Sunday, November 15, 2009

What does it Really Take to Learn a Foreign Language?

How Long Does it Take to Learn a Foreign Language?

So, how long does it take to learn a foreign language?

If I hear that question one more time I’ll just scream. Okay, so maybe I won’t scream, but I’ll give an answer similar to the one I’ve already seemingly given a thousand times or more. Only now, my stock answer is getting a lot shorter and more concise.

How long it will take you to learn Spanish, French, Japanese, Italian, German, Chinese or whatever other foreign language you’re attempting to dabble in actually depends on you.”

The more you immerse yourself in it, the faster and more easily you will become fluent.”

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

Foreign Language Learning Immersion

As a veteran of several decades in foreign language learning of French, Kpelle, Twi (Akan), and Spanish to mention a smattering of tongues I’ve broached, I’m thoroughly convinced that the only sure way of quickly and successfully acquiring a foreign language is to immerse yourself completely and totally in the language and culture for as long a period – or series of periods if need be - as you possibly can.

Learn to Speak Spanish

Say or think whatever you like, but if you want to learn to speak Spanish, for example, spending six weeks of summer vacation in a non-tourist town or area of Mexico or other Spanish-speaking country, will allow you to speak far more Spanish than a full year or even more “studying” Spanish in a school.


It’s because you’ll have to function completely in the foreign language all day everyday, day in and day out. Everything you do will be foreign language vocabulary acquisition-based. From “Where’s the soap?” for your morning shower, to “What’s for breakfast?” and “Where’s the bus to Cuautla?”or “I’m hungry. Where’s a good, cheap restaurant?” – throughout the entire day, will be in Spanish.
You’ll ask a thousand questions with authentic language responses from one word answers to “full diatribes of innocuos discourse”. You’ll have to mentally process it all, extracting the needed information, wholly or in part, from each interaction.

Everyone will be your foreign language teacher

Everyone will be your foreign language teacher from the schoolgirl waiting for the bus on the corner to the little old ladies strolling out of the “tienda” with their woven baskets of ingredients for the day’s lunch. A grease-smeared car mechanic you pass by while walking down the block, a policeman, a vendor at the newspaper kiosk, a watchman taking a break in the shade of a home’s porch. They will all teach you Spanish. It might be one word, an expression, a gesture or the sight of a new food. “What’s that?”, “Where is this?” and “Can you tell me ...” will become your calling cards. All in the foreign language that you’re learning, of course.

Open your books please to page 86, exercise 2.”

Be sure to study your list of verb conjugations from today’s vocabulary practice.”

Review the false cognates from the reading in your textbooks.”

How would you rather acquire your foreign language communications skills? By learning and practicing what you need to know and learn on-the-spot, or from a list of lexical items?

Continuing in the next post we'll have more on what it really takes to learn a foreign language. See you then.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 135 countries. Get your FREE E-book, “If you Want to Teach English Abroad, Here's What You Need to Know" by requesting the title at: Need a blogger or copywriter to promote your school, institution, service or business or an experienced writer and vibrant SEO content for your website, blog or newsletter? Then E-mail me for further information.


margaret said...

Learning a foriegn langusge is very important for people who migrate to other countries Learning everyday common words will help to build better rapport among people and make living life in other countries easier.
Nice sharing of a great content.

John Moxford said...

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EducationStars said...

I love this question about "how long..." and even more which language school is the best? I heard that so many times that I think students should rate their school or even better they should write a review. On you can do that. All reviews are proofed and give an overview about the quality of language schools abroad. Hope that helps. There are about 2800 international language schools in the world and it's quite difficult to find the "best" one. One school is the best for business-english the other one is the best for seniors etc. That means reviews are so important to get an impression of the quality of the school.