So, Are You Fluent in German Yet?

fluency“So, are you fluent in German yet?

“You must be fluent by now, right?”

I keep getting asked these questions all the time and my answer is simple, no I am not fluent in German yet.  According to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages fluency is classed as a C2 level, which is described as:

  • Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read.
  • Can summarize information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation.
  • Can express themselves spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.

I am nowhere near there yet and there are times when I think that I never will be.

Even if we went with a less academic explanation I still wouldn’t class myself as fluent. To me, fluency means that I have very little to no difficulties using the language.  I still struggle with German even though I work in a German speaking office. People think that because of this fact that I must be fluent, but I am not. My German is good enough that I can work in this environment with minimal problems but there are still problems. I don’t always understand 100% of what is said to me. Yes, I can gather the meaning, but do I understand every single word? No. Also, my grammar can best be described as a hot mess. I am lucky that I have colleagues that ignore my constant grammatical fuck-ups, although I am pretty sure that some of my emails provide people with a good laugh.

Truth be told, my German would be a lot better if I put more effort into it. Since starting at my German speaking job a year ago, I have ceased going to German classes and consuming German media like TV & books. Initially, this made sense as my brain was fried not only from trying to deal with the language, but also because I had to learn a whole new job. Yeah, I’m the idiot that switches careers and languages at the same damn time. I still work in the same industry as I did before, but I’m now doing a completely different job (I went from doing Tech Support to Ad Operations).  I’m still thanking my lucky stars that all the programs I use are in English (thanks Google!).

However, now things are different. I’m kicking ass in my new job, but I still feel entirely unmotivated to work on my German. It’s like my apartment is an English only zone, an escape and reprieve from my outside life being almost completely in German. I’m wondering if anyone else actually feels this way. It’s almost like I’m guarding this English speaking part of myself.  Realistically, it makes no sense, but that’s the way it stands at the moment.

I do find the longer I speak German at one time, the more comfortable I feel. When I went to the Dyke March I spoke pretty much exclusively German and by the end of the night, it felt strangely comfortable, almost normal, which is a very rare feeling for me.

However, I still can not express all I want to in German. I don’t feel like the true me when I am speaking it.  I guess this is what it boils down to. I am not fluent in German as I can’t be me in German. I can’t say what I want to say in German. I need to dumb it down. I am nowhere near as expressive or sarcastic or even as intelligent in German as I am in English. I will consider myself fluent in German when I can be the authentic me in the language. Maybe that day will never come.


9 thoughts on “So, Are You Fluent in German Yet?

  1. Oh Meg, I cannot agree more with you on this. I too, can handle myself in the German language, and manage day-to-day situations quite comfortably. However, I still struggle to express myself fully in German, and being a very communicative person, I find it especially hard. So am I with you on this one! Having a good grasp on the daily language is not the same as having a deep, expressive, rich vocab pool to draw from (not to mention the grammar and how to use these expressions!) I’m not sure I’ll quite get there in German either, but I’ll continue to do my best and have found that most Germans sincerely appreciate this.

  2. I’m sure your German is much better than you realize. Don’t get discouraged. It’s ironic, though, I do enjoy learning German as a hobby even though I don’t experience the immersion you are getting — I take a lesson once or twice a week, study vocabulary, watch some German TV, etc. — so the process is slow-going for me, but I enjoy it.

  3. I sometimes wonder if I can be a “true” myself independent of language. I speak three languages fluently and the way I express myself is somewhat different in each. I honestly believe that my English self is much more outgoing than my native Latvian self. As for my German self, I can totally relate to what you’re saying about dumbing yourself down :)

  4. I also have this feeling after three years in France. Somehow I found that language learning motivation relies on my connection to this country. I still see myself as an outsider, given that I cannot accept the whole culture stuff there. Am going to move to Germany in October because of my boyfriend, hope that the situation gets better in germany..

  5. Thanks for this post! Even though I asked this question, I hope it wasn’t interpreted as presumption you should be fluent! I was curious as to your definition because it seems that your ideal of fluency is high (which isn’t a bad thing either – so is mine and I am also a lot further off than you I suspect). I can understand the frustration of the assumption of others that living in a country doesn’t automatically mean you’ll become fluent in a few months, almost as a given. I moved to Germany from Australia 3 months ago, after studying German (mostly myself on the internet but I also have a German partner) for 2.5 years. Now I live in a little Swabian village where no-one I’ve come across speaks fluent English. Yet, ironically, I feel like my German is even going backwards because I haven’t established a study routine here but at the same time, the odd short polite half-in-Swabian conversation on the street or interaction in a shop, doesn’t really push me enough into the language either. I’m realising one really needs the chance for long, extended conversations i.e. friends, a work place or to be belong to a hobby group/verein etc. I’m therefore planning to do a 6-week intensive course in the Autumn, in the hope that might activate things… Does anyone else have this problem, where after moving to the country it seems that your language gets worse?? I don’t think it’s higher expectations on my part… often it’s things like forgetting genders or often making simple verb conjugation errors (that I know) that I don’t think I made before. I had assumed that correct grammar would become internalised upon moving here but it feels like the opposite is more true! Anyway, Meg if you can hold down a job in German in my opinion you should give yourself huge credit for that. I wonder too if being able to express yourself ‘perfectly’ and feel you are yourself in a language, also differs across different non-native languages for a person?

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  7. I am not fluent in German as I can’t be me in German.

    I think part of the long-term foreign language and culture experience is discovering just how much, for you personally, another language means recognizing a distinct facet of your personality — and your path to acceptance of that additional facet of you will be its own side trip in parallel.

    I hope you enjoy the ride. :-)

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