttgart, I immersed myself in the culture and easily picked up on the accent. Through listening and informal conversations, I developed a natural confidence speaking with natives. I can speak, read and understand without a problem.
Writing, however, is a different story. With hardly any grammar training, it’s tough for me to put together a sentence without second guessing myself. Is the article dative? How does that change the ending to my verb? Just the opposite is true for Spanish. With over 8 years of classes from elementary school to college, I have no problem with grammar or writing. But speaking? No thank you....
My Spanish host mom always complimented my Spanish skills when I texted her, but it took weeks for me to get over my discomfort speaking Spanish. You know why? Because learning Spanish in an English environment takes away its authenticity. We’re all guilty of memorizing dialogues and speaking English when our professors aren’t paying attention.
While I’m technically “tri-lingual,” I have my strengths and weaknesses in both languages. I’m a confident speaker in one and a writer in the other. I learned through immersion for one and through formal classes for the other.
My answer to this weighted question is “yes” because after international visits and practice, I feel comfortable communicating and traveling into these countries; but there’s still so much more I can do to improve my fluency. The next time you ask this of someone, remember there’s a story behind every language learner’s experience.
Looking to improve on a language? Here’s a few things you can do to keep it up: