Saturday, January 11, 2014

How to Really Learn French or Spanish Quickly on a Budget

Before we being let's first have a discussion about the realistic expectations of learning a foreign language. You can type, "How long does it take to become fluent in ______?" in Google get hundreds of opinions, but usually there are two problems with the responses you'll find.

The first problem with the average opinions you'll find on language learning is that they are based on becoming 100% fluent. Complete fluency is not realistic unless you have access to a location where that language spoken fluently on a large scale. The amount of study required to become fluent differs from language to language, but there is a great article on how many hours it will take you here

The other problem with the language learning is that most of the programs are boring, grueling, tedious, and costly. The average person sets out with excitement and high hopes only to quickly quit because the process becomes too much of a chore. Trust me I've gone through a few hours of Rosetta Stone and it was so boring I wanted to gouge my eyes out.

There are 3 types of people that want to learn a foreign language, and I have a solution for each:

First, if you want to learn a language because you are being relocated to another country and have limited time to do so you should really be looking for professional help. Sign up for local classes, hire a tutor, and dedicate yourself as much a possible until you move. This group of people is probably the smallest group of people that want to learn a new language.

Second, if you want to learn a language because you are travelling on vacation in less than six months try to focus on learning the basics only. The Michel Thomas CD's are great because you can listen in the car and the lessons are useful (how to order food at a restaurant, etc.). 

The last group of people that want to learn a language have no set time limit to do so and can work at their own pace. I think the last group makes up the majority of people and I have the best solution for you if you are in this group.

There are two great language learning programs out there that are free to watch online. French in Action for French and Destino's for Spanish (and there may be more language shows out there if you search). Each series consists of 52 episodes that are about 30 minutes long. These were originally filmed in the late 1980s so they look a little dated but you'll quickly forget about this after watching for a few minutes.

The programs are effective because little or no English is spoken. You learn just like a child learns by matching the foreign words to the objects and actions you see on screen. The best way to use the program is by watching one episode everyday. Once you watch all 52 episodes start over again at episode one. During the first run through you'll miss a lot of what is being said, but after running through the series two or three times you'll understand almost everything.

Another great (and free) resource is Memrise. It is a website you can use to build your vocabulary between watching the TV shows listed above. I think it is much more interesting and effective than a vocabulary program like Rosetta Stone simply because it uses a unique memorization approach that really works. The site was created by a competitive memory champion. 

Don't overlook the educational value of these resources because they are free. Many action fakers buy language programs only to use them once. It was the act of buying something, and not the actual language learning, that was their deep desire. Don't fall into that trap.

Once you've gone through the videos mentioned above and the intro course on Memrise you should understand at least 2,000 foreign words. This should be enough words for you to watch and enjoy TV shows in that foreign language (You'll probably understand 30-40%).

To increase your fluency to a really usable level I would suggest Assimil's "With Ease" courses. The course is very affordable and will help tie everything you've previously learned together. Assimil is almost unheard of here in the U.S. but is very popular among Europeans learning a second language. Out of all the language programs Assimil is my favorite, but , it should not be the first one you work through or you'll be overwhelmed.

Spend 30 minutes a day and work through each program individually in the order I gave above before moving onto the next program. You'll find that by the time you start to get bored with one you'll be finishing it up and starting on the next program. This will keep your interest over the long haul and keep you on the road to fluency.