How to achieve fluency

By Frederik De Vos

Reaching fluency is the main goal of our course and we use the word a lot. Maybe you've wondered: What do you actually mean by fluency?

Let's start with a definition. According to the Free Dictionary ( "Fluency is the ability to express oneself readily and effortlessly."

In practical terms, speaking fluently means you can get by in everyday situations without constantly having to stop and look for your words. It doesn't mean you speak perfectly. In fact, you can be fluent and have a rather limited vocabulary — let's say, the most common 1,000 words.

The reason you can get by with a limited vocabulary of about 1,000 words, is that they cover most common situations.

Being fluent, that is, speaking readily and effortlessly, means you've learned automatic reflexes. You could compare it to other skills that require automatic responses, like martial arts or driving. You learn these reflexes by repeating the right actions many times. You don't get them from reading a manual or just thinking about them. When it comes to reflexes, the mind has to get out of the way. You need to get to a point where you're doing it right unconsciously.

How do you learn that with a language?

Well, first, you need to listen carefully to correct examples and pay attention to the details of the pronunciation. Then, you imitate what you're hearing a number of times. Until it sticks.

It's important that you repeat the whole sentence with the right intonation. You can break down the sentence at first to make it easier, until you're able to repeat the entire sentence. You need it to build the reflexes, to form all the mental connections, to train your speech muscles and get the intonation right. That's how you'll be doing it right spontaneously.

Learning from natural dialogues is ideal for this because they contain the emotions and intonations you need to imitate.

Don't try to rely on rules too much. Rules can help you understand, but they're not a complete method for forming natural sentences. It's easier to pick up the patterns intuitively through repetition. That's how children learn to speak. Let them be your inspiration. They're fluent before they know how to read. How do they do that? Simply by repeating what they hear, with a lot of emotion.

After a while, the sentences will just pop up in your mind. You'll even be able to pick up new words from what you're hearing and guess their meaning from the situation.

Don't worry about making mistakes. Just keep trying to speak correctly and you'll get better over time.

Anyone can do it. So can you.

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