Does Knowing a Language Mean Fluency?


When I hear people saying “I know 7 languages”, I generally have second thoughts about this. For me, without putting too much effort and too much time, one cannot be fluent enough; 7 languages mean a whole life effort 🙂 I know French, I can translate from French with the huge help of (!) a dictionary but it is hard-almost impossible- for me to communicate in French. When I say “I know French”, I hesitate. I just know how to translate from French. When I went to France, after 2 days I got confidant and began to start daily conversations but that’s all…

However, it is said that there are people who can really know and speak many many languages. In her article, Marla Popova talks bout these people and she also introduce a novel on the same issue: “Babel No More”. Thanks to Paul Sulzberger, I discovered this article and this book on Twitter. I consider buying this book. My birthday is coming. Anyone thinking about buying me a present? 🙂

“Nineteenth-century Italian cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti, a legend in his day, was said to speak 72 languages. Hungarian hyperpolyglot Lomb Kató, who taught herself Russian by reading Russian romance novels, insisted that “one learns grammar from language, not language from grammar.” Legendary MIT linguist Ken Hale, who passed away in 2001, had an arsenal of 50 languages and was rumored to have once learned the notoriously difficult Finnish while on a flight to Helsinki. Just like extraordinary feats of memory, extraordinary feats of language serve as a natural experiment probing the limits of the human brain — Mezzofanti maintained that “god” had given him this particular power, but did these linguistic superlearners really possess some significant structural advantage over the rest of us in how their brains were wired? That’s precisely what journalist and self-described “metaphor designer” Michael Erard explores in Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners — the first serious investigation into the phenomenon of seemingly superhuman multilingual dexterity and those who have, or claim to have, mastered it, and a fine addition to our favorite books about language…For the rest, click here.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. That depends on one self estimate as I have experienced some ones
    who thought them selves are professional in languages but they did proof they are linguistically poor .
    So I thought my self is having the same question that you your self have???
    but in depth I say No not every one say I am a professional linguistic is a professional including my self.


  2. Posted by Stephen Soltesz on January 31, 2012 at 04:38

    I speak, in current times, three, my native + two others, and can speak but not perfectly comprehend French. Keep in mind current travel patterns in the world for your home country, and more importantly, once seeds are planted on a listening level, you may grow and adapt with that language and culture, politics and art included, over the course of time and world events ensuing. I’ve been with the Italian and Spanish -speaking worlds for over twenty years, yet America has a different view of me as their home citizen in my native tongue. Maturation with more than one culture to balance has its challenges and allies.


  3. Posted by Stephen Soltesz on January 31, 2012 at 04:59

    Monolinguists are pragmatic–the side of the brain they use is not always good with your creative personality that adapted to a foreign culture to learn a language and interpret. As well, it’s not that you have no pragmatism to reflect them with–you are the flexible one. Stay that way, and try to develop concrete, modern solutions to our problems in the field, especially job-related, as is the current need besides opportunity.


  4. Re: When I hear people saying “I know 7 languages”, I generally have second thoughts about this.

    Me too.

    I knew a guy once who claimed he spoke 12 languages but seemed to have nothing interesting to say in either of them.


  5. […] Conference Does reading help or hurt your writing voice? Can machines cope with language nuances? Does Knowing a Language Mean Fluency? Discursive Persons and the Limits of Translation Wordsmith: Words that Should be Banned in 2012 Are […]


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