Continuing yesterday’s theme, sort of (not all posts on blog are completely random), my question for you today is at what stage can you claim that you ‘speak’ a language, are ‘fluent’ or ‘proficient’ in a language or ‘know’ a language? And when you make such claims, what do you mean by them?
My English dictionary defines ‘fluent’ as “able to speak or write a specified foreign language with facility”. By this definition, I’m fluent in Mandarin Chinese, and nearly fluent in French, Welsh and Irish. I can read and understand a number of other languages fairly well, but can’t speak or write them nearly as well.
Unless you grow up speaking two or more languages, it’s very difficult, though not impossible, to be as proficient in a foreign language as you are in your mother tongue. If you immerse yourself completely in a language, you will probably eventually acquire native or near-native proficiency, but at the same time you might loose some of your proficiency in your mother tongue. This certainly happened to me to some extent when I was in Taiwan – my Mandarin became fluent, but I was not keeping up with all the latest developments in English.