It’s likely one of the first questions asked, too. The conversation goes something like…
“So, how long have you been studying Arabic?”
“A few years now, it’s way different language than English.”
“So I guess you’d say you are fluent, right?”
On the inside the student is screaming, it’s the trickiest question to answer.
I’d like to submit an answer for anyone who’s asked this question and has gotten what appeared to be an overly modest answer simplified to one word: “No.”
First of all, fluency is a tricky word. How you understand fluency depends on your own experience
Personally, I believe that unless you were born into the language you likely will never be fluent. For me, fluency is being able to speak on demand in any domain of the language: opening a checking account, complaining to customer service, explaining to the firefighters where your burning house is, keeping a used car dealer from robbing you, gossiping, engaging in political discourse (and understanding), flirting, watching movies, using idiomatic expressions correctly and anything else you can imagine. Fluency is the ability to use language as the principle manner of communication in whatever communicative scenario.
Because of the micro intricacies of language, fluency is nearly impossible. For instance, Spanish gives a separation to one’s own physical body or conditions whereas English embodies them. To say “I have a headache” in Spanish you say “Me duele la cabeza,” (The head hurts me--notice that the subject is not the first person, but rather the “the head.” The object is the first person, the one receiving the hurt.) Spanish speakers “have hunger” (tener hambre) rather than English speakers who embody hunger (“I’m hungry” — all that is hunger I am). Additionally, Spanish’s two different verbs of being give a different way of expressing time; one stresses impermanence (for instance, location) while the other expresses permanence (characteristics of a person).
While fluency is not attainable, fluidity is. When a student gets past the micro intricacies and alternative ways of expression they have adopted the thinking of the language. Fluidity is the ability to free oneself from the crutch that is thinking of one language in terms of another. Fluidity is flow.
Someone who aims to be fluent will drive themselves crazy. Two years ago I had this goal until a professor told me “Learning a language is a lifelong commitment,” which is very few. Think about how much our language changes. The world changes, so language adapts.
Language, be it mother or foreign tongue, is the most dynamic discipline, the most reactive, the one most universally learned, but the one that is never ever fully learned.