Not surprisingly, given my web history, I tend to get emails from places that want to help me learn Japanese. This help usually begins with me paying them money, and my goal is to learn Japanese while spending a minimum of money, so I don’t often take them up on their offers.
One such email, which I got today, began with this question: Is fluency your goal?
Now, that’s actually a really good question. The short answer is “Yes.”
The long answer begins with this question: What is fluency?
Lots of people learning a foreign language have the mysterious fluency as their goal, but what actually is it?
Does it mean
-to be able to understand everything said to you and to be able to make any response that you want
-to be able to converse freely and easily at the level of daily conversation
-to be able to converse at the level of a college educated individual
-to be able to read newspapers and typical novels
-to be able to watch TV or movies and understand everything everyone says
-all of the above
Here’s my own personal definition:
Fluency means being able to think in the target language instead of having to translate.
Now, a couple of points here:
As I said, this is my own personal definition. I don’t pretend that this is how a linguist would define it. In fact, I have no idea how a linguist would define it.
The biggest reason that this is my definition is because it is what I want to achieve with Japanese. Is such a thing possible? Sure. I did it with Spanish, so why not with Japanese?
Notice that it doesn’t actually define a competency level in the target language, but I take it for granted that it includes being able to read and converse at an adult level.
My definition doesn’t guarantee that you can understand everything. Being fluent doesn’t mean that you know every word in the language. By anyone’s definition, I am fluent in English, but I still sometimes meet words that I didn’t know.
So now you know my goal.
Your goal might be anything from, “Survival Japanese” to “daily Japanese” to “being able to read scientific papers in Japanese”. Whatever it is, go for it, and don’t let anybody tell you it can’t be done.