Sophomore talks about being called fluent

The conversation gets dull. School is ending and there is the question of who is taking what in the following year. The obvious question slips out to do no more than fill the silence that hangs in the air.

“What language are you taking?”

My first answer to this question is always that I’m not taking a language. At least in school, anyway. My second answer is that I am self-teaching myself Japanese, an innocent answer that should be nothing more than that. But then that question gets asked: “Are you fluent?”

Yes, I’m totally fluent even though I just said I was still self-teaching myself, sorry for the confusion. (That was sarcasm). No, but really, I’m not at all fluent. I’ve only been teaching myself for about a year, and that year has been filled with a lot of other things like schoolwork, so I’ve only gone so far since I started learning. So my question is, why, when I tell people that I’ve been teaching myself for this long, that they automatically jump to “Are you fluent”? If I were to answer the original question of “What language are you taking?” with something like “Japanese 1” would anyone ask if I was fluent? Well, no. They would mumble some comment about how interesting (uninteresting) that was and maybe the name of what language they were taking, and then move on with their lives. But somehow when I say that I’ve been self-teaching for a little under a year, a little lightbulb goes off in their brains that points to fluency instead of the latter.

Well maybe I should just start answering that stupid fluency question with a monotone “Yes” and turn away, but then that would just bring up a whole new can of worms like “Say something in Japanese!” or “How do you say blah blah blah” or some other question that I will not want to or know how to answer because, in all truth, I can barely form a complete sentence in the dang language! If they asked me to write something that would be different, but asking me to actually speak it scares the crap out of me. So answering “Yes” is out of question.

So then I guess that brings me to the answer I’m currently using, which is the obvious “No.” But then this gets me into trouble too. Things like “Oh, almost fluent though, right?” or “I thought you’ve been studying for a year, how are you not fluent already?” that absolutely drive me crazy because I am not at all close to be fluent and I have had a lot more to do than just study the language all hours of the day. In language classes in school, does a year of studying equal fluency? No. So why should my year of studying equal fluency?

And although I’m as tired as I sound of the question, this is mainly just me ranting. The next time I’m asked that question I may just answer with the usual “No” and try to ignore the string of questions that ensue, but maybe one day someone for once won’t ask if I’m fluent right off the bat and I’ll get the pleasure of giving my lungs a break from sighing.