Wikipidia has a nice sentence on the fluency page saying “Fluency is a speech language pathology term that means the smoothness or flow with which sounds, syllables, words and phrases are joined together when speaking quickly.”
I once met somebody from California who said to me, Carsten, you know what, I speak German fluently. Wow, that’s great. I didn’t know that. Yeah, he said, I only know to how to say one sentence but I know how to say that sentence fluently.
Although this might seem funny, isn’t that actually the way fluency works? You say the right sentence in the right moment and your conversation partner gets it. Of course, what you want to do is to say more than just one sentence. With one sentence after another the sentences become fluent. And when you think about it even with one single sentence and several words in that sentence, the very sentence can be spoken fluently. So, fluency is just about how long you want to put somebody to the test. If the situation is short enough, one sentence alone will do.
I had a similar situation in China. I went into a coffee shop and ordered a coffee in Chinese. My accent was probably far from perfect, however, I could get the message across in such a way that the person behind the counter handed me a coffee and took my money. So, the whole situation only took one single sentence.
Okay, this is not what most people think about when talking about fluency. For the majority fluency is being able to say whatever you want to say in any given moment.
What does it take? Hmm, it takes both time and practice. And it really depends on how you define fluency. So, you can limit your personal fluency to just a few sentences. Let’s say you want to spend your vacation time in Germany and you only have to know the sentences that you need in the hotel. You can probably reach that kind of fluency in a week or so, mastering eight or nine out of ten given situations. Limiting the number of situations will definitely help you reach your personal level of fluency in a short time.
That’s probably also not what people want. So, what can you do in order to speed up the process to become fluent in German? Well, you can reduce the complexity of the sentences. Actually there are techniques or methods to do that. Less complex sentences will help you to express yourself more clearly and precisely. And, of course, we are only talking about your own sentences here, meaning the sentences that you say, not the ones you want to understand.
Okay, just give me a number of months or years or so. Isn’t that what you are thinking? Well, it is not that easy. It is not like asking the price for a new car, it is more like asking how it will cost you to bring up a child. Well, it depends, doesn’t it?
Here is an answer anyway, because I know you are not content with what I have written so far. You can make it a few months. Believe me. You will have to have a good strategy, and you can achieve fluency faster than you would ever have imagined.