[EZ] If you’re like many of us, you have a foreign language story. More often than not, it’s an unsuccessful experience in high school or college that left you with a few words of French or Spanish, and the depressing feeling that you were the problem. You just didn’t seem to “get” a foreign language. And yet, that language is still on your bucket list.
These days, there are still so many good reasons to learn a second language. But the environment has changed. There are internet ads everywhere promising “quick” “easy,” and “free” so-called “self study” programs that promise “instant” results in just a few weeks, and “fluency,” in no time.
And yet, the actual experience of self-study language programs can be very much like those bad memories of high school Spanish. Lots of flash cards, lots of memorizing. But no talking. There’s nobody to talk to, and so there’s no real chance to learn how to speak. Before long you’re frustrated, convinced yet again that you are the problem, and that a foreign language skill is out of your reach.
OK, first the bad news. It’s not fast, easy and fun. And it’s probably not going to be free. Like anything that is going to actually stretch you out of your comfort zone, it’s slow, challenging and fantastically rewarding. Dedication and commitment are required. There will be frustration. But every milestone on the road to mastery delivers enormous satisfaction.
So many people ask us “How long does it take to become fluent?” Learning a language is like training for a marathon. You would not expect to run 26 miles without many months of arduous training. And the same thing goes for conversing in a new language. Each lesson is like a training session; it’s a personal challenge, about doing your personal best not about setting a world record. You might start by just walking a mile. When that becomes easy, move on to the next goal.
How do I get started?
You start from the beginning. You can begin with a self-study program if you want to get a bit under your belt or you might want to just jump into a class. The point is to begin.
The self-study model is tantalizingly less expensive and daunting than signing up for a class. But there are limitations. First, most people do not have the self-discipline to study diligently on their own. More important, self-study models can’t give you the opportunity to learn and practice speaking, which is the key to actually speaking a language rather than simply compiling a vocabulary.
Self Study — The Hard Road
If you start with self-study, you will need persistence and self-motivation to learn to speak the language. This can be accomplished via regular trips to a country where the language is spoken, finding a fluent speaker to communicate with, or joining a language practice group. If you are able to do one or a combination of these things and you are able to feel progress, fantastic!
If you are like most language students, particularly in the beginning stages, you might find these less-structured approaches to building your speaking muscles not terribly effective and even, discouraging….kind of like doing a practice run with competitive marathoners after a few weeks or even months of training. If this is the case, it’s not because you have failed, it’s because you are not in the right environment for where you are in your journey. In this case, before giving up, you might want to give language instruction a try.
In Class – The Easier Road
The reason the vast majority of self-study students quit early in the process is because they aren’t able to create an organic environment where they can practice their skills on a regular basis so you never get the reward of experiencing real-time live communication.
This is where connecting with a great teacher can be your path to success. Why? A good professional instructor knows how to break it down so that you are working towards a goal that is both challenging and within your reach. A good teacher can also both steer the conversation to your level as well as give you the tools to help you make the most of what you know as well as help you build your language knowledge base and speaking muscles in digestible bites.
There is No “Right” Way
At the end of the day, there is not one right path for everyone. As mentioned, many students are able to construct a self-study program that works and is effective for them. Others do a hybrid of self-study and part-time in class learning. Others enjoy the consistency of a regular class with an instructor. The point is to remember that you are never failing. If you’re current approach isn’t inspiring you it means you need to switch it up and change to something that excites you.
What you get in the end
So after whatever blood sweat and tears you’ve invested, what do you get? Not only do you get the same satisfaction you get from finishing the 5K, 10K, marathon or whatever goal you set, even better, you have given yourself the possibility to connect on a different level with people who would not be accessible to you otherwise. You have just made your world bigger and richer.