Fluency in your native language- at what age?

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by ayupshiplad, Oct 23, 2007.

  1. ayupshiplad Senior Member

    Scotland, English
    Evening all,

    Having searched through many, many interesting threads about language fluency, I still didn't find anything that answered my question, so forgive me if I'm repeating something which someone else has said :)

    I was wondering if fluency in your native language could possibly be defined by age? I was reading an article about a television show of top children's books and at the end it gave different lists of books which applied to different age ranges that went as such: "Early (5+)", "Developing (7+)", "Confident (9+)" and then "Fluent".

    Is it just me, or could you count an articulate 8 or 9 year old as fluent in their language? Certainly, they won't be aware of very sophisticated structures and some vocabularly, but then again, neither are a lot of adults, even ones that go to university. For example, I have a 20-year-old Glaswegian friend that is in his 3rd year of an accounting degree at university who persistantly uses a past participle instead of the preterit or vice versa (eg: I done, I should have went) despite being well-educated. It is fair to say that he is more fluent in English than a well-spoken 9-year-old that knows to say 'I did' and 'I have done'? :confused: I am rather confused on this issue!
  2. Athaulf

    Athaulf Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    I think the problem is that you're confusing three different issues here :):

    (1) Language acquisition, i.e. the acquisition of proper pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary of one's native language. As far as I know, all existing research unanimously confirms that this rate is more or less uniform for all languages (to the extent that these things can be quantified, of course). Certainly nobody has yet discovered a language that would be more complex than others in the sense that it would take a noticeably longer time for kids to acquire.

    (2) Acquisition of general knowledge about the world -- I'm sure that these children's books you mention differ not only in their linguistic complexity, but also in the general "maturity" of their topics. The rate of acquisition of general knowledge, and its highest level one will eventually reach, can obviously be influenced by the educational system and other social circumstances. Also, it partially overlaps with (1) when it comes to the acquisition of higher registers of vocabulary, which are not a part of the basic vocabulary that everyone learns regardless of formal education.

    (3) Learning to adhere to the prescriptive rules of the standard language that are different from the actual spoken language. This is again an issue of formal education, not language acquisition as such. There is nothing but arbitrary social convention that makes the standard language preferable to any folkish dialect, and people who speak in a way that is formally considered as "substandard" are not linguistically deficient in any way -- they just grew up speaking a somewhat different language than the standard one. Your Glaswegian friend is not "behind" people who speak perfect standard English. Rather, his native language -- the language he picked from his parents and peers as a kid -- has a set of rules for use of participles different from standard English, and he may or may not want to take the effort to switch to the standard language. Ultimately, it will probably depend on whether his job or some other social environment will demand it.
  3. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    As long as I have been aware of my own age I was fluent in my first language - so that means at least at the of 4. I learned reading when I was 6 and some time - I cannot exactly remember when - I began learning English on my own from books and television tuition. This, by the way, was the only thing that prevented the school system from convincing me that I did not have any talent for learning foreign languages.

    According to an IQ test I made when I was 24, I have an IQ of 72. This just to prove that I cannot be anything out of the ordinary.

    My sister spoke fluently before she was 3.
  4. alexacohen

    alexacohen Banned

    Santiago de Compostela
    Spanish. Spain
    I don't think fluency in any language can be possibly defined by age.

    I have twelve years old twins. One of them is presently reading Walt Whitman's poems and The Children of the Earth series.
    The other one is unable to understand either and reads Astérix,Tintin and Prince Valiant (bandes dessinées, I don't remember now the English word).

    So, judging from my own experience, Athaulf is right.
  5. ayupshiplad Senior Member

    Scotland, English
    True :thumbsup: I just thought it rather bizarre to describe only someone of the age of about 10+ as being fluent in a language.

    Hmm well...I tend to disagree! In Glasgow, anyone who writes 'I done' etc in an essay will definitely be corrected. It's not really a dialect, it's just really, really bad English. Yes, Glasgow is a big city, but I've spoken to people from the same area of Glasgow where my friend lives that speaks English properly!
  6. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    I totally aggree with you. All people do not develop the same abilities in the same order, and if you don't try to force anthing the best possible still comes out at the end.

    I always wonder why people think Astérix is something for children to read. To understand the jokes you really need back-ground knowledge that usually only adults have. But if it is a clever kid, ok ...
  7. Mahaodeh Senior Member

    Arabic and English
    I think the age thing is an avarage. On avarage, by the age of five children can speak fluently but that does not mean that if someone can't he's "slower" or if someone that speaks fluently at the age of three is "smarter than others". Maybe an age range is more accurate, such as "between 3 and 7 years of age".

    However, most children by the age of five no longer use "baby-talk" and can construct most of what they say properly as per the spoken language around them. If adults say "I aint" meaning "I am not", so would the five year old. but he is very unlikely to say "lets closs d'load" to mean "lets cross the road" or "he came tomorrow" to mean "he came yesterday". So it may very well depend on what is meant by fluency of language; is it that s/he would drop the baby-talk, or that s/he can speak English like Queen Elisabeth?
  8. Tjahzi

    Tjahzi Senior Member

    Umeå, Sweden
    Swedish (Göteborg)
    I agree. I think one must first define "fluency". Really, when is one fluent in a language? Lack of mistakes? Varied language? Great vocabulary?
  9. nichec

    nichec Senior Member

    Chinese is such a rich language that I think I would never ever dare to say that I am fluent in it, even though that's my first language.
  10. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    I'd say fluent means exactly what the word says - no more no less. If somebody uses a narrow vocabulary in his first language, he can be fluent in a foreign language with a narrow vocabulary. Mistakes? If they don't disturb the communication flow significantly, it can still be "fluent". People make mistakes in their first language too. I don't know from where some people have the idea that fluent means perfect. It does not. Those who expect me to be perfect in a foreign language are rarely perfect in their own language.
  11. alexacohen

    alexacohen Banned

    Santiago de Compostela
    Spanish. Spain
    Oh, sorry, Sepia.

    I meant that Christina cannot read a book if there are only words. There must be something to "see" as well. The more to "see", and the less to read, the better for her.
    So her vocabulary and her language skills do not equate her sister's, even if their age, their education and their background are exactly the same.

    We're always misunderstanding each other.

  12. jazyk Senior Member

    Brno, Česká republika
    Brazílie, portugalština
    This is based on no scientific experimentation but is solely the experience I've had with American and Brazilian children. I think American children at age 3 speak English much better than Brazilian children do Portuguese at the same age. It could have something to do with the Portuguese complex verb system and other irregularities, but I don't know, though.
  13. Musical Chairs Senior Member

    Japan & US, Japanese & English
    Interesting. I often hear parents saying about their 5 year olds, "oh, she's fluent in English, French, and Spanish!" just because she's had enough exposure to it to be convincing enough for her age. Convincing enough because the kid can say "I'm sad because I can't play today" or "Mommy went to the store today and I'm going to help her make dinner!" or very simple things like that. As I've said before, children are not held to the same standards as adults. They are not expected to explain anything in detail, argue extensively, gossip, etc like adults do. It is much harder to be considered fluent in many languages at the age of 30 because there are a lot more things that you're expected to say. It happens pretty often that the supposedly trilingual 5 year old ends up being one and a half lingual by the time she/he is 30.
  14. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Language acquisition is a continuous process.

    First language acquisition is what children do when learning speaking, and they have mastered this first step if they have mastered phonetics, phonology, morphology and syntax to a degree that they can use language without making too many mistakes.
    (For mistakes there will be - always and ever!)
    This first step is reached at an early age, I'd say at about 3 years. Children at this age, or probably a little bit later, indeed do speek fluently.

    But mastery in your native language you never will acquire. There is no such thing as learning or speaking a language 'perfectly'. Regional differences as to the degree of 'fluency' at a certain age might exist, I never did research in this field.

    As for putting degrees or grades of fluency to language acquisition, as suggested by the threadopener, I think that this would be the wrong approach.
    Of course, in books there always are 'levels' of mastery written on them, usually books would be written for certain classes (books for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd class etc) or with age, too.

    But you couldn't possibly compare the degrees of foreign language acquisition (in EU this is A1-A2-B1-B2-C1-C2 where A1 = beginner and C2 = mastery) with first language acquisition.
    First and foremost, grade C2 really does not mean 'mastery' at all; as said earlier, not even native speakers ever could master all aspects of their mother tongue.
    And then, foreign language acquisition is something completely different from first language acquisition.
    If you learn Spanish, you start with very simple sentences, but your teacher will insist that you say them correct. You will start off with present tense and you wouldn't hear of the other tenses until you've acquired some mastery with the most simple things.
    Children, on the other hand, learn everything at once and at the beginning don't say a single sentence which would be grammatically correct. Pronunciation and morphology equally would be all wrong at the beginning.

    Hope you see now the wrong way of yours. :D ;-)
  15. Linguistically, reading has nothing to do with fluency. Most children are fluent at the age of four, as they can do quite advanced linguistic acrobatics with subordinating clauses etc..
  16. Hulalessar

    Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    Amazing when you think that that is only 1461 days.
  17. ayupshiplad Senior Member

    Scotland, English
    That sounds highly probable!

    Thank you all again for replying, I just really couldn't get my head round the idea that children are only considered fluent after about age 10...thanks for restoring my sanity! :D
  18. DerDrache Banned

    Montréal, QC
    This is really impossible to answer. Obviously most kids are going to know how to communicate and understand quite well by the age of ~3, but if you say something to complicated to even an 8 year old they won't really understand fully.

    I definitely wouldn't try to learn a language by interacting with a 5 year old, though in my experience, by the pre-teens a child will know how to communicate very well.
  19. When you say complicated, do you mean linguistically complicated or something that it is abstractly complicated...There is a tremendous difference.
  20. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    An IQ of 72? Are you sure?

    The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale regards IQ between 70-79 as borderline mental retardation.

    100 is considered average, and folk with IQ less than 75 generally have difficulty with general living skills.
  21. zippyoloo

    zippyoloo New Member

    USA [English]
    The English word would be "Comic strips." That is what my French teacher told us when we read Astérix in class.

    My idea of fluency in a language is when you reach the point where you can convey all your thoughts and whatever is in your mind without hesitation and with the correct vocabulary. That is my definition of fluency.
  22. Spectre scolaire Senior Member

    Moving around, p.t. Turkey
    Maltese and Russian
    I am not so sure about the veracity of this statement. ;)

    I have heard from very reliable sources that certain native American languages are so incredibly complex that even long past puberty they are not being properly mastered. And we are now talking about individuals who remain in the tribal area - not bilinguals who may have a much better command of the supra-regional language.

    No wonder linguists show a special interest in such idioms. :thumbsup:
    :) :)
  23. ayupshiplad Senior Member

    Scotland, English
    Good point :thumbsup: Perhaps an 8-year-old couldn't always articulate what they think...
  24. Philippa

    Philippa Senior Member

    Britain - English
    ayupshiplad, aren't there times when we all can't articulate exactly what we think?!
    From what I understand, little children usually start to speak with single words, then pairs of words and finally full sentences. I guess the full sentence stage represents fluency of a sort, provided that they can be understood by others and not just family members. As Sepia says some mistakes wouldn't stop it being fluent speech. And I agree with Musical Chairs that children's speech isn't expected to be as sophisticated as adults', but it can still be fluent. I bet the 'full sentence' stage can't be pinned down to a very precise age, even for a specific child!
    Philippa :)
  25. I would be interested in what a linguist would say. My texts on a 4000 level undergraduate level were on what I based my post(s. Any trained linguists out there?
  26. ayupshiplad Senior Member

    Scotland, English
    Well, obviously ;)

    However it's a lot more common for younger children to experience this and feel more frustrated because they simply do not have the wide range of vocabularly that (most/educated) teenagers and adults have to express their ideas!
  27. So only educated teenagers and adults are fluent? Fluency has nothing to do with vocabulary nor register. I know lower functioning adults that become extremely frustrated when people use words that they don't understand; however, they are indeed fluent. Again, calling any linguist.
  28. Athaulf

    Athaulf Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    Could you please provide some references for this claim, or at least name some of these languages? I would be extremely curious to read about this if it's really true.
  29. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Yes, I'm a linguist by education, though (at the time) not by profession (meaning, I'm not working as a linguist but I've acquired a university degree on linguistics).
    But in my studies I did not concentrate on first (that of a child) and second language acquisition (that of an adult or child which already has accomplished first language acquisition).
    Nevertheless: first and second language acquisition are two fundamentally different things. But I'm gladly offering my opinion (I'm no expert in this field):
    A child could be fluent with 1500 words in its vocabulary - fluency is what I would describe as mastering of basics in phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics. A child does not have to speak perfect to nevertheless speak fluently. Fluency for a child is when it can express itself, even if with limited vocabulary and using rather simple grammatical structures.

    If you refer to your second language acquisition of English (which is what I think though I'm not sure): fluency as an adult I would describe similarly, it is reached as soon as you can express yourself fluently. But in second language acquisition most likely it will take you very long to achieve fluency in morphology and syntax.
    In Slavic languages, morphology and aspect system would prove being most difficult if you'd like to achieve fluency, in English other things would be more difficult to learn, but I have to confess that I'm at a loss right now which ones they'd be.
    (I consider myself being rather fluent in English while I never reached real fluency in Slovenian though I tried very hard.)

    In my opinion, no.
    Although language acquisition is something that takes your whole life time and never could be quite 'finished', fluency nevertheless is accomplished (see above).
    But again, it's my opinion, as this is not my field of expertise.
    I agree. Again.
  30. ayupshiplad Senior Member

    Scotland, English
    My post was in response to the definition of fluency in zippyoloo's opinion:
    On this ground it is fair to say that it is more likely that teenagers or adults (note that I put 'most/educated' in brackets) can achieve fluency by this definition :)
  31. Spectre scolaire Senior Member

    Moving around, p.t. Turkey
    Maltese and Russian
    First time overheard in a PhD proposal at a major American university – without opposition from the panel of professors! The language in question was spoken in the state of Washington.

    Later I got this rather surprising statement, I admit, confirmed by other experts on native American languages.

    I am sorry, no sources available. All my archives are very far from where I am now. :eek: Some handouts would have told me at least the names of the languages.

    When I come to think about it, I wonder if Edward Sapir is also mentioning this late language aquisition in his book Language: An introduction to the study of speech from 1921.
    :) :)
  32. Etcetera

    Etcetera Senior Member

    St Petersburg, Russia
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    What is fluency?;)

    According to the simplest definition, it's the ability to speak a language both quickly and correctly. Whereas most kids are able to speak quickly and rather intelligibly by the age of 4, there are many adults who do a lot of mistakes, even in the simplest words and constructions. I'm not an exception, mind you. I can occasionally put the stress on the wrong syllable, for instance. And, frankly, I wouldn't say that I speak Russian more fluently than English.
  33. Spectre scolaire Senior Member

    Moving around, p.t. Turkey
    Maltese and Russian
    Then, what happens to the vowels?! :confused: As long as vowel reduction in Russian is a corollary of the accent, wouldn’t this fact prevent you from making such mistakes?

    :) :)
  34. Binapesi

    Binapesi Member

    I have a niece who is 3 and a half years old.
    She speaks quite fluently, but like everyone pointed out, what fluency are we talking about exactly?
    I heard her make a word joke when she was 3. And considering how difficult it is to make sentences (correct ones) in Turkish (additions after and after and the vowel harmony), she doesn't make mistakes about that. And I don't speak to her in a way I would speak to baby, any more.

    And as to a research, the average word count of a 3 year-old child speaks with is 1000. I reckon, that means fluency.
  35. http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad5/papers/cooperman2.html
    This would argue for fluency at age three.
    Linguistically, fluency in L1 in normally developed children is achieved before the age of 4.
    According to all the literature that I have read in peer reviewed journals, this statement is true. As far as far as these terribly difficult indigenous languages of Washington state, I would really need to now if this is true L1, without the interference of English to be able to discuss it intelligently.
  36. Etcetera

    Etcetera Senior Member

    St Petersburg, Russia
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    Surprisingly enough, the mistake is quite common, as vowel reduction in Russian isn't as noticeable as, say, in English.

    I'll send you a PM explaining all that in more detail, though. I'm afraid that further discussion may lead us even farther from the thread's topic.;)

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