Researchers Scott Young and Vat Jaiswal did an interesting experiment on how to learn another language.
They knew that most people who started learning another language were never able to actually speak in that language. And they wanted to find a way to learn AND speak a language – proficiently.
And they were successful. Here’s how.
Classes and apps are not the best way to learn a language
They found that taking a language in school seldom led to proficiency. In a survey of 1,000 Americans who had studied a language in school, only 7 could speak it very well.
They also found that using self-study programs and language learning apps such as RosettaStone and DuoLingo was better, but did not work all that well either.
In fact, only 6% of those who used the programs spent enough time studying to become proficient.
Immerse yourself to learn a language fast
Moving to a country and immersing oneself in the language and culture had the best, but mixed results.
The problem with immersion is that most people did not actually immerse themselves. Rather, they gravitated to English speakers and surrounded themselves with English.
This creates a bubble of English and prevents total immersion. In extreme cases, some individuals lived in-country of decades and never learned the language. Others did better, but only if they ventured out of their English bubble.
Does age matter for language learning?
Young and Jaiswal also factored in age.
We all know that the older we get, the more difficult it is to learn a language, right?
Wrong. In fact, that is one of the most widely-known language learning myths.
In fact, researchers found that adults actually learn a language faster than children, to a point. Children can get to native levels of pronunciation and grammar faster, but at the beginning, adults learn faster.
This is how to learn a language fast
So what is the best way to learn a new language?
Young and Jaiswal tested an extreme form of immersion. The two researchers visited four countries in which they had little or no knowledge of the language. When they arrived they spoke no English whatsoever. They tested this hypothesis in:
The results? After 3 months in a country never using English, they were …
“Confidently able to have conversations with native speakers pretty much on any subject.”
Essentially, three moths to proficiency. So can you become fluent in 3-months? Yes, if that is your entire focus.
The reason for its success is two-fold:
- Young states, when you can’t speak the language, “you learn the most frequent vocabulary and most important words for your situation”. This also means you don’t spend time learning the vocabulary you don’t need.
Most textbooks, programs, and apps are loaded with vocabulary you will never use. You need a program that focuses on the right words and allows you the flexibility to change them for your needs.
- In the beginning, at the survival stage, grammar is thrown out the window.
You need to know how to say “Where is the bathroom” without concern for using the correct form of ‘the’ or getting the exact conjugation of ‘to be’. If a foreigner in your home town asks you, “Bathroom where?”, you understand.
Making mistakes is the key to learning another language
Another key component is that they made many, many mistakes at the beginning. Jaiswal says,
“Making mistakes is very good because it means you are using the language. And eventually, this gives you the confidence to speak the language.”
No mistakes, no progress.
The bottom line
If you want to speak a new language – speak it! Learn some key words and work up from there. Make mistakes, ignore grammar, and focus on communicating.