Ever since I started to work with advanced and fluent non-native English speakers, I’ve started to notice a surprising trend: many of them don’t actually recognize or acknowledge when they are completely fluent in English!
I recently met with a potential client who had managed to almost completely eliminate his accent in English, and at the end of our session, he asked me, “How would you describe my English? Am I advanced?”
In shock, I responded, “You’re completely fluent in English. You express yourself like an American. I’m not even sure I can help you.”
While you might be thinking, “That’s impossible – I’m absolutely going to know when I’m fluent,” my experience would prove you wrong.
And here’s why: High-performing, hardworking, intelligent language learners like you often aim for perfection.
They will only be satisfied when they have zero accent, perfect intonation, precise pronunciation, and never, ever make grammar mistakes. Of course, they expect to speak using vocabulary straight out of the dictionary.
If this sounds like you, you’re missing a key point – communication is not about perfection, it’s about connection.
Native English speakers make grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation mistakes all the time. When we forget a word, we keep going.
We only use a small percentage of our vocabulary on a regular basis, because our culture prioritizes clear, simple language rather than pretentious, complicated words.
Let me tell you the truth: I only became fully fluent in Spanish when I stopped caring so much about perfection.
In the end, you need to strike a balance between fluency and accuracy.
Which matters more? Fluency or accuracy?
In the above video, I describe the difference between fluency and accuracy and how shifting your mindset can help you feel more confident about your speaking skills and achieve your goals in English.
As I’ve mentioned, so many of my clients focus more on accuracy than fluency. Even though they’re advanced or even fluent English speakers, they’re very concerned about their English because they don’t feel like it sounds perfect.
They think that their accuracy reflects the English level that they actually have.
But the reality is that fluency happens when you’re able to speak comfortably, confidently, and fluidly on a topic.
Other people see you as fluent when you’re not thinking in your native language, the words are just flowing, and you’re able to carry on a conversation.
This doesn’t mean that you’re not going to make mistakes. You can be fluent in a language and make mistakes.
Native English speakers make mistakes all the time. (Watch me make a mistake in the above video!)
Because we’re native English speakers, we just keep going. We just keep talking when we make mistakes.
Start With Fluency, Not Accuracy
So if you want to improve your fluency, you have to relax about your accuracy.
You have to just keep going when you make mistakes, and trust that your brain is going to help you make those connections.
If you don’t know a word, you’re going to find another way to say that.
When you’re worried about accuracy, you’re usually worried about perfection. You’re concerned about having no accent and making sure your grammar is always correct, all of the time.
But as I keep mentioning, native English speakers also make grammar mistakes, we sometimes use the wrong word, and we sometimes pronounce a word incorrectly.
Accuracy is just one aspect of speaking more naturally.
If you are an intermediate or advanced English learner, I want to encourage you to focus more on fluency than accuracy.
Once you achieve a comfortable degree of fluency, then you can start focusing on accuracy and start reducing your accent, fixing any mistakes that are distracting from your message, and using expressions that are more appropriate for your meaning.
Both fluency and accuracy are important, but you want to make sure you’re focusing on whichever will help you achieve your goals more quickly.
Remember, your journey to fluency will look different than anyone else’s, but focusing too much attention on accuracy too soon will slow down your progress.
I hope that you now understand the difference between fluency and accuracy and why you need to not worry so much about accuracy if you really want to work towards fluency, especially when you’re at that level just before completely fluent.
Now it’s your turn! Share your experience in the comments below. Have you let your pursuit of accuracy distract you from your higher priority goal of achieving fluency? Or have you always focused on fluency? When is accuracy important to you?
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