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February 28, 2012

Many English learners want to speak English fluently – but what exactly is “speaking fluent English”? There are many students who can read and write in English at an advanced level, but they are not fluent when it comes to speaking and listening.

From my experience as both a teacher and a language learner myself, I see three general levels of fluency:

1. Communication with difficulty

Speaking: At this level, you can speak in isolated words and a few sentences that you have memorized (“Nice to meet you”), but creating your own complete sentences is difficult. You can communicate basic things in a simple way (for example: “Where bathroom?”)

Listening: Native speakers must change their speech to help you understand – speaking slower and simpler English – and you may need to ask them to repeat things. If you listen to a conversation between two native English speakers, you can identify a few individual words, but you can’t follow the conversation.

2. Functional proficiency

Speaking: At this level, you speak in full sentences, although they may have some mistakes. You have an accent, but native speakers can understand you. You can use English successfully in daily life, and you would be comfortable in an English-speaking country. It’s sometimes difficult for you to express more complex thoughts or ideas.

Listening: You can understand most conversations between native English speakers, though there may be a few things you don’t catch, and you only occasionally have to ask a person to repeat something.

3. Fluency

Speaking: At this level, you can speak English fluidly (without hesitations) and correctly, including speaking for a long time and having deep discussions on any topic. Native English speakers can understand you perfectly. You are confident in your English ability and you can speak at any time and in any situation (including on the telephone) without fear.

Listening: Sometimes you’ll hear a slang word you don’t know, but you can often figure out its definition from the context. You can understand movies, TV and radio shows, and native conversations perfectly at any speed.

What level of fluency are you?

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