How to Become Fluent in a Language: Everything You Need to Know
Play • 15 min

If you want to become conversationally fluent, you might wonder how many words and phrases you need to learn.

You probably also want to know how long it’s going to take to tie enough threads of the language together to speak without hesitation.

You also want the certainty that the language will in fact wind up deep down inside you and become part of your being.

On this page, you’ll discover the best way to become fluent in a language — and how to define fluency in the first place.

It’s not exactly what a lot of people think. In fact, when you define “fluency” in the best possible way, you can achieve goals in the languages you want to learn with incredible speed and efficiency.

Here’s what this post will cover:

Let’s begin.

What Does It Mean To Be Fluent?

Let’s start our definition by ruling out what fluency isn’t.

Fluency is not:

  • Being 100% accurate every time you speak
  • Knowing every single word in a language
  • Mastering grammar

Think about your own mother tongue.

Do you say things 100% perfectly every time you speak? Of course not. We all stutter sometimes or forget simple words we’ve known our entire lives.

Likewise, any honest person who looks through a dictionary will find hundreds of words they do not know in their mother tongue.

As for grammar, I remember showing off in German to my friend Olly Richards in Berlin several years ago.

When I asked someone I was speaking to if my grammar was correct, the native German speaker shrugged and looked at me as if I was insane for asking such a question.

Here’s the point of this story about asking a native German speaker if my grammar was correct:

Very few native speakers actually know much about their mother tongue. And that means in order to become proficient in a language, you don’t have to either.

The Better Definition You Need When Becoming Fluent In A Language

A better definition of fluency is this:

The ability to complete goals while using another language.

And the main goal?

To use words and phrases to:

  1. Convey thoughts, ideas, emotions, or commands
  2. Understand thoughts, ideas, emotions, or commands

Ideally, you’ll be doing this in pleasant interactions with people you enjoy speaking with — though this is not necessarily always the case.

For example, I’ve dealt more than a few times with immigration offices in Germany. I spoke in German and was able to convey and understand the necessary details in order to accomplish goals completely using German. (But it was not my idea of fun.)

The 5 Stages of Language Fluency

As you start learning a language, you’re going to go through phases or stages.

These can be broken down into:

1. Zero knowledge of the language.

You literally don’t know a thing. You might not even know what the language is called in the language you’re learning. (For example, German is called Deutsch.)

2. Basics of the language, like the alphabet.

In different languages, you’ll face different demands depending on the character set and any symbols you need to learn. Obviously, Asian languages have bigger demands than Russian with Cyrillic, or you might lose a few letters when learning a language like Italian.

3. Starting to speak.

In this stage, you will perhaps have a few words and phrases you can use. You may be practicing entirely on your own or with a teacher.

4. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

In this stage, you’ll ramp up your efforts by using what is called The Levels Of Processing. You need to combine multiple forms of input and output in order to consolidate what you’re learning.

5. Flying solo.

This is when you are able to hold conversations that flow — or at least accomplish goals. You’ll usually find this incredibly pleasurable, but all that matters is that you can understand and be understood pretty much on demand.

You can start understanding interesting aspects of a language at all of these levels. You really don’t have to wait for the fifth stage to understand innuendo, for example. Even just knowing a bit about how certain letters are sounded can give you access to the psychological experience of the language.

You can also work on your accuracy at each stage. In fact, you’ll want to keep coming back to hone the accuracy of each stage over time.

For example, I’ve been studying Sanskrit for three years, and I still learn new things just about the alphabet.

When Are You Fluent In A Language?

How long does it take to become fluent in a language? The answer to this question is either 1) up to you or 2) based on a test you take to assess your progress.

In Europe, you might consider being tested based on the CEFR levels. For a language like Chinese, you might take a formal test based on HSK 1-6. (When discussing how to learn Chinese, I give an example of a journey to passing level 3.)

I suggest you find a “sweet spot” between your own definition of fluency and an external exam.

Again, native speakers rarely know their mother tongue all that well at a technical level, so you probably want to judge the fluidity of your conversations and the ability to accomplish goals in the language above all.

Studying to complete tests can be very useful along the way, but ultimately life itself is the real test.

How To Become Fluent In A Language Fast: 8 Powerful Tips

You came here to understand how to learn a language fluently, so let’s get into 8 things you can do to reach fluency fast.

1. Create a Vision Statement and a Learning Plan

Realize that there are good rules of thumb but no one path that suits everyone. It’s important to accept this simple fact.

Your journey will share some common characteristics with other learners, but ultimately it’s your path to follow.

To ensure you have a path to follow, I suggest you write out a Vision Statement and craft a learning plan.

For example, you can get a journal to document your journey and start on page one with a statement like this:

I will be fluent enough in German in 90 days from now to hold my first conversation about my interests and future plans.

Can you see how powerful this simple statement is? Instead of saying, “I want to learn German,” (or whatever language you’re learning) you now have a clear and crisp goal. It is concrete and specific.

You can also develop a plan based on this goal thanks to its specificity. You know that you need to learn words and phrases around interests and plans. This allows you to create highly targeted learning missions.

To do that, I suggest writing out the exact times of day and locations you will study your language.

For example, you can create a calendar in your journal and set mornings from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. for learning.

2. Gather the Best Possible Learning Materials Using Limits

A lot of language learners overwhelm themselves with too many study materials. In today’s world, it’s easy to make this mistake — it seems like every minute there’s a new book or course you can take.

Instead, follow the advice my friend Olly Richards gave me years ago. Pick just:

  • One language textbook
  • One language course
  • One language teacher

In the beginning, you might not know which are the best for you, so be willing to experiment. Generally, your research will be worth every minute and there are lots of reviews you can read.

Personally, I think Pimsleur audio programs are decent in the beginning for the course you choose. A book should have a nice vocabulary list and sample conversations with full phrases. And a teacher should be responsive to your vision statement and your learning plan.

Simple, right?

It is, just so long as you don’t fall for “shiny new language resource” syndrome and abandon the resources you’ve already invested in. Be a completionist and you’ll be well rewarded.

3. Pick a Memorization Strategy

When you’re just getting started, remembering new words is one of the most difficult challenges. You have to remember sound, meaning, spelling, and in some cases characters or new alphabets.

Mnemonics are your best bet for moving quickly. These include:

To learn each of these in one swift course, please consider completing Memory Palace Mastery:

You’ll also want to consider combining the Memory Palace technique with self-created flash cards.

For example, these cards have linking associations and are themselves linked to a Memory Palace:

4. Book Sessions With Your Teacher In Advance

As part of planning your personal learning sessions, it’s important to spend time with a native speaker.

There are at least two ways to do this:

  1. With a paid teacher
  2. With a tandem partner

Personally, I recommend you get a paid teacher. Sometimes you can find good tandem partners, but they always want at least half the time for their language. Plus, they are rarely trained teachers.

That said, paid teachers are not without their pitfalls. This is why having your vision statement and specific goals laid out for them is a must. Otherwise, they will often take you in directions that will not get you to fluency under any definition.

And the reason to book your sessions in advance is so you have them scheduled. When you have already paid and just need to show up, you’re much more likely to put in the time.

For finding teachers, I recommend italki and Tandem.

5. Use This Tip With Native Speakers

One of the best things you can do is book many sessions with a native speaker and sit with a magazine. Flip through the pages and simply ask, “What is that?” Repeat this question and record everything.

I share a really fun and easy tool for doing this in this best language learning software article.

When you get home or after you end the session, go through the recording and capture the words and phrases you want to commit to memory. Then use your favorite memory strategy to learn them permanently.

When you next speak with your partner, make sure to repeat the new words you’ve learned. Don’t expect your teachers or speaking partners to always monitor this perfectly. Take charge to make sure that you are in alignment with your vision and goals.

6. Read Stories

I first read Kafka and Brecht in German while in university, in 2001. I quickly learned the power of stories for picking up new vocabulary and phrases.

Of course, Kafka was too complex. But Brecht plays can be watched on video with English subtitles, and this made audio exposure to the language a delight.

You can also buy DVDs that have subtitles in the language you’re learning. Watching Hamlet with the German words on the screen was hugely beneficial for me.

But don’t ignore old fashioned books. I suggest this Teach Yourself collection of stories for multiple languages as a wonderful source of graded reading material.

Beelingua is an interesting app with multiple stories that you should consider as well.

7. Translate Articles Based On Your Interests

My friend Luca Lampariello got me into the idea of translation for language learning — specifically based around topics you’re interested in and want to be able to talk about.

I’ve done this quite a bit, and picking a book of interviews with my favorite German band was a great way to develop speaking powers with the kinds of Germans I hung around with most: musicians.

Again, if you’re clear about your vision, it’s easier to think up missions like these and plan them out.

To get started, try using Google translate to find some keywords. If you’re into classical music, for example, figure out how that is said in the language you’re learning. Then search Google for articles about that topic using the term you discovered.

To translate, I suggest going word for word with a dictionary. Write out your translation by hand, which is known to help memory much more than typing.

Pro tip: I recommend that you don’t spend too long on any translation effort in one sitting. 10-15 minutes will do. Always take note of especially interesting words and phrases so you can memorize them.

8. Reevaluate Your Vision Statement And Craft New Missions

Thanks to the focus you’ve brought to the task of developing your fluency, you’ll have come a long way much faster than most who dabble in language learning.

As you set new vision statements over the years, think about the kinds of missions and goals you can set that will give you a useful boost immediately. This part of the process is important because the further into the future you set the achievements, the more you invite delay and frustration.

Be willing to break things down into smaller achievements. Even if the rewards are much smaller as a result, you’ll get more of them, more often.

And always be realistic about how native speakers actually use the language you’re learning. Think more about the kinds of people you want to speak with and think about working on missions that reflect goals like:

  • Improving accuracy in a regional dialect you live in or want to visit.
  • Developing more vocabulary inside of a specific interest area (like art, science, or philosophy).
  • Develop personal ways to develop your proficiency.
  • Consider having your accuracy and proficiency tested by external tests (if relevant to your goals). Use these to craft your missions accordingly.

In sum, we always want to create “Quick Victories” for ourselves.

It’s not really about creating motivation. Rather, it’s about laying the neurochemical basis for learning consistently so we always keep going – almost on autopilot – even when we don’t feel like studying. (Which can and will happen to everyone.)

Finally, add a bit of “Zen” to the process. By this suggestion, I mean let go of the outcome.

A lot of learners chase away success because they cling to unrealistic goals or otherwise make a poorly conceived outcome a must. When you can relax and focus on having fun, learning a language is not only more fun and much easier, it also feels like it’s just happening naturally.

As some people say, no one “learns” languages. They are only acquired. For that to happen, you just have to rig the game so you can.

Becoming Conversationally Fluent Is Easy And Fun

As you can tell, the exact definition of “fluency” is flexible. I suggest you mix things up by crafting your own personal standard and working towards at least one external evaluation.

Whatever you do, please don’t confuse using apps as actual language learning practice.

I haven’t included anything about them in this article because they’re not really how successful language learners operate. At most, they might use Anki or some related SRS program, but I have found in my many years of speaking with polyglots that it’s not the tool.

Instead, it’s the strategic use of the tool in a context that gets you plenty of speaking practice with real humans that matters.

When it comes to making sure you can speak with natives, one of the most powerful tools is the Memory Palace technique. It lets you rapidly pile up your arsenal of words and phrases.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to use it for language learning, register for this free training series now. It will take you through the most effective and efficient way you can learn any language much faster, simply by playing a kind of game in your mind as you use a focused set of resources.

It’s also the best tool I know of for rigging the game neurologically in your favor because of how it gives you those “quick victories” practically on demand.

Plus, we have studies that show how powerful these techniques are for experiencing the brain-preserving benefits of bilingualism.

And let me know: Which of these tips helped you the most? What language or languages are you learning at the moment?

HR Happy Hour
HR Happy Hour
Steve Boese Trish McFarlane
HR Happy Hour 464 - Workplace Movie Hall of Fame: Apollo 13
HR Happy Hour 464 - Workplace Movie Hall of Fame: Apollo 13 Hosts: Steve Boese, Trish McFarlane This episode of Happy Hour is made possible by Workhuman®. The world is watching the leaders of today and tomorrow. Modern employees want a workplace where they’re respected, seen, appreciated, and heard – and they’re demanding it. And thriving organizations like Cisco, Merck, and LinkedIn have realized the immense benefits of putting the human at the center of work. Get your copy of the book, “Making Work Human,” on Amazon and discover how And by Paychex, one of the leading providers of HR, payroll, retirement, and insurance solutions for businesses of all sizes.The fourth annual 2020 Paychex Pulse of HR Survey provides an in-depth look at how HR professionals are contributing to the success of the companies they serve. Go to today to download your copy of the 2020 Paychex Pulse of HR Survey report This week on the HR Happy Hour Show we are back with the Workplace Movie Hall of Fame series talking about the HR, workplace and leadership lessons from the 1995 movie Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon and Ed Harris and directed by Ron Howard. Apollo 13 offers lots to talk about from a workplace point of view - the need for calm leadership, the importance of succession planning, and why it is important to trust your employees to do their jobs, the jobs you hired them for. And it is also just a great story. This was a fun show - thanks for listening and remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
32 min
BookThinkers: Life-Changing Books
BookThinkers: Life-Changing Books
Nicholas Hutchison
41. Brian Tracy: Author of Eat That Frog! for Students
The World’s #1 Personal Development Book Podcast! In this episode, I have the pleasure to interview author Brian Tracy. Listen to this incredible resume. Brian is Chairman and CEO of Brian Tracy International, a company specializing in the training and development of individuals and organizations. He has consulted for more than 1,000 companies and addressed more than 5,000,000 people in 5,000 talks and seminars throughout the US, Canada and 70 other countries worldwide. He has studied, researched, written and spoken for over 30 years in all of my favorite subjects: economics, history, business, sales, philosophy and psychology. He is the top selling author of over 70 books that have been translated into dozens of languages. Our conversation today is all about Brian’s brand-new release, Eat That Frog! for Students: 22 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Excel in School. It was such an honor for me to speak with Brian. He is truly a legend in the personal development space. I can’t wait for everyone to learn from him in this discussion. Please enjoy this amazing conversation with Brian Tracy. Today’s episode is sponsored by Audible. Try Audible for free: The purpose of this podcast is to connect you, the listener, with new books, new mentors, and new resources that will help you achieve more and live better. Each and every episode will feature one of the world's top authors so that you know each and every time you tune-in, there is something valuable to learn. If you have any recommendations for guests, please DM them to us on Instagram. ( If you enjoyed this show, please consider leaving a review. It takes less than 60-seconds of your time, and really makes a difference when I am trying to land new guests. For more BookThinkers content, check out our Instagram or our website. Thank you for your time!
54 min
The Working With... Podcast
The Working With... Podcast
Carl Pullein
Should You Automate Your Time Management and Productivity?
This week, I am answering a question about automating your productivity and time management. You can subscribe to this podcast on: Podbean | Apple Podcasts | Stitcher | Spotify | TUNEIN Links: Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website | Linkedin Get the FREE Annual Planning Sheet Get the Evernote Annual Planning Sheet Productivity Masterclass | Create your own custom daily workflow Course Carl’s Time Sector System Blog Post The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System Carl Pullein Learning Centre Carl’s YouTube Channel Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page Script Episode 166 Hello and welcome to episode 166 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show. These days we hear a lot about automation, AI and machine learning, but what does all this mean for our personal productivity and time management? And can the current state of automation work for us by helping us to improve our productivity and time management? That’s the question I am answering this week. Now, before we get to the question, I just wanted to give you a heads up about a special offer I am running at the moment. During my end of year break, I came to realise that the key to seamlessly being able to get your work done is a combination of good habits and workflows—or routines. I know this can sound a little boring—doing the same thing day after day—but it isn’t really about doing the same thing day after day. The tasks and projects you work on every day will be different, but what does make a significant difference to your ability to get your important work done is to develop a workflow that you habitually follow every day. And that is what my Productivity Masterclass course is all about. It teaches you how to build you very own workflows so you have a structure designed to keep you focused on what’s important that you eventually unconsciously follow every day. It is the key to building amazing productivity habits and goes a long way to putting you back in control of your time, So for the next few days, I am offering 20% off my Productivity Masterclass: Building Your Very Own Workflows. It’s an amazing course and one I am sure you will get so much value from. Full details of this course are in the show notes. Okay, time for me to hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question. This week’s question comes from Ruth. Ruth asks: Hi Carl, I read a lot about automation, AI and machine learning and it seems everyone is using it. But I don’t really know what it means or how to set it up and use it. Do you have any tips on getting the most out of this technology? Hi Ruth. Thank you for your question. Now the first thing we need to establish is that AI is a long way from being what a lot of people understand by the term “artificial intelligence”. It is not ‘real’ AI yet. All supposedly AI apps and tools are still based on basic algorithms and binary code. We are still a long way from achieving true artificial intelligence. Machine learning is different to AI in that your device is watching what you regularly do and uses that information to present the best options for you. Machine learning is heavily used in your mobile devices these days and can be very useful. However, the real problem with the current iteration of AI and machine learning is they will never know how you are feeling, what your current mood is, whether you had a fight with a coworker or how much sleep you got last night. Humans are not machines, we are emotional beings with varying levels of energy based on our sleep, mental wellbeing and the food we have eaten. So what can you do to automate your work that does understand your current energy levels, mood and wellbeing? Well, that comes down to you and the workflows you set up. One of the things I realised last year is when you develop your own workflows and use the technology we have today to do the organising for you, you develop systems that work for you and because you retain complete control over what is shown to you, you can take in account how you are feeling on any given day. Let me give you an example. Many people have a morning routine. Now, morning routines are a great way to start the day with consistency and to build a great structure for your day. For some people, a morning routine may include exercise, for others, it might simply be a healthy breakfast and ten minutes of meditation. The beauty of starting building a workflow with a morning routine is that you can experiment a little with this. If you are using a task manager, such as Apple’s Reminders, Microsoft’s ToDo or Todoist you can create a recurring set of tasks that pop up in your today view every day. What you want to be doing is making sure they pop up at the top of your list every day. To do that, all you need do is add a time to the task. Tasks with times will generally be at the top of your list. If you are a Todoist user, I would recommend you use labels to denote your morning routines. You can then create a filter from that label to show you only the routines that are due today. Now the goal here is not to rely on your task manager to remind you every day what you want to be doing for your morning routine. Hopefully, after a few weeks, you will automatically wake and begin your morning routine. When I developed my morning routine, I had each part of the routine in Todoist, but as the weeks went by I soon no longer needed Todoist to remind me and I removed the tasks from Todoist. I now habitually start my morning routine the moment I get out of bed. I have taken this automated workflow further now. I use my task manager to build a daily workflow that starts with my morning review—that’s a two-minute review of my tasks and appointments for the day and then I move into my important work for the day list and that is where I stay until the end of the day when I go through my closing down list that reminds me what tasks I should do to close down the day and prepare for tomorrow. What you will find is that there are some things you need to do every day, others perhaps three times a week and some just once. So adding the appropriate dates to these and setting them to recurring when they need doing allows you to create your own automation. Task managers are designed to show you what you need to see when you decide you need to see them. To do that you add dates and where necessary times and you can set these to recur. Another way to create automation is in your calendar. Again, you set them up and make them recurring. For example, you may decide you want to exercise four times per week. So you set a recurring event in your calendar to exercise. That could be Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Just put them in your calendar at the appropriate time and set them to recur. The same can be for studying or taking a course. Decide when you want to do your study and put it in your calendar and set it to recur. Doing things this way means you can easily change things around if you are not feeling too good, or for some reason or other things change and you are unable to follow your workflow. I’ve found the best automations are the ones you set up for yourself. Doing it yourself allows you to mentally prepare for the task or event and as long as you have some self-discipline you will start to do it. I’ve had a lot of problems with automation services such as IFTTT or Zapiers. These services can be used to join different apps together. For example, if you star an email in Gmail, it will be added to your task managers’ inbox. Or if you add a task with a date and time to your task manager it will be added to your calendar. There’s a lot of little automations like this and in theory, they are great…when…
13 min
Thinking Critically
Thinking Critically
Intelligent Speculation
#28: Facts, Not Fear
In this episode, Jonathan is speaking with Arjun Moorthy about facts, not fear. They discuss: •Why he decided to found The Factual and its mission. •How context is important when presenting facts and the concept of framing. •The importance of looking at credible news sources that are from across the political spectrum. •How The Factual's algorithm rates news articles for bias. •The barrage of information that people are exposed to on a daily basis and how, due to lack of time, it overwhelms the average person to the point where they are unable to discern good from bad information. •American's growing distrust in traditional media sources. •The current state of polarization in the U.S. •And other topics. Arjun Moorthy is the Ceo and Founder of The Factual - a company that finds and delivers the most credible stories on the most important news topics using a transparent, unbiased machine-learning engine. The Factual aims to address the increasing polarization of society, driven in large part by social media, by surfacing the most credible stories across the political spectrum and delivering them via a daily email newsletter, app, and website. Prior to founding The Factual, Arjun was Vice President of Business Development at HubSpot, the industry leader in inbound marketing. Arjun has a computer engineering degree from the University of Waterloo and an MBA from Stanford University. You can find The Factual's website here: You can connect with them on social media here: Facebook: Twitter: Instagram: LinkedIn: You can find this episode on our YouTube channel as well: This show is supported and produced by Final Stretch Media. Final Stretch believes in creating something that disrupts attention spans and challenges the marketing status quo. They do this by creating high quality visual content that captivates your audience. You can find them on: Facebook: Instagram: This show is also supported by QuikLee; the creators of Brain Racers. The world's first ever live racing competition for the brain. Download their app and play live on the weekends on an iOS device against the world. We have raced and it's a blast! App Download: Our last sponsor creates survival technology as well as camping and other outdoor gear. Outer Wild's ultimate goal is to provide clean technologies for everyday devices as they are driven to create a more sustainable world. Use the code IS on your next purchase and receive an additional 10% off! Website:
1 hr 1 min
Clear search
Close search
Google apps
Main menu