by Nicholas H. Parker
Becoming fluent in a language is the goal of many language learners. There are also numerous projects out there where people want to become fluent quickly, in many languages or both. They won't achieve it when they just buy essay. The problem with this kind of quest is that it's not very well defined, which has to lead to a lot of confusion.
Some people say it takes a decade to become fluent in a language, others claim that it can be done in months! This is partly down to different methods: if you take evening classes once a week, it might very well take a decade and you might still not be even near any kind of fluency. If you study seventy hours a week in China, it probably won't take that long before you can converse freely with native speakers.
In this article, though, I don't want to talk about fluency in the sense of having learned a language to a certain high level, I want to talk about the ability to be able to produce flowing speech without stopping too much. This is not the same as having mastered a language! In fact, you can do this relatively easily, I know people who have reached this kind of fluency in just a few months, even though it is true that they have done little else apart from studying and practicing. You will not achieve this by simply doing the homework your teacher gives you.
The most important skill you have to master if you want to sound fluent (be fluent) in a language is navigation. You need to know which waters to stay clear of and which you should seek out. Dangerous waters are of course areas you don't know a lot of vocabulary in or don't have lots of experience talking about. Safe waters are those you've sailed many times before and that you are confident you can navigate again without too much stress.
Your navigation skill can be applicable on two levels. First, you should try to talk about topics you are familiar with. Most learners become very good at speaking about their familiar, why they started learning Chinese, and so on because they get asked these questions a lot and therefore practice answering them all the time. If you want to give an illusion of fluency, simply try to talk about things that you have spoken about a lot before. If you take the long-term approach (which is of course better), you should instead try to talk about as many different things as possible, since this makes a larger part of the metaphorical sea navigable.
Second, you need to be able to navigate your way through a sentence, choosing a course that will lead you to your destination (expressing the ideas you want to express). You need to avoid constructions you simply can't handle and stay with those you have learned. You can say an amazing amount of things with just a few hundred words and some basic grammar, but the problem is that you need to figure how to do it. Don't translate, don't try to stay true to the English in your head, try to find out a way, any way, which allows you to get to your destination in Chinese. Your imagination probably limits you more than your (lack of) language skill.
Naturally, this is hard in the beginning, but it can be practiced. There are numerous games built around the concept of talking about words without mentioning them, for example trying to explain the word "skyscraper" without actually saying the word "skyscraper". This is an excellent way of practicing because it means you get very good at explaining what you mean and don't get stuck on individual words you don't know. You can sound very fluent by saying "tall building" instead of "skyscraper", but you need to realize that you don't know the word for "skyscraper" before you actually need it. When you do, you quickly fill in "tall building" instead and no-one will notice.
Of course, avoiding tricky words isn't a substitute for learning expanding your vocabulary (the word for “skyscraper” is 摩天大楼 (摩天大樓) "mótiāndàlòu"), but it's a great way of increasing your fluency, or your ability to speak Mandarin without stopping. Naturally flowing speech definitely sounds much better than a string of stuttered words with long pauses, regardless of how difficult those words are. Thus, try practicing fluency directly by playing such games! You can do this with any words, including those in your textbook. You can even practice on your own without someone who listens, even if getting feedback is of course more fun!
Nicholas H. Parker is a business coach and marketing manager with huge experience. He used to manage freelancers at the company he worked for. Currently, Nicholas writes articles at Buy Essay Club to share his knowledge with others and obtain new skills. Besides, he is highly interested in the web design sphere.
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