The best way to learn a language is a question that has been around for a long time. And researchers over the years have struggled to provide an answer.
According to Newsquest Media based in London, England, there are three ways to acquire a second language
- Traditional classroom learning or with a tutor.
- Online courses or apps.
- In-country immersion.
Each of these methods has pros and cons to learning.
Traditional classrooms are not the answer
The traditional classroom or tutor method can be effective when beginning but very few people actually learn to speak a language this way. This method focuses on grammar, rules, and memorization. This type of learning ignores the most important part of a language: communication.
Additionally, focusing on grammar, rules, and memorization quickly becomes boring and tedious prompting less interest in learning which leads to quitting.
Online and apps often fail the language learner
Learning online or with an app is more efficient, accessible, and saves time.
But this also involves a great deal of memorization and rote learning. With this type of learning it can be weeks or longer before you are able to interact with others and many people never learn to speak the language using apps. Again this method misses the point of a language: communication.
Additionally, language learning apps have a large failure rate. The University of Maryland did a study that found that only 6% of enthusiastic language learners stayed with the program.
In-country immersion is best, but not always an option
Possibly the most effective way to learn a language is by going to a country that speaks the language and immersing yourself.
Immersion is how you learned your first language. However, this method has the obvious drawbacks of expense, time, and anxiety. Putting yourself in a situation where you don’t know anyone or the language is not always feasible.
Additionally, immersion does not always work. Often expats and travelers fall back on English or gravitate to other English speakers and find themselves in a ‘bubble’ of English speakers.
So what is the best way to learn a language? As polyglot Matyas Pilin put it, “There is no single supermethod”.
But there are ways to make it easier. Mathew Youlden a linguist and lecturer from Manchester, England suggests:
- Keep it simple
This means, in part, to focus on communicating not on grammar. Get the meaning across without worrying about being perfect.
- Keep it relevant
Focus on what you need to learn from the language. There are hundreds of thousands of words or more in most languages, but you probably only need to know a few hundred of these. Learn the most relevant and needed words and phrases.
- Speak the language from the beginning.
Scott Young and Vat Jaiswal conducted an interesting experiment. They traveled to several different countries but did no language study prior to arriving in the destination country. When they arrived they spoke no English. In a few days, they were communicating and in a few weeks, they were holding conversations.
You probably can’t just zip over to another country for a few weeks and never speak English. The next best thing to do is to find a native speaker who will be patient and work with you. This is easy to do today via the Internet and apps like HelloTalk.
In the end, the best way to learn a language no matter what your method is by focusing on the 5-part formula to language learning:
- Learn only what you need to know
- Eliminate grammar at the beginning
- Review vocabulary and speak it several times throughout the day
- Use the words you know to say what you can say
- Think about the words in a visual way providing real-life context
Starting is the hardest part of any challenge. And if you can start by focusing on some small wins, you’ll build your confidence to keep going forward and eventually you not only learn the language, but you’ll enjoy speaking it, too.