Fluency is not a Finish Line

Today I got a certificate stating I have passed a B2 German exam!

 

So, we’ve heard a lot of people say over the years, “Im just not wired to speak more than one language,” or the more common variation, “I’m too old to learn another language now. You have to do that when you’re young; kids learn so fast!!!”

And despite TONS of research to the contrary, even Mal and I have shared that sentiment. Just look at these exact quotes:

“I wish I had paid more attention on Spanish (Nick)/French (Mallorie) in high school.”

— Us, all the time.

And when you tell some you speak another language, the question is normally, “are you fluent?”

What is “fluency?!?”

The problem is that we think of fluency as a finish line. It’s a test you can pass, or a point you come to where you know everything you will ever need to know about a language.

Ask an American what fluency means and you’re likely to hear many different answers, but almost all will impose a really high and impossibly challenging standard nearing “native speaker” abilities.

But we will never be native speakers in a foreign language. That’s why it’s foreign!

We have been in Germany for five months this week. And I can say comfortably that we have both reached fluency.

Can people still tell we ain’t from these parts? Yes.

Still lots of words we don’t know? Undoubtedly.

But we can carry on conversations entirely in German, without relying on our English crutches. We can shop, go to church, participate in conversations, have social outings and picnics to get to know new friends, play in the band at church, and resolve conflicts with out landlady without English.

I would call that fluent.

And yet this week we went to the doctor and I (the more fluid speaker of the two of us) had an incredibly difficult time understanding and conversing with my doctor. This was a new environment with all new vocabulary. What do you call your back, neck, spine, ankle, stomach, tonsils, or elbow? And what types of things do they do? I couldn’t describe that they stretch, or are tight, or why that is the case. I couldn’t describe my pain.

Does that mean I’m not fluent? I hope not, or I won’t be fluent until I’ve experienced every possible situation and all their specific vocab many times over.

Fluency is not a finish line, and when we make that the goal in our mind, it only accentuates how imperfect our language skills are. It ultimately discourages us from getting out there and communicating, building on what we know.

When fluency is a finish line, you never feel comfortable until you’ve reached it.

When fluency is left fluid, the joy comes in improving my fluency wherever I am, be it greetings and ordering in a restaurant, or going to the doctor.

Are you fluent in the Gospel?

The same principles are true in evangelism, too.

Do you assume you aren’t “fluent,” and thus don’t share your faith with people? Do you rely on the “professionals” to talk to your friends about their relationship with Jesus, or to let yours shine?

OR, should we view gospel fluency as an ever-growing work in progress?

We should be excited to share what we are learning, when we are learning it! Excited to “try out” new things when we learn them. It’s only through learning to be comfortable with the discomfort that you learn a new evangelistic “vocabulary:” words to use in a variety of situations, to speak more deeply to the heart of the person you would like to lead to Jesus.

You’re already fluent in the things that you already know. Time to go practice!

Tschüss!

Nick

 

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