learning with steve: can you learn a language in three months?

learning a language

We often hear of language learning techniques that enable you to learn a language in a short period of time, 10 days, three months, etc. Do you think this is possible?

The answer is yes and no. It is possible to learn to say a few things in a new language very quickly. If you want to be able to say “hello, how are you and what is your name”, this can be learned in the first hour. In fact, in the first few weeks or months, we feel a sense of discovery, as we are suddenly able to express some simple ideas in a foreign language, and to make sense out of what previously was mostly noise to our ears. This is true, regardless of what language learning technique is used.

Do you mean that simply saying a few things in a language, or  understanding a few things, means being able to speak the language?

It’s very difficult to define what speaking a language means. Even a limited knowledge of a language to some extent qualifies as speaking that language. On the other hand, being able to read books, understand most conversations, understand movies and television programs, and the ability to express oneself comfortably, usually take a long time to acquire.

Is there a difference between being able to say a few things and genuine fluency?

Of course there is, but even the term fluency is not  always clearly defined. In my mind, fluency need not mean perfection, however it should mean the ability to communicate on a wide variety of subjects, including serious discussions of politics, professional issues, or even philosophy, in the widest sense. Being able to make small talk about the weather does not qualify as fluency, in my view.

Well then, is fluency in three months possible?

Generally speaking, no. In order to become fluent in another language, we need a lot of experience with that language, its culture and people. This takes time. The process of acquiring fluency is in itself a rewarding and enriching experience. I don’t see the benefit of trying to rush through that process. There are certain cases where fluency can be acquired in a very short time. This would be the case of a learner who already knows a language that is very closely related to the new language. Portuguese people learning Spanish, Swedish people learning Danish, German people learning Dutch,etc. would be such examples. But for most language learners, regardless of learning technique, three months to fluency is not possible, in my view.

 

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