Talking about fluency in Spanish

The other 'f' word

Irritatingly enough, Spanish has no direct equivalent of the English phrase “to be fluent”. How very insensitive.

That makes it tough to find an easy way to say things like “I’d love to be fluent in Spanish” or to ask your teacher “how long will it take me to get fluent in Spanish?”.

Some dictionaries or phrasebooks suggest the expression: hablar con fluidez as your best bet, but this isn’t a phrase we much like. It’s more like a clunky translation of the English phrase rather than an expression genuine Spanish speakers would naturally opt for. You won’t hear it much in conversation.

Another option, which is a little more common, is some variation on the expression te fluye el español. This means that “your Spanish flows easily” i.e. you’re not sputtering, umming and ahhing all the time. Yet, again this isn’t exactly the same as what most people mean by “fluent” in English.

For us, being “fluent” in a language is a real gold standard – meaning that you’re comfortable chatting about anything with a proficiency similar to a native speaker. To express this, forget about any of these “f” words in Spanish – they’re little more than imposters.

Speaking perfectly

Instead, we suggest going for something that sums up the idea behind the English expression: essentially, that you speak this second (or third) language seriously well. This is what native Spanish speakers do.

Let’s take a look:

volume_muteYo apenas estoy aprendiendo ingles, pero mi amigo ya lo habla a la perfección

(“I’m just learning English, but my friend is already fluent / speaks it perfectly”).

Or:

Tu español ha mejorado mucho. ¡Ya hablas perfecto!volume_mute

(“Your Spanish has improved loads. You’re fluent now! / You speak it perfectly now!”).

Spanish speakers also seem to be fans of using the verb perfeccionar (“to perfect”) in the same kind of way we’d say “to get fluent”. For example, where we’d express a desire such as “I’d like to live in Spain to get fluent in Spanish”, they’d opt for Quisiera vivir en Inglaterra para poder perfeccionar mi ingles.

Speaking well

For language levels slightly lower than pure perfection, you’ve got plenty of other options available. The best and most natural of these is defenderse; literally meaning “to defend oneself”.

If attacked by a barrage of Spanish questions could you hold your own? If you think you could, then congratulations! When you’re asking if you speak Spanish, you can legitimately respond: me defiendo (kind of like “I get by” in English).

A useful expression both for those still working on their Spanish and for those who have already reached linguistic perfection, but who still want to be modest. A highly commendable attitude.

In conversation, this might work as follows:

volume_mute¿Hablas español?
Sí. Pues, me defiendovolume_mute

(Q. “Do you speak Spanish?” A. “Yea. Well, I get by at least / I do OK”).

A couple of less awe inspiring ways to say some speaks reasonably Spanish are the expressions hablar bien (“to speak well”) and tener un buen español “to have a good [level] of Spanish”.

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