– The word fluent comes from the Latin root meaning ‘flow’
– Fluency is a speech language term that means the smoothness or flow with which sounds, syllables, words and phrases are joined together when speaking quickly
– Language fluency is used informally to denote a high level of language proficiency, whereby language use if smooth and flowing, as opposed to slow and halted
When it comes to communicating in more than one language fluency is certainly desirable, but it is not essential for communication to take place. You can communicate with a native speaker if you have only a mild proficiency in English, but being truly fluent in the language offers many advantages, particularly in the business world.
English: the international language of business
English is now widely accepted as the official language of business around the globe. Most foreign companies have adopted it as the most effective means of gaining access to global commerce and trade.
One of the biggest reasons for the uptake of English around the globe is the wide proliferation of North American and European companies trading internationally. A large percentage of multinational corporations originated in the US, and they continue to be headquartered in this country. Their influence throughout the global business community is quite predominant, and in order for other companies around the world to communicate and trade with them you need to learn the lingo.
The emergence of the internet now plays a huge role in the spread of English internationally too. English predominates the online world, as can be seen on social media, messageboards, and the fact that most foreign websites provide means for translation into English.
Why is fluency important?
So we’ve accepted that English is the official business language these days. So what are the advantages of being fluent in business English as opposed to just proficient?
In practical terms, the better you can speak the language, the better you can negotiate – and not just with native English speakers. If you work for a German shipping company you may need to speak English to speak to a Russian exporter, for example.
This is the age of the internet and online commerce, and if you’d like to set up your own online business then wouldn’t you like to be able to reach out to the 1 billion English speakers on the World Wide Web?
The higher your level of fluency in English the better it is for your employer, as you present a more efficient, professional image for your company when doing business with others.
Knowing that you have full command of the language means that your employer can feel wholly confident putting their trust in you. It’s cheaper for them too as they don’t need to hire interpreters or spend time and money correcting linguistic mistakes.
When an employer has full confidence in your abilities it allows you to progress further within the company, with your employer more confident in entrusting you with more responsibilities – so it can lead to higher pay and more job opportunities.
The more fluent you are in English the more job opportunities will be open to you, giving you a far wider choice of career prospects and often higher pay.
On a personal and business level it allows you to travel more. Whether for business or pleasure, a firm grasp of English allows you to succeed in a wide range of countries.
Understanding different levels of fluency
Not all levels of fluency are the same and, in fact, even native English speakers can fail to be fluent in their own language if they are not properly educated. Here we take a look at what it means to be fluent at different levels of business English.
Business level fluency
When applying for jobs you may see positions advertised for those with a ‘business level fluency’ in English. What do employers mean? Here they’re looking for someone who can conduct business in English without the need for a native English speaker to be there. That means being able to converse with other staff, customers and clients, as well as being able to read and write emails and company documents.
Six levels of fluency
In the 1980s, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) was put together by the Council of Europe, with the aim being to provide a method of learning, teaching and assessing which applies to all languages in Europe. It features six reference levels that are becoming increasingly accepted as the European standard for grading an individual’s language proficiency and fluency. So, according to the CEFR your level of fluency may have reached:
Basic – Breakthrough level
Basic – Elementary level
These levels indicate that you can interact in a simple way with English speakers when the person you are communicating with talks slowly and clearly. At this basic level of fluency you’ll be able to introduce yourself and ask and answer basic and familiar questions.
Independent – Intermediate level
Independent – Upper intermediate level
At these independent levels of fluency you’ll generally by able to communicate well while travelling independently where English is spoken, and will be able to understand more complex texts, thoughts and ideas in English. This level of fluency allows you to communicate with native English speakers quite naturally, without either of you finding the conversation hard work.
Proficient – Advanced level
Proficient – Mastery or proficiency level
At the proficient level of fluency you’ll not only be able to understand a wide range of more demanding, longer texts as well as virtually everything you hear in English, you’ll also be able to express your ideas fluently and spontaneously without having to stop to think of the correct words or phrases to use. You’ll be able to differentiate finer shades of meaning in texts and in the spoken language, attaining fluency in writing, reading, listening and speaking.