If approached in the wrong way, learning a new language can become a lesson in frustration and failure. The wrong approach to learning a new language is to carry into your learning environment a belief that one either becomes fluent in a language or that one does not, that one succeeds at learning or that one fails. This approach to language learning, which many have, necessarily makes language fluency an unobtainable goal.
Why? Because even if you are immersed in a foreign language for years, you will not become a native speaker of the language, and don’t forget that not even all native speakers of a language speak it with the same level of competence. So, if you view a foreign language as a single entity, something to be fluent in or not fluent in, you will set yourself up for failure, not because you lack ability but because you have set unobtainable goals. This is where defining fluency for your own purposes becomes an important part of the language learning process.
What is fluency? At the very least, being “fluent” means being able to use your target language to handle important daily tasks, which, thankfully, are quite repetitive. You should be able to go shopping, eat out, meet and greet strangers, use public transportation, and complete other simple tasks without the help of a native speaker. This is quite different than being fluent, for example, in the scientific lingo of your target language. If you want to become fluent in that section of the language, consider it to be an additional fluency, something separate and complete in of itself.
This strategy allows you set obtainable learning goals. Then you can study hard, complete your goals, and feel proud of yourself. Experiencing these successes and accomplishments will increase your motivation and confidence and allow you to become a well-spoken master of foreign languages. If you consider success as either becoming fluent or not fluent, and if you don’t define different levels of fluency, you will become one of the poor, frustrated souls who attempts to become fluent at a language only to quit due to a perceived lack of success.