Studying foreign languages is my hobby. Notice I didn’t say learning foreign languages. In the years that I’ve been merrily racking up classes in Japanese, French, Turkish, Italian, Latin, Arabic, Persian, German – even ‘olelo Hawai’i (the Hawaiian language) – I’ve never risen to the level of real fluency.
Yet, it’s my passionately desired goal to achieve fluency in at least one of them before I kick the bucket. To that end, I recently attended a workshop by Benny Lewis, a self-described Irish polyglot, who claims that by using his methods, anybody can be fluent in a foreign language in three months. Hence, his website: Fluent in 3 Months.
Lewis says he’s living proof that it can be done. Ten years of studying the Irish language in school was 10 years wasted; ditto for the five years of school he spent studying German. Have you detected a pattern? School is the key word here, and as Lewis began describing how he seized upon scores of FREE Internet resources that would help him finally learn foreign languages, I realized that my attendance of formal classes once or twice a week had put my learning in a sporadic pattern that actually created hurdles instead of smoothing the way.
The most important message I took from Lewis is that language learning is an active verb. And it requires daily action. The myriad Internet resources available for language learning are not magic pills. But if a willing student takes advantage of several of these FREE resources each day, fluency can be just around the corner.
“An intensive two or three hours a day is required,” Lewis told the workshop attendees, “not an hour every week or two.” He cited studies of memory and retention to illustrate that without daily study and practice, foreign language skills can dry up and blow away. And I’m the living proof of that fact.
Time to get down to business. First of all, it’s important to hear the spoken language. Lewis recommends starting with the website Tune In and downloading streaming radio programs from virtually anywhere in the world. There are more than 100,000 stations from which to choose, as well as scads of podcasts in foreign languages. Then look for instructional videos for your language or videos with native speakers on YouTube. You may even find feature films in your chosen language on that site.
Then jump right in. Lewis recommends compiling a set of phrases that you could use to begin a spoken conversation with anyone, for example, words of greeting and a brief intro about who you are and why you’re learning a foreign language. One of the quickest ways to find a useful phrase is to type it in English into Google Translate and then select a language for the translation. It’s also useful to find a good online dictionary for your chosen language and look up words and expressions there, too.
As for grammar, Lewis says, “Forget it!” Nothing will get in the way of your progress faster than worrying about grammar rules or believing that you need to sound like you’ve graduated with honors from that country’s most esteemed institution of learning. Just chillax and enjoy the learning process. Most people are delighted that you want to learn their language and will communicate with you, no matter how badly you mangle their native tongue. Lewis’ advice is: “Set a goal of making more than 200 mistakes per day.” That is to say, perfection is not the objective. Practice is.
If you don’t know any native speakers who will practice with you, find someone in that country who will speak to you on Skype. For FREE conversation practice, sign up at Language-Exchanges, a website called The Mixxer that is maintained by Dickinson College and connects people around the world for language practice exchange. On Italki, you can find tutors who, for a low fee (typically $6 to $20 per hour), will deliver language lessons via Skype.
Finally, here are some of the online language learning resources recommended by Lewis. Duolingo (for learning European languages); Anki (flash cards); Forvo (pronunciation guide); Lang-8 (correcting written language). And on his own site there are starter phrases (fi3m.com/phrases) and recommended dictionaries (fi3m.com/free-dictionaries).