5 Tell-Tale Signs You’re on the Way to Fluency in a Foreign Language

Hey guys,

My goal in this article is to reassure those of you learning a second language that you will get there. I promise.

Language learning is a life long process when you think about it, and I understand just how frustrating it can be, especially when you’re not sure how you’re progressing or even how to measure that progress.

It takes some time and of course patience. Down below I list 5 tell-tale signs you’re on the path towards fluency.

Here they are:

1.You catch yourself thinking in that language.

If you catch yourself thinking in your targeted language, not only is it an exciting realisation but its also one of the best ways to know all the studying and learning you’ve been doing is paying off. Whether you’re just beginning to learn a second language or you’re at an advanced level, thinking in your second language means your brain is processing and recalling sensible information. A beginner, for example, might name objects in their field of view and repeat basic, yet valuable phrases whereas a more advanced student may catch themselves commenting/narrating their experiences.  In both cases, bravo to you! 

2. You’re able to finish someone else’s sentence. 

The other day I ran into an interesting situation where a colleague and I were talking about something work-related and as she responded to what I was saying, I knew what she was going to say and how she was going to say it. It was a speech synchronicity. It happens all the time in our first languages, but very rarely when we’re learning how to speak a foreign language. When it does happen it feels as if you’re fully with the conversation. If you’re able to predict or expect a certain response from someone it not only means you understand the structure of the language, but it also means you’re recognising speech patterns…which is a huge step in mastering a second language!

3. You have a dream in your targeted language. 

  Theres a lot of discussion whether or not dreaming in a foreign language signifies fluency, however in my experience I never had dreams in Portuguese until about six months into my studies. On top of that, in my dream I was surrounded by bilingual friends who were correcting and teaching me. Dreaming in your targeted language may not mean fluency, but it does mean that you’re storing the information in the unconscious part of your mind. If you dream in the language you’re learning I would interpret that as a positive sign that you’re on the right track! 

4. You’re not translating word for word anymore.

  The fourth sure sign you’re on the right path to mastering a second language is the moment you’re not trying to translate word for word. One of the biggest frustrations of language learning is translating the vocabulary and grammatical structure from your native tongue to your targeted language. This Is necessary at first, but the more you hear familiar sounds (words and phrases) in familiar contexts, the less you have to think and translate. Repetition is the name of the game here. Once you’ve heard and said something enough times it becomes effortless. You’re not thinking about what verb endings you have to use and whether or not a word is masculine or feminine.

5. You feel confident in familiar situations

Perhaps you’re not yet able to talk about complicated, open ended topics like philosophy, science or politics, but you do well in certain familiar situations like ordering food, getting coffee and asking for directions. Maybe you’re confident in talking about what you’re going to do today, but not so much about what you did yesterday. I wouldn’t stress if you’re in this position. On the contrary I would be excited! I think this is a good place to be because it shows what you already know and what you need to work on improving. There’s no shame in knowing your weak points. Now you can focus more of your time and energy on becoming well rounded! 

6. BONUS* Feeling doubtful with your progress

By the time I finished writing the fifth I wanted to include one more that I believe will hit just right.  Learning a foreign language is a daunting task. There’s so much to learn that it can be beyond frustrating-overwhelming even, complete demoralisation. For me, learning Portuguese has been one of the most difficult things Ive attempted to do and there’s been times where I questioned why I even started learning this language in the first place. Yet each time I’ve asked myself this I reflect on how much It’s given back.

The people I’ve met- the amount of pure joy and fulfilment learning a second language has brought me is unparalleled. So, If you get to the point where you find yourself in doubt questioning your ability and reasons for starting, you’ve probably been learning the language long enough to know how rewarding it is despite the difficulty. You know it’s worth it, and thats the sign to keep going! 

I hope you guys found reassurance from this article! Remember to be patient and give a genuine effort. I promise you that you will reach fluency in due time. Let me know in the comments any other signs I didn’t list that you’ve found to signify progress!


Ryan Q