A few random thoughts on the word Fluent
Fluent is a lovely word. Floooooent. Say it slowly, roll it around your tongue. It sounds delicious and it’s a perfect example of an evocative verb. Smooth and flowing, effortless and graceful. Our language is blessed with many such words, effervescent, languor and serendipity are among my favourites.
A gentleman by the name of G Joslin Vethakumer, I’m not sure of his nationality, is quoted as saying that that the beauty of the English language lies in its simplicity. He pointed out that if you say ‘I love you’ in any other language you will hear the difference (actually I think that je taime sounds rather nice too!) He goes on to suggest that in English it’s more than just a formal expression as it’s cloaked in a certain warmth and sincerity vital to make it reflect the delicate inner closeness you cherish in a relationship.
Sadly few of us can be said to be wholly fluent in our own language and this clumsy sentence I think proves my point! Foreigners learning English often fail to recognise Mr Vethakumer’s description of our language as simple and literal translations rarely work.You may recall that some time ago I carried out an experiment using the famous Babelfish online translator. I tried it again today. I typed in the words ‘very few of us are fluent in our own language’ and this this what I got:-
English to Italian – molto poca gente e fluent nella loro propria lingua
Italian to French – de beaucoup de peu gens sont coulantes dans leur sa langue
French to German – von viel Leutebitchen sind in ihrer seiner Sprache flussig
German back to English – from much people-little are liquids in their its language!
I remember hearing once of a teacher who was telling her students about the common mistake of using double negatives in spoken English. She explained that a double negative makes a positive, for example ‘I don’t want nothing’ actually means that 'I do want something'! She went on to say that on the other hand, a double positive never makes a negative. A voice at the back of the class called out ‘Yeah right’!