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What is fluency? Listening vs. speaking

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Luxi
9 minutes ago, mungouk said:

Fluency is mainly about "production"

 

I believe reading and understanding what one reads is also production in a way. The proof is in being able to explain it to others or discuss a point - albeit stuttering and hesitating searching for the right words that are there somewhere in one's brain.

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NinjaTurtle
5 minutes ago, mungouk said:

Guys, you're disagreeing with the established definition of "fluency". 

 

In my opinion, an illiterate person who speaks fluently is fluent. If that goes against the "accepted definition", then I am all for it.

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mungouk
1 minute ago, Luxi said:

I believe reading and understanding what one reads is also production in a way.

7 minutes ago, NinjaTurtle said:

I disagree. A person can be illiterate and still be fluent. I guess it is just how we look at it. 

 

Production means speaking and writing.  "Producing" words.

 

These are well accepted terms in language learning. Whether you agree or disagree isn't the question here.

 

 

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NinjaTurtle
1 minute ago, mungouk said:

These are well accepted terms in language learning. Whether you agree or disagree isn't the question here.

 

It is very much the question. I do not believe an idea just because people in ivory-covered towers tell me I have to believe something.

 

I guess we just have to agree to disagree on this one.

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mungouk
1 minute ago, NinjaTurtle said:

In my opinion, an illiterate person who speaks fluently is fluent. It that goes against the "accepted definition", then I am all for it.

 

An illiterate person is someone who can't read or write.


This has nothing to do with whether you can speak or listen-and-understand.

 

Perhaps you should go back and read this thread again? 

 

I think we may be getting bogged down here in a misunderstanding of terminology.

 

 

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mungouk
1 minute ago, NinjaTurtle said:

I do not believe an idea just because people in ivory-covered towers tell me I have to believe something.

 

Neither is this the question. 

 

Get over yourself, we're trying to have a sensible discussion here. 

 

 

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Luxi

I was told by someone who knew him, that the translator and scholar Arthur Waley couldn't really speak Chinese. Yet, he produced some of the most beautiful, moving and correct English translations of Chinese poetry (from pre-Qin, Han, Tang) that one is likely to find, even now. He also produced a superb abridged version of "Journey to the West".

 

Whether one can call Waley fluent or not seems kind of irrelevant in light of his production.

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mungouk
6 minutes ago, Luxi said:

Whether one can call Wailey fluent or not seems kind of irrelevant in light of his production.

 

Well, if he could write, then he could produce. 

 

Whether he took hours or weeks is a different discussion... but point well taken.

 

I'm sure that history is littered with academics who could read Latin, Greek, Sanskrit etc but wouldn't have been able to sustain a conversation.

So... I guess the conclusion from this is that writing doesn't count as fluent production, only speaking (and, as mentioned, to some extent listening inasmuch as it allows fluid conversation).

 

 

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Luxi

 

 

I have heard too many stupid but perfectly 'fluid' speeches of the kind that renders language quite pointless, to be convinced. Give me a good writer and a brilliant though muted translator any time 😁

 

 

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Shelley

I have mentioned this before.

My grandfather was Professor of Languages and head of the language dept of Bonn university between the wars.

He could speak, read and write 7 languages, he could also read and write another 7. He always made this distinction but never made it sound like it lessened his abilities.

He translated Shakespeare in to Arabic. He complied and translated North African Idioms in to English and French and too much more to go into here.

He also taught many, many students several languages.

 

I do think you can be fluent but not speak the language, but if you can speak and understand but not read or write you are still fluent, just means you are illiterate.

 

There are many people around the world who can speak their mother tongue "fluently" but can not read or write.

 

For me to be fluent means you can speak to people in another language on topics and subjects that you can in your own language. A distinction must be drawn between vocabulary and grammar, syntax etc. I am fluent in English but I lack the vocabulary to conduct a conversation on quantum mechanics or meteorology although I am aware of these things.

 

Origin from the dictionary - late 16th century: from Latin fluent- ‘flowing’, from the verb fluere 

 

So flowing, easy, articulate. You can even describe some one's runny nose as fluent.

 

From the dictionary again - able to flow freely; fluid.   "a fluent discharge from the nose

 

To me this describes it perfectly - flowing speech. No more needs to be said in my opinion.

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Moshen
Quote

Fluency is the flow and efficiency with which you express your ideas, particularly when speaking. A few grammar mistakes may appear here and there in the explanation, but it should be delivered in a way that is easy to understand and shows how comfortable you are with the language.

 

According to this definition, people might not be fluent in their own language!  There are some famous academics (one of whom I had as a professor) who pause very often in order to express their ideas... in their native language... because they are constantly questioning what is the right thing to say.

 

If some people don't count as fluent in their own language, which they have total command over, because they are halting in expressing themselves (due to their thinking habits or for some other reason), then I believe there is something wrong with the definition.  "Established" or not!

 

Looked at another way, this definition gives a behavioral definition of fluency which doesn't necessarily reflect actual mastery of the language.  Again, if you do have total mastery of a language, whether your native tongue or a second language, yet don't have a conventional flow in your speaking, then you wouldn't count as fluent by this definition.  That's what's wrong with the definition.  It doesn't measure language mastery. 

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abcdefg

I would like to see a definition of fluency that includes understanding and being able to even occasionally produce some humor. Something beyond "sight gags" or slapstick in which the audience laughs when the clown trips and falls down. What I mean is humor that hinges on subtleties like puns and double entendres. Shades of meaning. Perhaps intentional exaggerations or the opposite. Humor always trips me up. I completely fail at humor in Chinese. 

 

I tried to tell a friend a joke earlier this morning and it was about like trying to extract one of my own molar teeth. Slow, strenuous and painful. (We were speaking Chinese of course.)  Sometimes I watch 相声 on TV; occasionally even famous routines by famous performers. I "get" at most 30% of it. The audience laughs and I completely miss the punch line. When I watch the news, it's with better comprehension, thank goodness, maybe 80 to 90%. Of course that's not a rigorous test, because the pictures help a lot; they make it easy to formulate a decent guess or two or three. 

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Shelley

@abcdefg I wonder if one problem with humor is that humor can differ enormously from country to country. What one nationality finds funny another is left cold.

 

Here in the UK its a "well known fact that Germans have no sense of humor" this of course is untrue but widely believed. I think thats because what they find funny we don't. They have, what I consider, a love of Mr. Bean that is disproportionate to its actual humor. For me personally I can't bear to watch him. 

 

I only know one foreigner who has mastered cross talk and that of course is Da Shan, I don't expect even if you could understand the vocabulary that you could understand the humor.

 

I sort of agree with you that would show a high degree of fluency but I think you need to take into account national humor.

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imron
4 hours ago, Shelley said:

Here in the UK its a "well known fact that Germans have no sense of humor"

As shown in this documentary

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DavyJonesLocker
4 hours ago, Shelley said:

. I think thats because what they find funny we don't. They have, what I consider, an love of Mr. Bean that is disproportionate to its actual humor. For me personally I can't bear to watch him

 

Me too, I never found him funny.

 

Even UK is pretty divided on humour. So many people loved the BBC "The Office" yet many hated that deadpan humour. 

 

When they redid it in America , many British thought they destroyed the comic value yet it pretty popular over there.

 

I think also there is even a split between North and South comedy in the UK. Peter Kay hugely popular in the north, yet not so much in London etc. He mentioned this himself. 

 

Hence I think in a country as vast as China there must be regional differences in comedy so a foreigner stepping into it will have a lot of difficulty understanding it. 

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mungouk
16 hours ago, Moshen said:

That's what's wrong with the definition.  It doesn't measure language mastery.

 

The previously-mentioned article, very short and worth a look, is explaining the difference between fluency and accuracy — very relevant to this discussion (maybe until we arrived at Mr Bean).

 

C2 in the CEFR represents "Mastery or proficiency".  So it may be worth reading how Mastery is defined by CEFR if you want a workable definition.

For those who are unable to click on the link, C2 defines mastery level in fluency as:

 

Quote

Can express him/herself spontaneously at length with a natural colloquial flow, avoiding or backtracking around any difficulty so smoothly that the interlocutor is hardly aware of it.

 

 

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NinjaTurtle

Hi everyone,

 

One thing I have noticed about being fluent is an ability to handle very complex sentences, and being able to handle them effortlessly. One sentence I have all of my students learn to say is, “If I go to Russia, I am going to have to be able to speak Russian.” (I have yet to have any student who can handle this sentence at all.)

 

A sentence I just heard today from a native English speaker was, “It really took me a long time to figure out how to do that stuff.” (I give sentences a number that shows the level of difficulty, and I say this sentence has a difficulty-level of six. Anything over a difficulty-level of three is just too hard for most of my students.)

 

Only if a student could handle these sentences effortlessly would I consider saying the student is fluent.

 

Another thing is simple prepositions. A question like, "Which street do you live on?" tends to throw my students for a loop.

 

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mungouk
3 hours ago, NinjaTurtle said:

difficulty-level of six. Anything over a difficulty-level of three is just too hard for most of my students.

 

Interesting. Are you benchmarking your personal rating scale to anything external like CEFR?

 

There are established norms for things like understanding 1st, 2nd and 3rd conditionals; certain tenses and so on, assuming we're talking about English.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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suMMit
On 5/27/2019 at 2:25 AM, NinjaTurtle said:

But I still present these types of challenges, because my students need them.

 

My list of intermediate-level topics:

Self-intro
Family
Friends

- My friend who has a 'weird' personality
My house/apartment/dorm room
My dream house (This topic is very popular with Chinese students.)
Shopping

- Shopping for food
Cooking (how to cook rice, cook hotpot, etc.)
Eating out
Getting sick
Getting injured
Hanging out – free time

- Playing video games ("I made ten million points and the top level!")

- I know how to fix a computer.

- I know how to work on a car, change a tire, change oil, etc.
Typical day, typical weekend
Chores, cleaning, laundry, etc.
Sports, doing and watching (badminton, bicycle, skateboard, skating, ice skating, snow skiing, water skiing, etc.)

- Extreme sports (skydiving, bungee jumping, climbing up the face of a mountain, etc)
Exercising (running, jogging, weightlifting, working out, running 100 meters and 800 meters and 1 kilometer, etc.) ("If I ran 800 meters I would die!")
Music – listening and playing

- I want to learn how to play the guitar, piano, I am learning now, etc.
Watching movies

- Tell the story of the movie Titanic.
Watching TV
Traveling in China
Traveling to foreign countries
Transportation (bus, train, etc.)
Car
Money
Weather

- Getting caught in the rain while waiting for the bus

- Dealing with a pickpocket on the bus

- Dealing with bad weather (got caught in a snowstorm, drenched in the rain, slipped and fell on some ice, got heatstroke, got blinded by dust, typhoon damage, etc.)
Pets
Animals

- Exotic animals and pets ("My friend has a pet boa constrictor!" "I want to ride a horse and ride an elephant.")
National holidays
- Summer vacation, etc.
My life story (includes high school life)
- The first thing I remember in my life

- An injury I had as a small child (scraped my knee, fell off my bike, cut myself, burned myself, got an injection, etc. I had my tonsils out.)

- I stole some candy when I was a child.

- My best teacher in elementary school

- My worst teacher in elementary school
College life

- I flunked a test or class.

- The Gaokao was a nightmare.

- I wanted to study music, but they forced me to study engineering!
Studying English

- My parents force me to study English.
Work
My life plan
My career

- My dream job (be a rock star, astronaut, symphony pianist, president of this university, president of China, etc.) I want to be a bum and stay home all day!

- Membership in The Party
Fashion

- Shopping for clothes
Getting my hair cut/done
Generation gap

- Arguments I have/had with my parents (especially a girl who argues with them about clothes/money)
Chinese culture
- Food (how to cook using a steamer basket - 蒸笼)
- Language
- Chinese characters
- radicals
- Chinese art and paintings
- Chinese ‘dance’ and stage
- Chinese music
- KTV
- Games – cards, “Elephant Chess”, weiqi, etc.
- Chinese history
Pollution
- Air pollution
- Bus exhaust
- Water pollution
- Supermarket plastic bags – good or bad?
- My hometown’s environment
Religion
- Buddhism
- Islam
- Christianity, etc., as they are practiced in China

- Tell the story of Journey to the West (西游记). Tell only the important points in five minutes!

Philosophy

- Confucianism

- Tao

This is a pretty cool list. Do you have a similar, lower level Elementary list of topics?

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NinjaTurtle
11 hours ago, suMMit said:

Do you have a similar, lower level Elementary list of topics?

 

A Lower-level 'list' is all about grammar; present tense, past tense, future tense, "I want", "I have to", if-then, present perfect, subjunctive mood, etc. (A great deal of teaching a language consists of increasing a student's passive knowledge only, and I am totally against this.)

 

I know that Chinese does not have an official past tense, but a beginning-level learner has to know what Chinese uses for past tense. (I still have a lot of trouble using 的 instead of 了 when using Chinese ‘past tense’..) In my opinion, a student who tries to discuss the above list of topics without a solid foundation in grammar is making a mistake.

 

If you are interested, I have more ideas on how to practice beginning-level grammar. (I place a strong emphasis on speaking, and I have ideas on how beginning-level learners can practice speaking.)

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