|I have so many more experiences with this flower now in Japan (and therefore in Japanese), that "Ajisai" is the first word that comes to mind. I usually have to think for a minute to pull "Hydrangea" up out of storage...|
...And with this post I feel I've jumped into the frigid waters of Lake Superior, bound for the other side, with little confidence in my ability to swim that far. Ma, yaru shikanai. Gambarimasu. (Nothing to do but to do it. I will do my best:-))
What is 'fluent'? The first thing that pops into most people's heads, I think, is "like a monolingual native speaker" or "would be taken by other native speakers to be a native speaker".
Well, that's nice, isn't it. What does it mean? Exactly? Does it mean that all native speakers are purely fluent? The process of being raised and educated in a particular language environment confers completely equal fluency on all? Are all native speakers equally fluent? Is there any such thing as 'pure fluency' ? Chris addressed that idea in his comment to the last post on this topic, which was so nicely expressed that I'll just save myself the trouble and quote him:-))
I think the only concrete thing I'm willing to say is that there is no such thing as pure fluency, that is, fluency meaning absolute, unencumbered communication. I can think of so many times when I've had to clarify something myself (or had to ask someone else to clarify for me) when speaking with a native speaker of the same language and dialect, even of the same general background (age, sex, etc.).
Thanks, Chris--well said! Clearly, there is wide variation in how well native speakers express themselves, make themselves understood, and how well they understand what others are saying or asking. As Chris points out, native speakers do not express themselves with equal clarity (ooh-- there's another thing it means!). Plenty of misunderstandings happen among native speakers, so 'pure fluency', as such, is probably a myth. Sarah Palin is a good example of what I mean. Her effusions are often so incomprehensible that, were it not for her accent, one might take her to be a non-native speaker. Maybe we should demand that she produce her birth certificate...
Accent-- is that part of it? Well, I think most would agree with me that Henry Kissinger expressed himself more 'fluently' (here meaning 'clearly') than Mrs. Palin, albeit in a heavy German accent that forever marked him as a non-native speaker of English. No one, though, would accuse the former Secretary of State of lacking fluency in English. I think most people recognize that accent isn't really the determining factor in fluency, though they might, all other things being equal, call a non-native speaker with a near-native accent (or no accent) more 'fluent' than someone with a heavy accent.
There are those who have "reading knowledge" of a language-- but they tend not to describe themselves as 'fluent'. 'Fluency', in most people's minds, pertains to the speaking and listening modalities. Fluency in the reading\writing modalities tends to get called 'literacy'. You can be 'fluent' in a language without necessarily being literate (which applies to native speakers, as well).
I'm having to rein myself in here, by the way, because this topic bleeds into so many others concerning bilingualism (or tri- or multilingualism), that my mind keeps running off in all directions.
Let's go back to "monolingual native speaker" for a minute. What is it that they do, or don't do, that makes us call them fluent?
So--to sum up-- fluency is speaking more or less grammatically, understanding at speed, being able to make yourself understood by circumlocuting and correct use of fillers, understanding words or phrases defined in the language, and having the same language inside your head as is coming out of your mouth.
Upon reflection, I think a useful way to think about fluency and fluency 'ranking', if you want to call it that, is to speak in terms of Child Level fluency, Elementary (school!) Level fluency, Secondary (school) Level fluency, and Adult Level fluency. Nobody attains Adult Level fluency after a year or so of language instruction--not even in a language immersion situation. I'm at Elementary School Level fluency in Japanese-- I routinely tell people I'm in 5th grade, with Koshi, my 10-year-old. I figure our fluency is roughly equivalent. Elementary level is, I think, the level from which other people (including native speakers) will call you 'fluent'. That level includes all those points I mentioned above. Note that I don't think those levels of fluency that I defined are equivalent to "First Year (Spanish)", "Second Year (French)", or the typical Elementary-Advanced Elementary-Intermediate-Advanced levels of high school and college language courses. And I will just stop right here before I start ranting about.... before I start ranting. Lest I not sound...wait for it... fluent;-)
Upcoming topics in this series are "Who is Bilingual?" and "Inside-Out/Outside-In".
Mata asobou, ne!
p.s.-- just for kicks, 'cause it's so funny. Daz found this:-)) Thanks, Daz!