Billions are spent annually on learning second languages, yet the majority of that money is wasted, with little to no results. I think we can all agree on that, so why why do we continue to attempt the same methods over and over?
Novice language learners need to shift focus from the long term goal of fluency to the near-instantaneous goal of being able to say something now. Being fluent is great, if that’s your goal, but speaking now and getting a positive reaction provides the fuel to keep working at that long term goal.
The 4 keys
1. Frequent exposure (Daily, if possible)
2. Evidence of progress
4. Speaking: Using what you’ve learned
Daily interaction with your new language is said to be mandatory. I propose that five times a week will get the job done, if continued over time. Let’s set attainable goals, so we can get motivated to get started. Every day is overwhelming.
I’m a co-founder of LingoBox, which is attempting to solve some of these problems for learning English, as a second language. (Don’t stop reading! I promise this isn’t an advertisement, but our experience is helpful for the discussion) First, we’re trying to increase exposure, by making it truly fun and compelling, so learners want to return. I know you’ve heard this before, but we’re promising to really make learning fun. We call it Edutainment. Our problem is that so many before us have claimed to make learning fun and failed miserably. How many teachers did you have growing up who said something like this:
“It’s baseball season and I know you all love the Mariners (insert your local team here), so we’re going to do a math game that’s just like baseball. We’ll call it Mathball! If you solve the long-division problem on the board, you’ll get to go to first base…”
Needless to say, this wasn’t like baseball at all. The rules of baseball aren’t what make it fun. In fact, forcing the rules of baseball into math actually makes it 2x more boring. It’s the playing baseball makes it fun. In order to make learning fun, you need to take the fun aspects of the activity and find ways to adapt the learning to it. The inverse fails every time.
In the early-90’s it was cool to be a gangster.
Now it’s cool to be Mark Zuckerberg or Jay-Z.
In analyzing language education, we mustn’t forget that there are two parts to the fun equation- the activity and the result. At LingoBox, we grind, analyze, and debate for hours on end trying to make it fun to learn. However, we can’t let ourselves forget that it’s also fun to know new stuff. Being smart and successful is the new badass. In the early-90’s it was cool to be a gangster. Now it’s cool to be Mark Zuckerberg or Jay-Z. In our context, it’s fun and cool to be able to speak another language. The problem is that most people never get to this point, because they get turned off too quickly with the boring, seemingly endless part of doing the work.
I Feel Like I’m Not Getting Anywhere
The main reason that doing the work is so boring is that it takes so long for people to see progress. How many skiers do you think there would be if it took five years to be able to ski down the bunny slope? Not many!
The idea of studying, studying, studying until the day you’re finally fluent, and then going out and giving it a try in the real world doesn’t work. This method is often disguised as any of the following:
“laying the foundation”
“putting in the ground work”
“walk before you run”
“learning the basics”
The problem is that it isn’t fun, it isn’t practical, and the light at the end of the tunnel is about as bright as an ant. This may be to be the biggest factor in the unbelievably high failure rate.