Literate in English and not fluent?

Zhuangzi   Thursday, September 09, 2004, 06:21 GMT
We know it is possible to be fluent in English without being literate in English.

Is it possible to be fully literate in English without being fluent. By literate I mean able to read most content easily and to write correctly. By fluent I do not refer to pronunciation, just the ability to express oneself orally. I am not talking about theoretically. I mean is it possible to imagine a person, other than a deaf/mute, who is literate and not fluent?

In other words, is pursuing literacy a strategy for achieving fluency.
Easterner   Thursday, September 09, 2004, 08:32 GMT
That is a very a good distinction, and my answer to your first question would be definitely "yes". You can be literate in a language, that is you may understand written texts to a large degree, and you may also be able to compose acceptable written texts, without being able to express yourself fluently or at all. For example, I am fluent in English and some other languages, but I consider myself "just" literate in Spanish or Russian. Once I translated a telephone manual from Spanish without having ever spoken the language. So this experience of mine supports your idea, and I'm sure all of us who have learnt a language have similar experiences. However, I do think that real ability in writing is to a large extent dependent on your spoken fluency, or at least familiarity with the spoken variety of a language, to sound really "alive" in writing.

I think the reason for this is that understanding and to a large extent composing written texts is principally a cognitive process, while speaking skills are largely a matter of habit. This is why speaking skills are more "vulnerable", so if you don't use a language for some time and then start using it again, you may find it more difficult to speak in it than to use it in writing.

Summing up, I think becoming literate in a language can be a good introduction to becoming fluent in it, but other than that, you also have to develop good speaking habits (a completely separate skill) to be really fluent, and incidentally your writing skills are also reinforced by your spoken fluency. By the way, spoken fluency is best developed by being exposed to authentic spoken language which is then reinforced by imitating the spoken language used by native speakers.
Easterner   Thursday, September 09, 2004, 10:30 GMT
>>This is why speaking skills are more "vulnerable", so if you don't use a language for some time and then start using it again, you may find it more difficult to speak in it than to use it in writing.<<

As I see it now, maybe this statement would fail at the test of accuracy. Now I think of this, it may largely depend on which is the normal way of using a language for you (for me it is writing for the most part at present, so this is why I said it is easier to start re-using a language in writing than in speech). For other people (maybe the majority) it may be the other way round. And it also depends on which form (written or spoken) of the same language you encounter more frequently.
garans   Thursday, September 09, 2004, 14:35 GMT
this is one of the most significant problems with a foreign language.

We can learn to read and write in 2-3 years, but it is almost impossible to become really fluent in 10 years while living in non-native-speaking country.

Because we dont have enough practice and our native language interferes like a jealousy wife we live with.
Zhuangzi   Thursday, September 09, 2004, 14:50 GMT
If you do not live in an English speaking environment, can you not develop the skills needed for fluency by working on literacy (reading, writing and accumulating vocabulary) and doing a lot of listening, easily achieved on your own and without native speakers.

Of course you eventually need to practice by speaking. If you then travelled to en English speaking country would you not achieve fluency vey quickly? Fluency does not mean without accent.
garans   Thursday, September 09, 2004, 15:06 GMT
We came to agreement on one of our Russian forums that to become really fluent takes on average about 5 years of living in an English-speaking country.
Zhuangzi   Thursday, September 09, 2004, 15:18 GMT
That seems like an awfully long time. Is that for people starting from scratch? It all depends on how effectively people study and how motivated they are. I believe one to two years is all that is needed for an effective and motivated learner.
Sanja   Thursday, September 09, 2004, 15:33 GMT
Well, I know that you can learn to read some languages without even being able to speak them. For instance, I thought myself how to read Greek even though I don't understand any word....LOL :) But I guess that would be harder in English.
And as for how long you have to live in an English speaking country to learn the language perfectly, it all depends. Some people have lived there for 40 years and still can't speak much, while some learn to speak perfectly after 2 years. I guess it depends on a person as well as on his/her efforts to learn the language.
Zhuangzi   Thursday, September 09, 2004, 15:36 GMT
I think that if the person decides to really work on becoming fluent it takes 6 -12 months of intensive work and then the language skills will continue to develop. If the person plans to spend 5 years they may never achieve the intensity needed to become fluent.
garans   Thursday, September 09, 2004, 16:05 GMT
I've never been to an English speaking country for a long time, only 3 weeks in Ireland.

But after 10 years of listening to movies, radioes etc. I can tell about 70-80 percent of an ordinary speach.

Sometimes I understand 100% (movies for children, high school children, scientific films), but mostly I can follow variations from standard English.

I know many Mormons - American missionaries, who spent in Russia 2 years and nobody was fluent in Russian. Sure they tried.
garans   Thursday, September 09, 2004, 16:06 GMT
I can NOT follow the variations from standard English
Sanja   Thursday, September 09, 2004, 18:06 GMT
I couldn't understand the whole movies in English without translation, but I understand a lot of it. I understand written texts in English much better than the speach. I'm also more fluent in writing English than speaking it.
Mxsmanic   Friday, September 10, 2004, 02:42 GMT
I've read that the author Joseph Conrad (originally born and raised in Poland) was not very fluent in spoken English, and had a heavy accent, even though he wrote extremely well in the language (well enough to make him a major author in English literature).
mjd   Friday, September 10, 2004, 05:53 GMT

Normally I wouldn't do this, but in your case I will. It's "speech," not "speach" (time and time again you've told what a stickler you are for spelling, so I couldn't resist).
Steve K   Friday, September 10, 2004, 06:09 GMT
Fluency does not require native like pronunciation. It only requires the ability to understand what is said and to be able to express ones ideas. I cannot imagine that Conrad was not fluent in that sense.