If you’ve been around the net a while, you know that the biggest thing nowadays is what I call the angina of the hack attack. We’re all looking for the shortcuts to life. We’re all looking at how we can best hack anything and everything. Nowhere is this truer than trying to figure out the best way to learn a language.
In this blog post I’m going to try and offer an answer to the easiest way to learn a language or anything for that matter and I’m going to explore this excessive interest we all have in expediency. It seems speed is more important nowadays than anything. We’re seeking quantity over quality.
There are many benefits to learning a foreign language, not the least of which is the fact that you’re spending time improving yourself rather than sitting in front of the idiot box. And don’t get me wrong, I love spending time in front of the TV. But there are much better things to spending your time on, such as learning a language.
Now granted, I believe that the simplest way to learn a new language is likely to be immersion. I have found that even two to three weeks in a foreign country allows me to start hearing the cadence and the rhythm of the language that I’m hearing as well as it starting to plant the seeds to my understanding and beginning of speaking the new language.
The problem with this approach is that it requires quite a bit of cash outlay. First of all you have to pay to move yourself to a new country, and not many of us have those financial resources available to us nor do we have the free time to take away from work and other obligations.
If you’re interested in this approach to learning a language, then you’ll want to check out Fluent in 3 Months. Benny the Irish polyglot takes this approach to learning a new language, and by all accounts it works. Benny speaks 11 languages to varying states of fluency. And perhaps this is the rub. What is determined as fluency in a second or third language?
For the purpose of this blog and learning languages, I’d suggest that fluency is the ability to communicate in a satisfactory manner in your day to day activities such as shopping or ordering something at a restaurant. If you’re familiar with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or CEFR then I’d put this at level B1 or thereabouts. Perhaps B1 to B2.
And as Benny’s sites suggests you can become fluent in a new language in three months. I think this is a worthwhile goal for most people who are willing to immerse themselves in an environment where they have to speak and learn the language such as living in the country where that language is spoken. So for example. If you want to learn to speak Italian then moving to Pescara for three months is probably the best way to learn Italian. And I think that three months will likely get you to a B1 level if you’re diligent about it.
However, I must add a caveat to that. I don’t think that is a workable goal for all languages. And of course reading this in English I am speaking primarily to English speakers looking to learn other languages.
Why do I say this? Because not all languages are as easy as each other to learn. The Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State lists the difficulty of learning foreign languages for English speakers. Bear in mind this list is for folks who already have a second language.
So I’d have to agree, that learning any languages that are quite dissimilar to English will likely require twice as long to learn in an immersion setting than others. A list of languages (not comprehensive) that you could likely become fluent in within 3 months in an immersion setting would be: French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese and German amongst others. Though German might take an additional month or so.
Languages that would likely take around 6 months to learn in an immersion setting would include: Arabic, Mandarin, Korean and Japanese for example. Languages requiring between 3 to 6 months might include the following: Hindi, Russian, Irish, Hebrew, Polish and Croatian amongst others.
Now this is my opinion only. And remember, I’m talking about becoming fluent to a basic level. Enough to get by in day to day situations. Not enough to have any in depth philosophical discussions or political disagreements.
Now most of us don’t have the luxury of the time or money required to dedicate ourselves to a full time immersion program in a foreign country. As such we’ll likely be starting to learn a second language by ourselves online. This is a good way to learn a language. You can self pace yourself and you can spend as little or as much as you’d like.
However, there are some drawbacks too. You need to be self motivated and you need to be patient. Perhaps it is this second requirement that is the most challenging, and the Achilles’ heel of most of our journeys paved with that false gold of good intentions that lead us to hell.
So if I can offer my best advice for the best way to learn anything, including languages, it is this. Be patient. Give yourself time. Find the right way for you. There are an embarrassingly abundant amount of resources available to us now thanks to the internet. You just need to spend some time finding the best approach for your own needs.
I’d start off in any of these directions. Take self directed courses online through places such as Babbel or Mango Languages, but there are many others. In fact Mango is available to me free with my public library subscription. Or perhaps books and CDs/DVDs work better for you. In which case shop online. But in the end you’ll likely need to practice either through MeetUps or with an instructor one on one through such places as italki.
Where this is a will there is a way. But whether you are interested in learning a new language or how to paint, the common denominator is time and patience. You need both. Our rush to hack everything is the reason so often we come up short, and the answer is in the term. HACK, which means to cut with rough or heavy blows. We need finesse. We need the surgeons steady hand. Yes, we should get rid of the fat and extraneous but more importantly we need to appreciate that anything worth learning is worth learning properly. And what that requires is time.
Life is not a sprint, it is a journey to be savored. So take your time on this winding path. Find your interests and learn at your own pace. But learn well, efficiently yes, but also give it the necessary time and attention that it deserves. The world is your oyster my son, if you’ll be just careful to open it carefully lest the pearl fall out and roll away from you.