Though people spend quite a bit of time learning foreign languages in high school and college, their language skills have a way of withering from inattention, like a dried-out potted plant sitting on a window sill.
But just how far have your language skills fallen? Here are some handy categories to help you find out:
You can converse with native speakers with ease, with knowledge of idioms and understanding of a wide range of accents. When someone says, “You speak Chinese? Let me hear some!” you answer with something that impresses just about everyone in the room.
You often suggest dining at ethnic restaurants where you can use your language skills to impress your date. When the waiter comes to take your order, you make a point to ask a question about something on the menu in the waiter’s native tongue, even though you didn’t care about the answer.
Though you’re approaching near-total fluency, you lack understanding of complicated grammar and certain non-literal expressions. You’re proficient at conjugating verbs, but uncommon tenses and certain irregulars can present problems.
Your rejoinder to the “Lemme hear some Chinese!” demand is still quite impressive, and virtually indistinguishable from the completely fluent speaker to the untrained ear.
Most importantly, when people ask if you’re fluent in a foreign language, you assure them that you are– completely.
You have a good mastery of vocabulary, including nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. You can assemble multi-clause sentences, and understand the language when it is spoken clearly and slowly.
You’ve mastered several impressive-sounding phrases that you’ve basically adopted as party tricks. When you’re out on dates at ethnic restaurants, you can successfully order in a foreign language. Still, both the waiter and your date think you’re an asshole.
When asked if you’re completely fluent in a foreign language, you invariably answer, “No, but almost.”
You’ve memorized a number of basic nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and you can put together simple sentences. You spend the majority of your language classes reading and reciting banal conversations, as in:
“How are you?”
“I am well. Do you want to go to the discoteque?”
“Yes, I go to the discoteque with you.”
You really cannot foresee yourself ever becoming fluent, ever.
Smile and Nod
To put it bluntly, you haven’t understood a word anyone has said for the last hour. You have virtually no knowledge of any words– nouns, verbs, adjectives. Even if you did, you’d have no idea how to assemble those into anything resembling a coherent phrase.
You’ve perfected the art of the smile-and-nod. You think this is faking people into believing you know more of the language than you really do, but this is unlikely.
Your constant nodding has signified that you’re in agreement with everything that people have been saying– no matter how objectionable those statements might have been. You may well have just agreed with the assertion, “You know, Stalin wasn’t bad; he was just misunderstood.”
During conversation, you punctuate others’ statements with an agreeable “Ah!” or, alternatively, you furrow your brow and give a thoughtful “Hmm…”
When asked if you’re fluent in a foreign language, you– no surprise– smile and nod.