Have you ever seen a film where one person is sitting in an office surrounded by a large group of his advisers? He sits there, staring at the ceiling, while the professionals around him voice suggestions to him about his company. Someone out of the blue whispers a comment that he likes and he has this “eureka” moment. Despite this, the executive takes the credit for the idea and shares it with his company’s shareholders. The result: a large-scale production of the product.
The above example is symbolic of many foreign language learning companies. These companies are typically led by people who want to please their investors by distributing products that emphasize fast, easy results. Since the plurality is driven by these ideals, many of them succumb to the sales pitches and, thus, lead the companies to amass large profits. These corporations are, in effect, capitalizing on the language learners’ sincere intents to attain fluency through the products available.
Currently, CDs, textbooks, and other forms of language learning resources rank as the primary tools of choice for students. These tools are either strictly or loosely based upon traditional rote memorization techniques, and their usage has resulted in millions of individuals who still are not fluent in their target languages, even after studying for many years.
I can personally attest to this. As you already know, I began studying Spanish in junior high school; my professor’s name was Mr. Watkins. One day, he held a mini tournament for the class to participate in based on their knowledge of vocabulary terms. Essentially, a pair of students had to write the Spanish translation of the English term that he would tell us; the first of the two to write the word correctly would advance to the next round.
Long story short, I did pretty well. I attained the top three spot in the tournament, so I was rather psyched about it. However, earlier in the tournament, I competed against one of my best friends at the time; because of his Puerto Rican heritage, he was considered the favorite between us. Much to everyone’s surprise, he lost. I immediately apologized to him, but Mr. Watkins shouted back, “don’t apologize!” Then it dawned on me that day that the current traditional approach to language learning is competition based. I became convinced that each formal vehicle for language learning was developed to facilitate the testing process for proficiency.
As a high school student, I continued my Spanish studies under Professor Kradz. Professor Kradz routinely administered textbooks to the class and instructed us to read one chapter per day, because “it will be on the next test, so study, study, study”. She also occasionally played CDs that depicted the daily interactions between native and proficient Spanish speakers. It was played at three speeds, and we all had to repeat after the speakers after each sentence or phrase. However, reading the textbooks was much easier than listening to the CDs, which is probably why I eventually passed her exams.
To observe the major issues of language classes for yourself, pick up a language textbook. Ask yourself the following questions:
Why are there chapters in the language books? How many are there?
Are the books grammar- or vocabulary-based? If they are grammar based, why do some conjugations precede others? If they are vocabulary based, why do certain themes precede others?
Do the textbooks contain CDs/ audio files? If so, do you hear many native speakers?
Are the textbooks written by foreigners or natives?
If you ask yourself these questions on a consistent basis, then you are ready for the next step towards ultimate fluency.
Here are the first two tips:
Step #1: Decide your language learning goals
Step #2: Identify where and how you plan to learn your target language (I’ll explain this in the next chapter)
We all have different goals and aspirations in life. Language learning is no different. Also, consider the following questions:
a. When do I want to be fluent in this language?
b. What am I interested in?
c. What will I listen to on a daily basis in my target language?
d. What will I watch regularly in my target language?
e. Who will I communicate with regularly in my target language?
f. Why do I want to become fluent in this language?
Briefly list your goals in a word document or on paper and refer back to it often.
How far are you willing to go to accomplish your language goals?