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Language Fluency Checklist!

When it comes to learning a new language, one question always in the back of a student's mind is “When will I be fluent in it?”. The truth is, until what we learn is subject to a real world stress test, the answer is never concrete, and might change on a whim if we have to deal with a different accent or region's way of doing things in order to do what we need to do with it. That said, I can think of few things to motivate study of a new language better than a way to concretely check how much process a student is making, especially since it's often times a humbling process just to come to grips with it (says the man who communicated to a Japanese-speaking woman by yelling “I HELP YOU” at her in English.). This list is here to help you do just that, as well as show where you currently are in your studies, so you can see where to focus your efforts. Does this mean that once you complete everything, you'll have utter mastery over the language?
Short answer: No.
Long Answer: Even if you think you've picked up every possible thing about the way a language is supposed to work, there's always something new to learn, a new wrinkle to add to your range of knowledge, a new way to approach the same topic. This is what gives languages their spark and their life, even if they're no longer alive.

The List!
(these will have links to any posts discussing the stuff in the checklist, if there's content discussing it)

Personal stuff
❒ I'm aware that no matter how much I study a language or culture, there's always something new to learn
(It can be tough to wrap your head around, but this is quite an awesome thing, I assure you)
❒ I'm willing to screw up and get things wrong
(this will be one the hardest parts to accept, but will open you to so much more of what the language, culture and so on can offer, once you do)
❒ I know enough about my own culture and language to share it
(the more willing you are to share your knowledge, the more they'll feel safe sharing theirs with you)
❒ I'm willing to speak with them like human beings, and not like they're walking encyclopedias
(the channels of communication open wider when you don't treat people a resource to be used and stowed away at will)
❒ I recognize those speaking the language I study for who they are, not for who I want them to be
(It's never an easy process, and can take years to really grasp, but once you do, you'll understand the people you speak with at unparallelled levels of depth and intimacy)
❒ I've grown beyond the “Let me showcase my sweet language skillz” phase
(believe me, unless your trade demands hot dogging, nobody likes a showoff, and getting beyond this brings much more clarity to what you want to say)
❒ I've grown beyond the “OMGYOU'REWRONG!!!111!!ONE” phase
(few things grate on people's nerves quicker than people who try to prove a point, and saving that stuff for when it really matters will save everyone involved several headaches)
❒ I can see things from a perspective other than my own
(in achieving this, you can better get the message shaping their words,  thus creating a richer and more rewarding conversation)
❒ I can see the common aspects between my language/culture and Japan's
(the more you can relate to the country, the more you can connect to what you're saying)
❒ I've grown to see the little things about their culture as just that
(if you can't keep this stuff in perspective, the humanity behind it gets lost in the mix)
❒ I'm aware that fluency is very subjective and relies on a person's intent
(the stuff you know won't be the same as the stuff someone else knows, but both can be capable of putting their thoughts into a tangible form)

Tourist-y Stuff!
❒ I can call for help in their language
(you WILL want to know this, if the stuff ever hits the fan during your trip)
❒ I've spoken to someone from the country
(if you do it, you can gain insight few books can offer about life in the country)
❒ I can get around the country without getting lost
(If you can get some contacts in the places you'll be headed to/do your homework before you head off,
you'll have a much easier time getting around)
❒ I can give/get detailed directions to place
(This will come with research, connecting with locals being aware of what's around you)
❒ I know a few neat local spots and can describe my experiences there
(Remember, there's a lot more to a place than what you see in the guidebook, and locals can help you find the good stuff)

Gathering resources
❒ I have a source of news for the country's sports, politics &/or entertainment
(part of building your skills in a foreign language is having something relevant to talk about, which your source will provide)
❒ I have someone to practice my language skills with
(since learning a language goes hand in hand with communication, it will benefit you greatly to have someone to use it with)
❒ I have tools to help me better understand the language/culture
(this can be books, websites, applications or anything in between)

Cultural Insight
❒ There's a particular aspect of their culture that fascinates me
(When you have something that interests you, it'll get you through a lot of the grind studying this stuff comes with)
❒ I've learned about the basics of their culture
(you can get by without them, but knowing them will make you that much more able to see the heart of the matter)
❒ I know about the country's basic history
(it runs through a lot of popular media, so being more familiar with will help you get what makes it so compelling)
❒ I can I.D. figures/events from the country's history
(Likewise, knowing about people made famous throughout the country's history can help you get why they pop up as often as they do)
❒ I can debate and discuss figures and events from the country's history, backing it with facts
(on the off chance someone starts pressing you about these subjects, you'll want that knowledge on hand, so your point can be stronger)
❒ I'm aware of the etiquette and issues that define their society
(as it is elsewhere, the more you know about the stuff people in Japan deal with everyday, the more you'll be able to understand the choices they make)
❒ I can debate and discuss the etiquette and issues hat define their society, backing it with facts
(in the political battle for hearts and minds, 'stupid little spats' about this stuff can help others decide whether or not things should change, as well as if they take any action to make it happen)
❒ I've formed my own image of the country
(bear in mind that this can come from any aspect you come across, and there is no 'wrong' image when you start out)
❒ I've refined my image of the country through study and conversation
(Through this, the humanity at the core starts to emerge and lets understanding take root)
❒ I know about the country's folklore and urban myths
(Ideally, this means doing it both your native language and Japanese, but these help add depth to what you know about the country and reveal more of what makes the country tick)
❒ I can retell the country's folklore and urban myths, as well as my own stories
(Ideally, this means doing it both your native language and Japanese, but part of what gives these their charm is sharing them with those close to you and letting them take in your interpretation of them)

Pop Culture Immersion
❒ I've tried some of the country's cuisine/sports/entertainment
(note: this also includes stuff like Baseball, Top Ramen, Rock-Paper-Scissors, and so on)
❒ I've formed an opinion on the country's sports, politics &/or entertainment
(after all, an expressible point of view is part of what makes each a joy to follow, even if they do lead to bickering)
❒ I have a favorite figure from the country's sports, politics &/or entertainment
(Having one is part of fueling the fire for learning more about the language and culture, and there are plenty of characters to choose from)
❒ I've discovered aspects of the country most popular media glosses over
(this is vital to developing a rounded perception of it and approaching it with respect)
❒ I can debate and discuss the aspects of the country most popular media glosses over, backing it with facts
(when people start pressing you about the stuff you're into, this is will become essential)

Milestones in Speaking Japanese
❒ I have the vocabulary and language ability of a preschooler
(as demoralizing at that sounds, it means you can communicate with someone, a good first step on the 1000 mile journey)
❒ I have the vocabulary and language ability of a 12th grader
(if this doesn't sound like progress, consider this: many newspapers don't use vocabulary beyond the 8th grade, so getting here will put you well on your way)
❒ I can think of at least 1 synonym(word with similar meaning) and 1 antonym(word with an opposite meaning)  for every word I know
(this is quite daunting, but knowing this will enrich how you speak and give you a much bigger palate to paint your message with)
❒ I can string a sentence together
(this is the foundation of conveying your thoughts and feelings, no matter how short or long it is)
❒ I can string sentences together
(the more you can convey, the more you can layer your message)
❒ I can express at least a paragraph's length of coherent thought
(when you really need to explain yourself, this ability will hopefully help sway the listener to your side)
❒ I can describe and compare things
(when it's time to go shop/seek out some deals/other stuff dealing with details, this will become indispensable)
❒ I can haggle/negotiate
(If a time comes when this becomes viable, this will help you reach a conclusion both parties are satisfied with)
❒ I can hold a basic conversation with minimal aid
(if you talk to someone without having to flip open a resource that often, you'll know you've achieved this)
❒ I can start and maintain a chat with someone in person with no aides
(this means if you can greet someone in the streets and talk with for a good chunk of time after that, you got it on lock)
❒ I can express my feelings about the country in both my language and in Japanese
(be warned: doing this is highly likely to open a can of emotionally charged worms, especially if it gets personal or political)
❒ I can both tell and retell a story/rumor
(even if your not the gossip-y kind, this is a big part of understanding things on a more intimate level, which you'll know from time spent with your buds at the local watering hole)
❒ I can invent my own words/verbs
(it may seem kiddie, but it's not just fun, it also helps you bond with your friends and develop in jokes between you and them)
❒ I can shorten/combine words and get when words are shortened/combined
(How else would you be able to tell that Brangelina refers to Brad and Angelina, and not some random person out in the world?)
❒ I know what some of the sayings and idioms are and how to use 'em
(It's a big leap to make, but they can fill a lot of the gaps you may come across trying to grasp how the culture works day by day)
❒ I can use different forms of poetry/word play/word twisting
(it takes a sharp mind to do this, and done right, it can hook people hard on what you're trying to say)
❒ I know different ways to stall for time while I collect my thoughts
(because real life chats are NOT as fluid as the movies make them out to be, and you will miss not having those filler words at your command)
❒ I can communicate my intent and share my experiences
(if you can do this, you'll be able to strengthen the bonds between you and whoever you're talking to)
❒ I continually refine my skills through practice and conversations
(After all, isn't that stuff part of why you're doing all this in the first place?)

Milestones in Understanding Japanese
❒ I can hone in on the subtleties that determine impact, ton and emotions, as well as use them for myself
(these are important to knowing the kind of picture the speaker wants you to grasp as they talk to you)
❒ I can I.D. a dialect and know some of the history and culture behind it
(The more you know about this stuff, the more you can see how many layers there to the country as a whole, as there are to every country)

Milestones in Reading/Writing Japanese
❒ I can read a kid's book/comic of the country with minimal aid
(this means you can read 平仮名[ひらがな]/片仮名[かたかな] well enough to start finding the message of a statement, which, at this point, is all you'll really need)
❒ I can read and get a magazine with no aides
(if you can do this, then your vocabulary has taken the next step up the ladder and opened you to some neat stuff you wouldn't find otherwise)
❒ I can read and get a book with no aides
(when you can do this, you can start digging into the headier and more deeply buried aspects of Japan, often discussed in literature that never leaves the country or gets translated)
❒ I can write 平仮名 and  片仮名 as naturally as I can write my native language
(this may seem a bit unnecessary in the age of cellphones and computers, but it's always good to be familiar with the old ways)
❒ I can write the  漢字(かんじ), if there are any, to every word I know
(this is one of the biggest hills to climb for those new to it, but it will get you familiar with the knowledge of the word in a way few other study methods can or ever will)
❒ I can I.D. elements of unfamiliar words and uncover a meaning
(his involves not just the word , itself, but also the context in which the word is used and the info around it)
❒ I can I.D. elements of unfamiliar characters and uncover a meaning
(when you do that, you can start tackling brand new words and be able to come up with possible meanings before you can look it up in your favorite resource)

(Keep in mind that you can use this as a running list to help you mark when you've got one done and made a step towards fluency)
0-16: Baby Stage
17-32: Smart-Ass Phase
33-49: Issue Minded Prick Phase
50-All: Worldly Curmudgeon Phase