Many of my students have asked me why they found it impossible to become fluent while studying their target languages on their own or by using available courses like Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, and regular school instruction. Usually everyone is very excited at the beginning of a foreign language course, and any language training ad will make great promises to all students that they would learn to speak in no time. My response is always geared towards demystifying the language learning process:
Myth #1: Fluency means being able to speak. Basic conversational skill is rather easy to acquire: there are no more than two easy patterns that I teach my students during the first 4 hours, which enable them to make basic conversation of the “survival” type. However, anyone is disappointed at discovering that he/she still cannot understand anything in the foreign language despite being able to expres his/her “survival sentences”… in fact even the basic conversation he/she has just learnt still sounds almost incomprehensible (too fast!) when pronounced by a native speaker in a movie, for instance. This is why the only method that can provide thorough results is the personalized language immersion method used by some teachers in diplomatic schools; during such a program the student’s curriculum follows two tracks — speaking and listening comprehension — with in-depth support, face-to-face interaction, and adequate individual practice. Body language, in connection to sounds, is very important, and students are surprised to find out that direct communication appears to render more effective results than CD, TV, or uTube listening practice.
Myth #2: Learning “like a child”. Many contemporary methods employed in online foreign language study emphasize a fast learning path that is guided by logical falacies. Thus, for instance, adults are invited to learn like children. But adults are not like children…. All adult students I’ve known have expected structure and logical explanations. Even K6th children will memorize better if they receive explanations instead of only pictures with foreign words. While the picture-related process appeals to a student’s photographic memory, and is therefore useful in the learning process, it still remains only one piece of the perception caleidoscope. Assimilating a foreign language both fast and thoroughly is possible, though, and most students only need a well-structured program to achieve conversational fluency within three months.
The key word here is “well-structured”. The teacher’s effort as converted into personalized instruction is essential; and we are very lucky to benefit nowadays from a huge variety of TV/uTube sources in target-languages that can be incorporated into class exercises to satisfy each student’s preferences. Unfortunately, many popular courses offer a one-fits-all approach which frustrates both the fast-learners and the meticulous slow-paced students while providing only a modicum of learning comfort to some students. Most intermediate students who came to our programs had been left by their prior training with significant gaps in grammar and pronunciation and quite a bit of confusion about the nebula of morphological categories and syntactic patterns. They were surprised to see how easily their unknowns were cleared within a few hours. Bottom line, a well-structured course must be priority-based and designed individually. Thus in our programs no student’s notebook will actually look like another student’s, and adults’ notebooks will be very different from those of our child-students. While this approach is, of course, more difficult for the teacher, it is definitely the most useful one for students.