"Fluency" is an extremely underspecified concept. Depending on whom you ask, it may mean anything between CEFR A2 and "virtually indistinguishable from a native speaker". Do we need this tag at all, does it serve any purpose?

I'd actually discourage using this word in questions at all, unless OP clearly defines what he exactly means by it.

2 Answers 2


As of this writing, there are only 5 questions with the tag.

  1. What are effective ways to gain speaking comprehension without the help of a partner in non-english speaking countries?
  2. Is it possible to learn many languages at the same time and become fluent in all of them?
  3. Can one become fluent in a language without studying it formally?
  4. How to improve writing fluency
  5. How to practice speaking a language with no speakers?

Judging solely by the titles, I think it's safe to say we don't really need the [fluency] tag. Taking each question individually, I think:

  1. This question is poorly worded. It seems to be about , and not about at all (nor, for that matter, ).
  2. This question suffers from an apparent vague definition of "fluency." The only real answer to this question, is "it depends on what you mean by fluency." I think a strong argument can be made that, if your entire question hinges on a misunderstanding of X, then X may not be a good tag--unless, of course, the question is "what is X?", in which case X is a perfect tag (but none of our questions are asking what fluency is--at least not directly). I would tag this one as (it already is).
  3. The answer to this question is obviously "yes", regardless of what definition of "fluency" one uses, as the vast majority of native speakers achieve fluency without formal training. But a definition of "fluency" would likely still inform this question well. This one should probably be tagged and possibly , or similar.

  4. seems perfect for this one.

  5. would be sufficient here, in my opinion.

So in summary, it is my opinion that:

should be used if, and only if, a question is actually about the definition, or measuring of fluency itself. We have no such questions at the time, so all existing questions should be re-tagged. (But we should not blacklist , as it may yet come up legitimately).

Otherwise, the tag is too broad to be meaningful, and a more specific tag (or tags) should be used in its place.

(Incidentally, I suspect may fit into exactly the same category--it's probably used too broadly, and more specific tags should be used in place.)

  • You're right, proficiency has different meanings, too. I usually associate it with "very high level of language competence", but it can also simply mean "any, not necessarily high, level of language knowledge", as in ILR "elementary proficiency". Maybe instead of [proficiency] and [fluency], we should have tags like [beginner], [intermediate], [advanced], [native-like]. Definitions of these levels are much less controversial. I think most people will agree that beginner is around A1-A2, intermediate B1-B2, advanced C1-C2, and native-like is above C2.
    – michau
    Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 19:50
  • But anyway, wouldn't a question about the definition of fluency be closed as "opinion-based"? There is no universally accepted definition of fluency, that's why I think we should avoid that term.
    – michau
    Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 19:54
  • @michau: I think that depends on the question. Certainly, "What is fluency?" is probably not a good question here (it might fit on Linguistics). However, "How can I measure the fluency of my students?" strikes me as likely a good question.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 8:43
  • @michau: I don't think [beginner], [intermediate], etc, are meaningful tags. I think what is meaningful is tagging which proficiency/fluency is being discussed. So things like [writing], [reading], [listening-comprehension], [speaking], [accent-reduction], etc.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 8:44
  • Right, that would be a good question. But as you noticed, nobody has used the tag correctly so far, so I think we should find a better name. How about "language level"? It is not ambiguous, and it's synonymous with that particular meaning of "fluency".
    – michau
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 8:52
  • @michau: I don't think having a single tag to replace it is a good solution--that just replaces one ambiguous tag with another. My proposal is to retag each question, individually, based on what it's actually asking.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 17:12
  • Judging by the number of articles and publications about fluency versus accuracy, fluency is definitely a meaningful term. Check e.g. Fluency (TeachingEnglish.org), Accuracy vs Fluency in TEFL, Fluency (Uni of Oregon.
    – Tsundoku Mod
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 19:30
  • 1
    @ChristopheStrobbe: I don't think the term itself is meaningless. I think it's just ambiguous in many cases (including the 5 times it's used as a tag on this site so far).
    – Flimzy
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 10:18
  • So, it seems that everybody agrees that the tag [fluency] is not suitable for the 5 questions posted so far. Should it be removed from these questions?
    – michau
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 10:21
  • @michau: Done. I've edited the 5 questions and removed that tag. Thanks for bringing it up!
    – Flimzy
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 11:02
  • @Flimzy The OP of this question said the question was definitely about fluency (check the comment), and the tag still got removed. Did you disagree with the OP?
    – Tsundoku Mod
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 12:20
  • @ChristopheStrobbe: I disagree only that the tag is meaningful. It might be a border-line case, though.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 12:51

Fluency does not mean

anything between CEFR A2 and "virtually indistinguishable from a native speaker".

That would at best be an informal definition of proficiency.

Fluency refers to the automaticity or smoothness in the use of language. You can be fluent both at low and high levels of proficiency. It is true that much of the general public and certain popular book authors (e.g. Gabriel Wyner) are confused about the difference between fluency and proficiency, but that does not mean that we should confuse these terms.

I am in favour of reinstating the tag with the following tag wiki excerpt:

[Questions related to] the automaticity or smoothness with which language tasks are performed. Not to be confused with proficiency which refers to the level reached by the learner.

  • I wrote "depending on whom you ask" to stress that I was referring to the actual use of the word, and not what it "really" means. And you seem to agree that it is often used to indicate some level of proficiency. If you see a need for a tag about the concept you're referring to, why not call it "automaticity" or "smoothness"? This way, people won't misuse it.
    – michau
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 15:58
  • "Fluency" is the normal term used in the SLA literature; nobody will search for "automaticity" or "smoothness" when looking for references about "fluency".
    – Tsundoku Mod
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 16:02
  • "Automaticity" is used a lot in SLA. And in any case, LLSE is primarily a place for language learners, not SLA researchers, so we can expect that people will use the term "fluency" in a broad and vague way.
    – michau
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 16:24
  • To illustrate the problem: I just happened to stumble across the profile of one of the moderators at Linguistics.SE. In the context of the list of languages he speaks, when he writes "fluent", I'm pretty sure that he means "I have a certain degree of proficiency in these languages" and not "I can speak in these languages quickly and without pauses, even though it might be completely inaccurate". Note that this is a person who has an academic degree in linguistics.
    – michau
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 16:56
  • @michau That's an example of the confusion we should avoid, in my opinion.
    – Tsundoku Mod
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 17:28
  • Oh, by the way, I looked again at the question you linked to and saw your comment, which starts with: "My criterion for fluency is C1 in the CEFR". Now I'm completely lost as to your point. There are well-studied cases of people who were undoubtedly fluent (in the narrow sense), but made mistakes that were way below C1, such as "So yesterday I didn't painting".
    – michau
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 19:32
  • One more possibility is to use the term "fluidity". Nobody will take it to mean "proficiency", and it begins with "flu", so it'd be easy to find by people who search for "fluency".
    – michau
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 21:20

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