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Fluency. How to get there, and what to prioritize along the way

by Rosetta Stone

Fluency is a concept that often comes up when people talk about learning a language, and can be an even more urgent goal when they’re learning for professional purposes. Before they even start, people want to know how to become fluent as quickly as possible.

But what does that even mean? There are a lot of misconceptions about what it really means to be fluent, and those can affect how we pace and envisage our learning journey.

In order to maximize learner engagement, it’s more encouraging to look at language acquisition as a journey, where new skills are developed and can be leveraged at every stage.

What is basic fluency?

Merriam-Webster defines “fluent” in the context of language as “capable of using a language easily and accurately.”

Pretty broad, right? It doesn’t describe a specific skill level or describe the context in which language is being used.

There are a variety of scales that are used to measure proficiency in many languages, the most well-known one being the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). It was introduced in the 1990s by the Council of Europe as a way to standardize language proficiency assessment. The levels of the CEFR are broadly defined as:

A1 (Beginner)

A2 (Elementary)

B1 (Intermediate)

B2 (Upper-Intermediate)

C1 (Advanced)

C2 (Expert)

Notice that the word “fluent” does not appear at all on this scale, but rather ‘expert’ is used to describe those who have reached a level of proficiency at which (given the appropriate contextual knowledge) they’re able to communicate efficiently in almost any situation. The concept of being capable of using language easily and accurately, depends very much upon the situation in which you find yourself.

Myth: Fluency is something you either have or you don’t

A lot of people think of fluency in a language as binary: you’re either fluent or you’re not. The reality is a little more complicated. Language is vast and incorporates such a multitude of specialized vocabulary sets that speaking a language truly perfectly is impossible, even if it’s your native one. The important thing is for learners to be able to leverage language as an effective mode of communication for their specific set of circumstances.

Reality: Fluency is conditional

No matter how good a learner becomes in their target language, there will be some subjects they can speak about eloquently…and others through which they struggle. Learners of language could even be fluent in a situation they’re comfortable in, but less fluent when out of their element.

As learners become more proficient in language, Rosetta Stone for Enterprise understands the value in allowing them to access specialized content, so that while they may not be ‘fluent’, they quickly develop the skills needed to perform within their specific industry, role or professional context. The instructional methods used also enable learners to become skillful at defining vocabulary through context, meaning that when they find themselves in situations where they don’t understand every word, they’re able to take a stab at filling in the gaps. 

Myth: Fluency takes years to develop

This common misconception can cause problems for some learners. It often feels discouraging to think that becoming fluent in their target language is a long way off, or even beyond reach.

Reality: You can learn usable language skills in no time

Small but noticeable victories early on help learners stay motivated. Learning to apply what they’ve learned in real world settings is important. Rosetta Stone for Enterprise is carefully designed to help professional learners build the skills and confidence they need for success in this regard. The Foundations program builds a robust knowledge of basic language and grammatical structures. With speaking practice woven into the program from the very beginning, language becomes meaningful and memorable. Live Tutoring sessions also accelerate learner proficiency, by giving them the confidence to apply and reproduce language through real-time dialogues.

With foundational skills under their belt, learners are provided with the opportunity to access specialized units that build practical and applicable workplace skills in their target language. They can select those that best apply to their professional context and quickly build the ability to perform with confidence as needed in meetings, telephone conversations or to devise effective written communication. By selecting industry specific content, they can also build their knowledge base and fluency in topics applicable to their daily workplace functions. 

If your learners want to know how to learn a language fast and fluently, language education experts recommend regularity over duration. The ability to study anytime and anywhere, means that your employees can maintain consistency when it comes to their learning by accommodating shorter, regular sessions into their busy schedule.

Myth: Fluency can come from speaking practice alone

Speaking practice is one of the major pillars of learning a foreign language. A lack of oral skills practice is often one of the shortcomings of online learning programs. Rosetta Stone for Enterprise prioritizes spoken competence, and in addition to offering Live Tutoring, the program incorporates pronunciation practice into every lesson. Nonetheless, to become a good speaker, learners also have to be good listeners.

Reality: Listening practice is just as important

Listening practice is how we learn to understand other people speaking a new language, how to pronounce words clearly, and when we develop an understandable, convincing accent. Since we can’t control receptive language, it also trains us to hone the ability to decipher language through context.

Because listening and speaking practice are inherently intertwined, Rosetta Stone has incorporated its TruAccent pronunciation tool into every stage of the Foundations program. This powerful speech recognition engine helps learners to develop an authentic accent by comparing their speech with the voices of thousands of native speakers. Whether they’re acquiring new vocabulary or grammar, Rosetta Stone for Enterprise frequently requires learners to repeat the words and structures they are learning, rather than relying on rote memorization. This active process contributes to both spoken accuracy and understanding, making language both more meaningful and memorable, and providing practice in all of the skills involved in natural communication.

As learners become aware of the process, many look for further opportunities to enhance their skills

“Some language learners even ask to record calls and go back and listen to them as comprehension practice to support their learning. We’re beginning to see real traction.”

Guido Touber Director of Learning and Development. LKQ Europe.

Myth: Fluency means knowing all of the vocabulary words

Even if it were possible for our brains to store every single word of a language, it wouldn’t be a helpful or realistic goal. The best way to learn a language’s vocabulary is to focus on words that are most personally relevant.

Reality: It’s more important to be able to talk about things that relate directly to your experience and needs

There’s a reason the first basic lessons in many language apps are greetings, even Rosetta Stone. It makes sense! The basics of learning a new language start with words and phrases that everyone regularly needs to access. For those looking to apply their language in a professional context, the next stage of learning needs to accommodate the specific communicative needs of their role or industry.

In Rosetta Stone for Enterprise, the Fluency Builder component allows learners to access individualized training in the language and business-specific communication skills they need. Whether they’re aiming to ease everyday communication with multilingual coworkers or gain the ability to deliver high-level presentations in a target language, learners at multiple professional levels and divergent industries have resources to meet their objectives. 

Myth: achieving fluency is the ultimate goal

When setting goals for your language learners, it’s important to consider how to maximize their sense of achievement and build upon their success at every step along the way. Although an ability to interact fluently is the ultimate goal for most people, the confidence to communicate is a more important first step. Finding that you can get your message across clearly (albeit with imperfections) is both motivating and empowering.

Reality: it’s all about having the confidence to apply your language skills

Instead of focusing upon fluency as the one and only objective, it’s important to recognize the importance of building communicative confidence. Providing that they don’t obstruct the sense of what’s being said, a few natural grammatical errors or mispronounced words are par for the course when learning and using a second language. The more they put language to use in every stage of learning, the more easily learners will be able to dial in their accuracy and fluency. By combining independent study with the ability to engage in real-time conversations with native-speaking tutors, Rosetta Stone for Enterprise empowers learners to realize their full potential from the very outset, and to build the confidence to interact effectively on a level at which they feel comfortable.

Myth: language immersion requires living abroad

When most people hear the word immersion in a language context, they picture spending several years in Paris to learn perfect French – truly diving into a setting in which they have no recourse to use their own native language. This is undeniably the optimal way to learn a language.

Reality: you can use language immersion techniques without leaving home

Since many people don’t have the option to learn through full immersion, does that mean they can never truly master a language? Of course not! Immersion doesn’t necessarily require boarding a plane. 

Rosetta Stone’s dynamic immersion mirrors the learning that takes place in a native-speaking setting. Rather than rote memorization of translated flash cards, the program empowers learners to unravel language through contextual clues. Starting with words, learners are then given indications of the way words behave in sentences. By actively engaging the mind in this learning process, they acquire a deeper and more innate sense of the language without ever relying on their first language, which (since each language behaves in such a different way) can often cause more confusion than clarity.

It’s often helpful to remind learners of other ways in which they can further immerse themselves in a language without leaving their native country, including:

  • Going to a meet-up group where only the target language is spoken
  • Participating in online forums in their target language
  • Accessing recorded meetings or presentations in the target language.
  • Changing the language settings on their devices and social media accounts
  • Reading, watching shows and movies, and listening to music in their target language

These exercises don’t feel like a lot of work but can go a long way in building skills and fluency. 

Myth: learning a language is difficult and boring

Some people think that learning a language has to be a chore and that it’s inherently not enjoyable. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Reality: studying a language can (and should) be fun for learners of all ages

Sure, nothing that takes work is going to feel exciting all the time, but learning a language can and should be enjoyable. Since language is the touchstone to all human connections, it immediately unveils opportunities to extend your personal and professional boundaries.

By encouraging language learners to connect with one another through online or in person forums, you will build camaraderie between learners and increase accountability. You’ll also provide more opportunities for collaboration, which will ultimately contribute towards fluent expression and enhanced confidence.

Myth: once you’re fluent, you’re done learning

Many language learners think of “becoming fluent” as the finish line for learning their language. It doesn’t work that way though. Some people never touch their foreign language again after they cease to actively study it, while others embark on a lifelong journey of learning and continued exploration. 

Reality: there’s always more to learn

Rosetta Stone for Enterprise provides more depth and breadth of content than any other online language learning platform. Even when they reach the level of proficiency that satisfies their professional goals, learners can continue to explore language and build upon their knowledge. In addition, the upper levels of Rosetta Stone courses empower learners to access authentic native material and to interpret all manner of written and spoken communication in their target language. There’s no reason why their learning journey should stop when their course draws to a close, or that the benefits they bring to your business should ever take a downturn!

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Interested to learn more about how Rosetta Stone for Enterprise can help to grow and sustain ‘fluent’ multilingual teams in your organization?

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