There are so many language programmes out there today, it can be hard to know which ones to trust. I have seen a lot of language courses and software out there claiming you can “learn a language fast” or guaranteeing a level of fluency within a certain number of days. I’m here to tell you to take these guarantees with a grain of salt. Learning a language fast AND well is impossible and here’s why:
1. Language proficiency builds up over time
One of the biggest contributors to learning a language IS time! So “learning a language fast” is inherently contradictory.
Learning a language is the same as learning how to be a good accountant or a lawyer – the more experience you have, the better you will be.
Most languages have multiple ways of expressing any given concept. You might be able to get by learning just one way, but ultimately this is like learning a “skeleton” of the language rather than the whole language. Your knowledge of a language only becomes deeper as you use it over time.
2. Language is not finite
There’s no clear way to measure when you have “learned” a language.
At no point in your language learning journey will you be able to say, ‘yep, I believe I know everything there is to know about this language now’. Language learning is a never-ending process. As long as you use the language you will be learning more. Learning a language is not an objective point that you have to reach to ‘know’ the language.
Saying that you can learn a language fast or in a certain period of time is flawed because deciding the point at which you have ‘learned’ a language is a highly debated topic.
3. Language is vast
There is so much to know about a language.
Think about your native language: chances are, there are words you don’t know how to use, expressions you’ve never heard of and grammatical rules you have no idea how to explain. In the language you are learning, the number of these unknown lexical items will obviously be much greater. Their acquisition will come much slower than it does in your native language. When there is just so much to know in any language, it takes longer than a lifetime to know it all. In a short space of time, it is near impossible to even be at an intermediate level, let alone a native level.
4. Fluency is not something that can be taught
Fluency can only be achieved outside the (digital) classroom.
Most of the courses out there teach in a linear way, and that is fine to give you a good understanding of key concepts. But the truth is that language learning is not linear, and fluency can only be achieved by actively practising and immersing yourself with speakers of the language. Most courses have no way to offer this, so it is something you would have to pursue on your own outside the course. Therefore, your ability to learn a language fast depends on how much free time you have and how many native speakers are available to you (see my post about language exchanges to find ways to get a language partner).
5. It depends on your effort
As the old saying goes: you get out what you put in.
The more time and effort you put into a language, the faster you will learn it. The more time you spend studying outside of the given coursework, the faster you will learn a language.
Think of it this way: is a course which claims you will reach fluency in 30 days going to produce the same results for someone who studies for 5 hours a day as for someone who studies 10 minutes a day? In this way, the ‘time frame’ for learning a language is really meaningless. If you must learn a language in a certain time, look for courses that measure it by hours studied rather than days or months.
6. Everyone learns differently
No two people will learn a language in exactly the same way.
A major flaw with courses claiming to get you to a certain level is that most courses only cater to a certain type of learners. Your ability to learn a language fast depends on you. How fast of a learner are you, and how close is your target language to your native language? Make sure you find a course that teaches according to your learning style, and then your chances of success will be much higher. But because of the diversity in learners, a blanket claim for every student reaching success in X amount of time should make you sceptical.
7. Pressure is a big learning killer
You might be learning a language for a specific purpose, and therefore “need” to get fluent quickly. I won’t deny it’s good to have goals and deadlines to ensure you are making progress. But I would argue that you are setting yourself up to fail if you expect to get to a certain level within an imposed timeframe. Why? Because you will feel pressure to perform so that if you don’t achieve what you were expecting you will become de-motivated. You don’t give yourself time to make mistakes and learn from them. You won’t have time to ensure you fully understand each concept.
To summarise everything I’ve said above, trying to learn a language fast makes zero sense to me. I believe that time and language learning go hand in hand. So my advice to people thinking about trying out this method is: why do you need to learn so fast? Will it really matter that you take a few months or a year to learn the language, but you learn it well? You must understand that once you start, you will never stop learning the language. You will simply get better and better as long as you are actively using it.
If you are looking for an online course, make sure you find one that is right for you. See my post recommending the best online courses to learn a language.
Trying to learn a language fast or by a certain date can be a great way to stay motivated. It is a challenge which can be very rewarding. But I don’t believe that you can rush the process of learning a language.
My philosophy: do not learn a language fast, learn a language well!
What do you think? Are learning fast and learning well mutually exclusive? What’s the fastest time you’ve been able to learn a language well?
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