1. Person A speaks [language] as a second language, but not very well. A is trying to communicate with B.
A: Hi, I don't speak [language] very well but I would like to ask a question
B: Oh you speak [language] fine/perfect/etc, I understand you just fine!
2. Person A speaks [language] as a second language to the point of fluency, however, still has an accent when they speak. A is communicating with B in [language].
A: Yes I have been speaking [language] for years, I study it/grew up speaking it/etc.
B: Oh you speak [language] fine/perfect/better than native speakers.
3. Person A speaks more than one language with fluency and without any noticeable foreign accent. Person A spoke with person B in one language first, and then the other.
A: (in second language) Oh of course, I also speak [language]!
B: Oh you speak [language] fine/perfect/better-.
So I have noticed with foreign language speakers there are three types of compliments, based on comprehension (situation 1), fluency (sit. 2), and accent (sit. 3). Distinguishing the compliment from sit. 2 and sit. 3 I find rather difficult. I actually spoke to some German people over the weekend, and received the compliment of speaking very well. I don't know if my fluency or my accent was complimented though. I know I have somewhat of an accent, but I find I speak German with less accent than my German professors, who are both Americans. Also I find sit. 2 to be common among many ESL-speakers (where they may be unsure of their English, but it actually sounds perfect or near perfect to native English speakers).
What do you think? Have you been in similar situations? Any ideas on other compliment "categories"? How do you distinguish from situation 2 and 3? How do you think compliments differ in writing and in speaking? I want to hear what everyone thinks. For some strange reason, I find it overly fascinating, especially since my skill level of German has varied throughout the years. Also, I'm not sure if this is covered in Linguistics 101, I haven't taken any courses on it yet, but hope to in the near future.