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Rate your foreign language fluency
The four components of fluency


We never stop learning a language : there are always new words to learn, old skills we forgot, and all our life we have to work on the foreign languages we learned.

Is there a way to define what is "fluency" in a foreign language ? Where can we stop in the first stage of learning ? This page discusses these problems.

For the purpose of the learner, we can break foreign language fluency in 4 components :

Written Oral
Understanding Reading books, newspapers, letters Understanding conversation, TV, radio
Expression Writing letters, memos Speaking live, on the phone, etc...

In terms of difficulty, reading skills usually come first, then you begin to understand the spoken language. At about the same time you learn how to speak, and finally the student can write. Of course, you learn everything simultaneously, and the components overlap a lot.

So, if you want to rate your fluency, you can test each of these four components in turn. Some people only need to understand the language, others speak it but  never write it, so you can choose the relevant part for you.

Rate your reading skills in your target language by answering the questions below. They are listed in order of difficulty, and you must choose the most difficult you can answer positively. The number in the first column on the right will give you your specific fluency for that component, and the second column gives you one fourth of the overal fluency score. When you have answered for all four components, add the four overall fluency scores to get the total overal fluency score.

You can see an Example of how I used this page to rate my russian skills.

1. Reading skills

Reading fluency depends a lot on the difficulty of what you read. Letters are quite easy, newspapers are moderately difficult and litterature is the most difficult. If everybody does not want to read Tolstoy or Maupassant in the original, most people still aim to read newspapers fluently.


Specific fluency Overall fluency
a You understand what the newspapers articles talk about, but no more. 20 % 5
b You can read the newspapers and get about half of the content. 50 % 12
c You read the newspapers fluently, with some words you don't understand here and there (5 by article or less) 75% 18
d You read newspapers with total fluency, with almost no unknow words. 95% 24

Your score :

2. Oral Understanding


Understanding the language when it is spoken is more difficult in some languages than others. German, Russian and some spanish accents are very clear, but french, some english and spanish accents are more blurred.


Specific fluency Overall fluency
a You understand approximately what people want when they talk to you, but no more. 20 % 5
b You can follow basic conversation you overhear, and understand about half of what is said in the news on the radio. 50 % 12
c You understand most of what you hear, be it on the street, on the TV, radio, with a few words or expressions here and there that stay dark. 75% 18
d Hearing an unknown word is very uncommon for you, even when listening to elaborate cultural sendings on the radio or when they interview country people on the TV. 95% 24

Your score :

3. Oral Expression

Being able to speak is a must for most people, with the notable exception of those who learn dead languages. Speaking fluently in basic conversation is not very difficult for most languages, but to learn it correctly you need either live speakers or good tapes. Let's see what you can do :


Specific fluency Overall fluency
a You can explain what you need in live very basically, with the use of gesture. Expressing opinions and answering beyond yes or no is very limited. 20 % 5
b You can tell people what you need without too much trouble, and you can express basic judgements or give sensible answers when asked. Nevertheless, you have to stretch your vocabulary to achieve this and you you use periphrases heavily. 50 % 12
c No problem to speak with people, you can speak about most topics without feeling constrained. Here and there, you miss some words, but you can usually explain them by another way or ask what they are by giving their definitions. 75% 18
d You can converse in any condition (over the phone in particular) over any topic. You make jokes, use idiomatic expressions and can convey your thought with all the subtleties and disctinctions that you want. 95% 24

Your score :

4. Written Expression


Writing a language correctly is the most difficult part to learn. Some languages, like spanish, have an honest and efficient writing system, and passing from oral fluency to written fluency is pretty straightforward. Others, like french, russian and the worst of all, chinese, require much time.


Specific fluency Overall fluency
a You are limited to the most basic phrases and writing anything takes you ages - if you can do it at all. 20 % 5
b You can write simple emails without needing too much time, but expressing something complex (hypothesis, conditions, future) requires much time and you're still unsure if you wrote it correctly. 50 % 12
c You write emails and letters fluenty, needing to look up words in the dictionary from time to time. 75% 18
d You can write long love letters with no hesitation, you "feel" that something is correctly written when you look at it. Writing a memo or essay does not scare you off. Your vocabulary is big enough to allow you to make subtle writings between the lines. 95% 24

Your score :

Example of how I used this page to rate my russian skills.

If you know how to convert this page to a Javascript test that would calculate the scores automatically and work with the main browsers, please contact me.

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