Reaching fluency

I read somewhere that around 1% of language learners will reach native like fluency. And the others will quit or will learn at a very slow rate.

And when I say native like fluency, I mean as good as someone in between the ages of 10 and 18. Which is 10,000+ words

I studied Spanish in middleschool and German in highschool, both of which I quit and never reached fluency. This time I am learning Japanese and it has been about 15 months and I am still not fluent

Who here thinks they can reach native-like fluency? Or actually has reach fluency in a second language? And what are your thoughts about what I said?


I have reached a high-level of fluency in German. And it has taken me YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS… :slight_smile:

I am now learning Swedish and studying very hard. My fluency level is only about B1, I’d say. It is quite frustrating.

Patience is a must, that is for sure.

Steve Kauffmann - of LinQ fame - has some interesting thoughts on the matter, if you check out his YouTube channel, you might find some of his videos on the subject. I think he mentions that FOUR years of study is necessary to reach any kind of fluency. I can vouch for it not being feasible after just three years. I still get very tongue-tied when I try to speak.


I guess it won’t be an easy task; you need to practice the language everyday. I learned english at the american language center in my country and reached the advanced level, but people here do not speak English, so you can say that I almost forgot everything. I only read medical papers and books in english. I had to deal with a patient who speaks only english, and that was a hard time for me ( I could easily understand her, but I had to think a lot before asking her about anything), and I was really frustrated…
But, I don’t think it is unfeasible, all you need is someone to talk with everyday. Practice is the key, and that’s what we are doing on this forum (we are practicing english, but it would be great if we could correct to each other).

P.S: I was thinking about creating a “useful” chat topic in each language section so that we could practice the language,and correct to each other.


do that, mila83!

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For me, I feel like I’ve reached fluency in English. Though I’m not sure if this counts since I studied through my entire school years as a second language. (and a rarity of self-studying)

The only language I’m currently interested in studying is Japanese right now. And I don’t really care if I reach the point of actual fluency; though I admit that it would be nice to do so. For now, I’m just enjoying the process of learning, which is enough for me to keep going.


It depends on various factors. On your preferences to learning languages, motivation, weather you speak it or not with others, how often you are in a contact with it. Some people, even though know the language in theory, have a fear of speaking it; fear of mistakes, fear of mocking.
Question of fluency is also dependable. I am Hungarian native, not born or living in Hungary. When I watch Hu TV, I don’t understand a lot of words, sometimes I can only guess.
It often depends weather you speak any cousin language.

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I personally don’t think that one percent would be accurate, as neither fluency nor proficiency aren’t really easily measured, and there are many many language learners.

I define fluency “the ability to speak in a wide variety of subjects uninterrupted” but proficiency also includes grammar and vocabulary skills without speaking. I might be able to speak my way as, say, a student in a school at London, but I might not be able to read a Shakespeare play and get all of it.

I’m a native Farsi speaker, and I’m near-native fluent and proficient in English after about 7 years of studying.(I dare not say native proficient, as I still need to expand my vocabulary towards literature, but a native American friend once told me “there was not much she could correct in my speaking” after she heard a recording of me, so I guess my speaking is (almost!) native fluent) All this time, I worked on speaking and listening rather than grammar and reading. After I could speak, I could read and dissect as well.(Like kids do :smiley:)

I’m certain of one thing: It’s possible to reach native fluency and proficiency, and it doesn’t have an age restriction!


Pretty many of us Swedes are fluent in English. So 1% sound a little too low.

But we are starting with English classes when wa are between 7 and 10 and continues to we are at least 19.
So it takes pretty much time.
And still many of us never get fluent in English.

I think I can become fluent in English, but it will take a time to reach that goal.:grin:


I guess the time depends of how you structure your learning. I saw a YouTube speech/lecture once, and he (don’t remember the name) said it is perfectly possible to achieve some kind of fluency in 6 months.One just has to use some simple rules/techniques. For example the “tool kit technique”. You learn the words you know you are going to use or want to use. I’ve learned Korean for about 5 months, and I am at around B1-2 level. Though I’ve studied every single day, and had gotten to know some Koreans since I started, so the focus has always been on having fun. ^ㅇ^

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I think aiming for “native like” fluency is not a good idea. We are highly unlikely to ever reach it even if we move to the country. But that doesn’t mean we cannot learn fast :smiley:

And why should we aim to speak like teenagers? We can speak like adults, we can speak very well. the CEFR scale doesn’t use the term native-like and someone at a high level (C1 or C2) can function in the language more or less like a native of similar age and education.

Whether we can learn fast or not doesn’t have anything to do with this. Someone aiming just for the intermediate level (around B1) can still get there very fast.

Of course most people quit, just like many people quit sports lessons, or music lessons, and just go for another activity. And normal highschool classes simply don’t lead to the C1 or C2 level in vast majority of cases, no wonder you didn’t get there either, if you didn’t serious study outside the class too and if you quited after school, instead of building on the already acquired knowledge.

I think a part of the problem is the definition of what does “fast” mean. In case of Japanese, not being “fluent” after 15 months doesn’t mean you are slow, you are probably well within the norm. 15 months are a short time to get to C1/C2 even in “easy” langauges. The learns vary a lot between the “very slow rate” and “extremely fast rate given by intelligence, ideal external conditions, and tons of hard work and invested time”.

I have reached C1/C2 levels in two foreign languages so far. In one more my passive skills are there too, and I am trying to catch up with the rest. I have passed exams proving my level in those two languages. And I can function in all the areas like a native person of my age and education in those languages, despite having an accent (not hindering comprehension at all), making occassional mistakes, and the fact I’d need to learn a lot of facts about living in the countries, should I live there.


I think the distinction between fluency and proficiency is quite vast. But, fluency as defined by quite a few polyglots begins at the equivalent of the CEFR B2 level. Proficiency is usually considered beginning at around a CEFR C2 level. I think the main distinctions between these levels is fluidity of expression and creativity within the structure of the language, vocabulary, and accent . For example … at a B2 level you could in fact express almost anything. But, not so smoothly and with heavy use of circumlocution. Assuming you didn’t know the word for helicopter you could say in your target language “a flying machine which uses rotation to lift off of the ground”. So you are technically expressing an idea, just in terms of simpler components because your vocabulary is smaller. But this does demand quite a lot in terms of knowing the structure and logic of the language.

Anyways - to answer your question. My end goal is to be speaking at a B2-level, and to be near-native level at reading and listening. I would say almost all of the people from foreign countries who study in America are nowhere near a C2 level, let alone a native-like fluency. I would say on average their English is at a C1 level. But their vocabulary is very specific to their chosen area of study… but sometimes they are unable to fully understand movies, TV shows, and especially novels. I would say anecdotally, the 1% figure holds true. There are some exceptions such as people from countries such as Sweden with near perfect English, but I think that figure is dwarfed by other groups included in that statistic which includes many groups of people who never reach that level for whatever reasons. Mostly because you don’t need to reach native-level fluency almost all of the time.

In terms of those who self-study and use Memrise, I am at an equivalent B2 reading level , and B1 listening/speaking/writing and I used this site from the beginning of my language learning (about 1.5 years ago). I think based on my number of points and the number of words I have learned, that there are maybe a few thousand people on this site who have reached an intermediate level using Memrise from the start (which is a minuscule fraction of the total user base) . Though of course I think a lot of people stop using this site after getting a baseline vocabulary and understanding in the language they are learning, so that number probably skews higher. Also some people may come here at an intermediate level and try to memorize only more complex things (a smaller number I think). I think this further reinforces that 1% hypothesis. Because you see the steep drop-off in terms of number of words “learned”.

But nonetheless, to internalize the vast vocabulary of a native speaker, as well the contexts it is used in, requires much more than flashcards. I think once you hit a B2 level, Memrise becomes a hindrance rather than a valuable tool. Because exposure using reading and listening will be much more efficient than deliberately trying to use part of your study time to memorize a small subset of the new words. I wanted to say this because I believe at this point, because I can read simple books meant for native speakers, my addiction to Memrise and fear of the ever-growing review stack actually has begun to hinder my learning. It makes it less likely now for me to reach my goals, whereas in the beginning it was indispensable.


It also depends on the structure of the course. I guess a lot of courses on Memrise (at least the official ones) only serves as a memorizing tool, but there are those that actually are comprehensive courses, with solid structure. At least TTMIK has a giant curriculum, and really helpful to learn grammar, and to remember it. I’ve been using it for about 5 months, and have still only covered about a 5th of it.

Found it
About learning language in 6 months.

Fluency is simply understanding and being understood. If it’s rough, it’s rough. If you can’t make yourself understood and you don’t understand, you’re not fluent. I would pretty much say this can be applied to anyone in B1 of any language.

Native is debatable term. My best friends German is so good and his accent, many Germans ask him what part of Germany is he from, and when he says he is from Texas, they get all somewhat… inspired. He lived there two years, and got a minor in German. But that was years ago. I would NOT even say he is proficient, as his vocab is rather small (for example; he uses ‘also’ to start sentence almost exclusively and ‘damit’ to bind sentences). He often looks in his pocket Langenscheidt for help. He is probably B2 by every count.

If you ask me… Native is thinking in the language without a skip. And I think it is rather bull shit to wanna pursue that realistically if you don’t live where said language is spoken. But It’s possible. I think it’s better to be efficient than proficient. :slight_smile:

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Your English seems fluent to me, @RyouBakura :slight_smile:

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Thanks, that means a lot. :smile: Those days I wasted watching English cartoons payed off. :sweat_smile:
But my speaking skills still need some work.

I’m guilty of secretly watching (Mandarin-subtitled) cartoons myself. Much more “educational” than the boring soap operas I was suggested to watch. :wink:


@RyouBakura, are you practicing your Japanese skills by watching anime? :stuck_out_tongue:

I wanna say yes, but lately haven’t had the time to watch much… :sweat_smile:
When it comes to Japanese, most of my exposure to it is through music I listen to while walking. Which I think I might understand, a word or sentence every here and there. If only the language wasn’t so pervaded with homophones. :disappointed:

say thanks! you’re not learning Mandarin! 4 shi-s, and 2000 meanings…

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