What is Fluency? – Defining Language Proficiency Levels

Most language learners want to reach fluency. Millions worldwide study foreign languages and reach their language goals. Yet, their language levels often differ.

In truth, most people set themselves out to become fluent without comprehending what that means. So, what is fluency? What does becoming fluent mean? Is it worth it for you to reach it? And how does aiming for fluency affect your language learning journey?

In this post, discover all about this concept. Get a better idea of the difference between each language level and uncover the language exams used to assess students. Come with us as we explore fluency and the levels of language proficiency.

What is Fluency?

Fluency derives from the Latin word fluentem, which means to flow. Hence, this term usually describes a smooth speech pattern. However, its range is much broader and includes language skills like listening, reading, and writing.

Most people associate fluency with someone who speaks another language spontaneously. The idea is that a fluent speaker shows grammatical accuracy in technical discussions as in normal conversations.

However, a person can be fluent without being highly skilled. And neither a fluent nor proficient speaker communicates perfectly all the time. Explore the difference between these concepts.

The term Fluency usually describes a smooth speaking pattern
The term Fluency usually describes a smooth speech pattern

Fluency Vs. Proficiency Vs. Perfection

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As you have probably noticed, fluency, proficiency, and perfection are concepts often mixed. Nonetheless, these three notions are distinct despite relating to one another. As mentioned above, fluency includes language skills like listening, reading, writing, and speaking.

Rather than extensive vocabulary or grammar, fluency is about smoothness when using a second language. But you can be fluent and not evolve from basic conversations carried out in everyday life.


On the other hand, proficiency is about using language with precision and spontaneity. It describes the ability to discuss abstract topics in real-world situations easily. Proficient speakers still make minor mistakes but can use the language at a high skill level.

There are various language proficiency levels, and most students pass through each. In the lower levels, you will only succeed at basic interactions in familiar contexts. With time, you will become more proficient.

"Tu" is used with friends or children, for example.
Proficiency is about using language with precision and spontaneity

You will understand virtually everything you hear and read and be able to discuss unfamiliar topics at normal speed. This way, you will have grown from an elementary to a professional proficiency.


Perfection, on the other hand, is unattainable. For example, a native English speaker does not talk, read, and write perfectly without making mistakes. Thus, a learner should never aim to reach perfection when studying English as a foreign language. The same goes for all other tongues.

You can become fluent and increase your proficiency level with time and effort. You can produce clear speech and writing, read and understand complex text, and understand your new language as much as your mother tongue. Still, perfection will be out of your reach, and it is effortless to strive for it.

What Does it Mean to Be Fluent?

A fluent person can read, speak, and write smoothly in their target language
A fluent person can read, speak, and write smoothly in their target language

Being fluent is all about speaking, writing, and reading smoothly. Thus, it means you are comfortable with your target language and can use it naturally and accurately. This confidence and promptness in using another tongue as you would your native language requires time and effort.

Still, fluency is not a constant. You can have different levels of fluency in distinct subjects and situations. It depends on the range of vocabulary you have acquired. Circumstances like the level of formality each situation requires can also affect your fluency.

One of the main aspects of fluency is the ability to think in your second language. It is a challenging skill to develop. Still, the results are well worth it. With it, you earn the capacity to describe experiences and thoughts using correct grammar and pronunciation.

Why Fluency Matters

Becoming fluent in more than one language opens many opportunities on a professional and personal level. As demands from the market increase, so do the benefits you can get by learning a second language.

As a traveler, you can enjoy a whole new experience if you know the language spoken in the country you are visiting. You can avoid tourist traps, immerse yourself in a new culture, and make friends with native speakers.

Striving toward language fluency also impacts your job prospects. You can work with different companies and foreign organizations and establish partnerships. You also get to explore the markets abroad and maintain positive relationships to grow the business you work at.

As employers put a higher value on soft skills than before, improved communication skills also give you an advantage. A high language level shows resiliency, initiative, and cultural awareness.

use "Voce" in mildly formal situations
Becoming fluent in a foreign language improves your job prospects

You Can Achieve Fluency!

You can become fluent whether you want to achieve personal language goals or attain a specific CEFR level. Emphasize listening and speaking while studying. Put what you learn into practice and push yourself toward higher language levels.

You have already considered the importance of assessing your progress regularly. When you do so, you can create more growth opportunities. Establish new objectives, change your routine, or include different study methods.

Having fun is one of the best ways to progress faster and reduce friction in your learning process. You can incorporate things you enjoy, like music, podcasts, or movies, into your toolkit. This way, you will enlarge your range of familiar topics and absorb high-frequency vocabulary.

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Learn European Portuguese the Instinctive Way!

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At the base of it all is a sound conviction that languages are better learned instinctively, so the process needs to engaging, varied, and enjoyable. Throughout, we used scientifically proven techniques to help you master pronunciation, phrase construction, oral understanding, grammar, and all the necessary bits to get you to fluency. And still, the whole thing is presented as an adventure. It’s a course like no other, trust us!

Measuring Fluency – Language Proficiency Frameworks

When studying a tongue other than your first language, you must assess your progress regularly. Understanding where you are helps you adjust your plan to get where you want to be. It also motivates you to continue working toward reaching your objectives.

There are many ways to track growth. You can use your goals as references or ask a native you practice speaking with to evaluate your language skills. At the same time, you can resort to proficiency tests to rate your development. With time, tests and frameworks have emerged to define the various levels of language ability.


The European Union uses the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). It establishes six language proficiency levels, from A1 to C2, from a basic to a proficient user.

You can apply for a test to get an official certification of your correspondent level. Most European countries also use this scale for foreigners who request citizenship. Usually, they must attest to an intermediate level of proficiency (CEFR level B1) in the country’s official tongue.


Another framework of reference is the ACTFL assessment. The ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) is the organization behind it. You can get a rating for oral and overall proficiency through its exams.

The ACTFL scale divides levels of language proficiency into five categories. They are Distinguished, Superior, Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice. All except the Distinguished level are split into Low, Mid, and High.

Universities and employers worldwide recognize the ACTFL framework. After reading the guidelines, you can order your test and send it to the organization to receive your results. Additionally, it allows you to assess your language proficiency level in over 120 languages.

Language Proficiency Tests

Many people focus on passing a specific language proficiency test. For example, students who are taught English have many exams available. The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) are two examples.

You ca take a language proficiency test to earn a CEFR certification
You can evaluate your progress through an official language proficiency test

You have also analyzed the CEFR and ACTFL tests. These exams by official organisms are like a seal that attests to the learners’ success in language acquisition. They open many doors across all areas of life, from employment to study opportunities.


In Portugal, you will find the Centro de Avaliação de Português Língua Estrangeira (CAPLE) by the Faculty of Letters of the University of Lisbon. It follows the CEFR norms and rates testers according to their language proficiency levels. Many organizations in and outside Portugal recognize the certification provided by CAPLE.

It assesses non-native speakers, awarding them a language proficiency level. The result depends on the test they take and their final grade. To take it, learners can register within the period pre-set for applications. After taking the test, they will receive the results within two months.

Define Fluency For Yourself

Since every language learning journey is unique, you can define fluency according to your personal interest. For example, for tourism, you can stick to basic conversation themes. You might have a limited vocabulary, but within the traveling domain, you will be fluent.

Contrarily, if you want to learn a new tongue for professional motives, you can’t settle for the main ideas. In that case, your definition of fluency should include understanding and composing detailed text. You must develop the ability to decode technical context clues and form sentences in diverse situations.

Being fluent depends not only on your proficiency but also on the situation at hand. Hence, you can aim for distinct levels. You can emphasize subjects you discuss in more detail and often while sticking to the basics with less relevant matters. For example, if you work in marketing for the food industry, it makes little sense to become fluent in fashion.

What is Fluency? – A Final Look Into Foreign Language Skills

Now, you understand what fluency involves and how you can strive for native speaker-level proficiency. You know what divides proficiency levels and can create (or adjust) your learning plan and reach your language goals.

The ultimate goal of acquiring a language is clear and effective communication with others. You can do that through simple phrases that cover your basic needs and grow from there. No matter how much you learn, you will always find opportunities to practice and improve your skills. That is one of the most beautiful aspects of learning new languages.

Did you set yourself out to become fluent in European Portuguese? Here is your first free lesson: Basic Portuguese for complete beginners – your first lesson! Besides, explore Your First Words in Portuguese From Portugal.

Basic Portuguese for complete beginners – your first lesson!

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