So you studied Spanish (or any language, for that matter) in grade school for how many years? Four? Five? Six?
Or, if you’re like me, you completed five semesters in high school, took the AP Spanish test, took two more semesters in college, studied abroad in Spain and then — when you still couldn’t have a decent conversation — got frustrated and gave up! When I entered Spanish class my junior year of college, I sat in the back row and tried to be invisible, because every time someone asked me something, I couldn’t string together the words to respond!
I chickened out.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Today, I am at a C1 level (advanced level). And dropping out of formal Spanish language classes helped me get fluent.
So how did this happen?
Learning Languages in the Classroom Vs. Real Life
Studying a second language is part of high school graduation requirements or recommendations in many states. You may have also been required to take classes in a second language as part of your college degree. But formal classroom learning (as I experienced it!) doesn’t help people get fluent. And here’s why.
You’re not actually talking in the classes. You’re an observer.
This does not represent how language is learned in real life. When you were a child, your parents were actively encouraging you to speak. From Day 1, they were desperately trying to get you to make sounds!
Contrast to the classrooms where I spent time (and where I’m betting you did, too). I was listening most of the time. And when I wasn’t listening, I was memorizing grammar rules and vocabulary lists for the next big test that would be 40 percent of my grade. We never actually USED language in the way it’s supposed to be used: to communicate.
Luca Lampariello, who has learned nine languages (all while living in Italy, might I add), puts in this way:
A teacher, especially now in the Internet era, should be a leader, facilitator, motivator and content provider, showing the students how to “find water” even when the teacher will not be there to lead them to it.
Basically, set them up for success! Show them where to find movies in the target language, songs, chat rooms, free language exchange websites, novels, whatever floats the learner’s boat, essentially.
On that note, language should be acquired, not learned. A language isn’t a set of facts to be memorized. It should be a constant process of discovery through various media: music, TV, podcasts, storybooks, comic books, art, YouTube videos, humor, newspapers, blog posts, Facebook posts, comic strips, letters to the editor, music videos and so much more.
Lampariello compares two students:
Student A memorizes grammar and lists of words.
Student B learns through context:
– Practicing with a native speaker and getting corrections.
– Reading things she is interested in, highlighting phrases and noting in what context they are being used.
– Listening to music she likes.
– Memorizing situational sentences and ways of speaking.
Which one of these students do you think will end up sounding more natural and fluent? Who will really be able to hold a conversation?
If you have never heard the language spoken, you will not be able to understand it.
I learned this the hard way. I studied French on my own for two years, but I came out of it with virtually nothing learned, because I was only reading books. Before attending my first private tutoring session, I had told the instructor I had been studying for two years. When she asked me basic questions like “What is your name?” and “How old are you?” I couldn’t understand what she was saying until she typed it in the chat box. How useful is that? Not very.
After four years in private tutoring sessions and very small group immersion conversation groups, I can now say I speak French. But I wish I had started learning French the right way in the first place.
And this is the right way: Dive into the language, choose material that you’re interested in and always start speaking with a native speaker right off the bat. We use this method at Fluency Corp, and it gets powerful results for our clients. Intrigued? Contact us for a free consultation call.