What in a common test for fluency in Chinese?

Is it when I can;

  • talk to a shopkeeper
  • converse meaningfully about a film
  • do business purely in Chinese
  • pass HSK6

When my friends ask I don't know what to say.

  • I think you will know it when you start receiving praises from native speakers.
    – 杨以轩
    Apr 14, 2013 at 7:50
  • 2
    I think native speakers said that 5 years ago, but it wasn't very genuine. Apr 14, 2013 at 8:47
  • 3
    I think this question is very subjective hence "not constructive" and I think you know it:) Regardless, my personal opinion is 1) Understand most of a movie by hearing not guessing, without subtitle of course; 2) Properly incorporate mood and subtext into oral communication; 3) Can seize the moment and use the right way to cut in/quickly react to a conversation; 4) Always use expressions that sounds native even when the content is poorly organized, unfamiliar, or the idioms/terminologies are unknown to you. These are my personal goals for English learning:)
    – NS.X.
    Apr 14, 2013 at 10:11
  • Yeah, its a question I want to answer for myself, but not quite a SE question. I can watch films with chinese subtitles, but struggle with just audio. Apr 14, 2013 at 15:29
  • 1
    @QuestionOverflow that's not true. Just like a native speaker never praises another native speaker for good mastery of the language, a near-native/bilingual speaker should not expect praises...
    – phoeagon
    Feb 26, 2014 at 15:19

10 Answers 10


For the purpose of decorating a resumé, there are in my humble opinion three levels:

  1. beginner - can say 你好, with heavy accent
  2. fluent - can talk to a shopkeeper, expat level
  3. advanced - can converse meaningfully about a film, do business purely in Chinese, pass HSK 6, and teach a university course on Chinese
  4. native - unreachable

What to tell your friends is an entirely personal matter – they will most likely consider you as the prime authority for Chinese anyway.

  • I like this. I guess I hold "fluency" as this advanced goal I would never believe myself to achieve. But it does "flow". I guess that's a natural definition. Apr 14, 2013 at 15:30
  • @MatthewRudy马泰 Good question Matthew. I often have this same question myself... and always regard "fluency" as some unattainable level, but my Chinese friends say I'm fluent (but I don't believe them, haha)
    – user3871
    Feb 26, 2014 at 14:25
  • 3
    I have to disagree. Not only are the steps too big (basically there are only 2 in your model, because 1. can be reached within half an hour of training and 4. can't be reached ever), but also I don't like how "native" gets idolized. In Chinese, like in any other language, native speakers make mistakes as well. While Chinese cannot get anyone's L1 you can still reach a native-like level (or let's say higher than advanced for this matter). (Probably with deficits in word use, but maybe more advanced other aspects.)
    – langdi
    Feb 26, 2014 at 16:33

Here's my two cents.

Out of those four choices you provided us, I'd say that conversing meaningfully about a film (or a book or a painting) and conducting business strictly in Chinese are very close to fluency.

Also, being fluent in a language does not pinpoint at a clear-cut level. You can be "just" fluent and be fluent like a native speaker. There's usually a difference between the two. Moreover, different native speakers elicit different levels of fluency. Compare a five year-old child with a novelist. Both are fluent, but one of them has a greater command of the language and a greater ability to convey his ideas with clarity and succinctness.

In the end, it all comes down to what you're happy with and what your aspirations are. When things start clicking in real-time, you are almost there. But, even after you reach fluency, you may still have a long path to go.

Finally, your mother language plays an important role in how fast you can become fluent and continue to make progress after you have reached that level. I'm not talking about Chinese here, but about any language in general.

  • Regarding the last point could you clarify whether you're referring the similarity between the mother language and the target language OR the learner's competency in his mother language?
    – NS.X.
    Apr 14, 2013 at 18:58
  • +1 "Know as much vocabulary as the average five year old native speaker." I guess that's a "useful" definition of "fluency."
    – Tom Au
    Apr 14, 2013 at 19:04
  • @NS.X. English speakers can become proficient in Spanish or French much faster than they can become so in Chinese. Why? Because of the amount of cognates. English and Chinese almost have no cognates. What this implies for an English native speaker (monolingual) is that his study of Chinese will be much slower because she needs to learn how to use every word to make meaningful constructions and how to operate in a different grammar. If you hear a cognate from Spanish "conversación", you can almost immediately grasp the meaning of it. In studying Chinese, you won't be so lucky.
    – jll90
    Apr 14, 2013 at 21:31
  • @TomAu If you can use that vocabulary correctly with an understandable pronunciation only making minor mistakes from time to time, you could be fluent. The concept of fluency will vary from person to person and will certainly be a matter for discussion. Like I said at the beginning of my answer, that was my opinion regarding fluency in general.
    – jll90
    Apr 14, 2013 at 21:48
  • @jll90 Agreed. Thanks for the clarification.
    – NS.X.
    Apr 14, 2013 at 21:53

Fluent simply means that input and output in the given language is fluid: that is, without abrupt stops and hesitations. It is not related to speaking as a native. It also doesn't mean you are correctly pronouncing or using words necessarily.


Simply don't use the word "fluent", because it may mean anything from "has internalised a few hundred words and can use them to get his meaning across" to "is often mistaken for a native speaker". Isn't it simpler and more meaningful to say you're a at beginner/intermediate/advanced level? CEFR provides good descriptions of different levels. I'd say A1/A2 means beginner, B1/B2 - intermediate and C1/C2 - advanced. Even if some people disagree, the confusion is much lower than for the word "fluent".


when you can understand all chinese news and talks like that, you will be good then


I like the idea of of being mistaken for a native. It's something like a Turing Test but arguably higher up on the scale of fluency.

Would serve as a good (or the ultimate?) check.

  • Weirdly enough I had this conversation yesterday. I proposed that "native fluency" should be tested by a Turing Test type experiment. But that "fluency" was a lower level. Mar 12, 2014 at 8:31

starting a new foreign language, best test by communicate with kid


Doing business purely in Chinese with Chinese is a challenge, even to Chinese people. The other 3 are trivia comparing to business.


Well, I am native Chinese speaker, and I am trying hard to speak English, so here are some answers based on my secret paper 7 Tips to know you are fluent in English Actually it's not 7 I just type 7 because it is cool.

  • You can buy things at supermarkets, alone
  • You can bargain with cashier at supermarkets withtou being hit
  • You can understand a film without subtitles
  • You can ask strangers to tell you the nearest toilet
  • You can do business in China
  • You can drink spirit with your friends
  • You can make Chinese male friends

Well, if you can do all things in Chinese, then you are fluent. Oh, wait a second, I forget to mention HSK, don't worry about those examinations, they don't reflect your true ability.

  • Anything wrong with making Chinese female friends?
    – 杨以轩
    Mar 12, 2014 at 4:19
  • @QuestionOverflow I really don't want to elaborate on this topic... Mar 12, 2014 at 4:21

when you can understand 郭德纲的相声

  • 1
    Many native speakers can't. It's a cultural thing.
    – agriprop
    Feb 27, 2014 at 13:46

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