Principles of cognitive neuroscience and time management can be applied to achieve conversational fluency (defined here as 95% + comprehension and 100% expressive abilities) in 1-3 months. Some background on my language obsession, from a previous post on learning outside the classroom:
From the academic environments of Princeton University (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Italian) and Middlebury Language Schools (Japanese), to the disappointing results noted as a curriculum designer at Berlitz International (Japanese and English), I have searched for more than 10 years for the answer to a simple question: Why don’t most language classes?
An ideal system – and progress – depends on three elements in this arrangement…
1. Effectiveness (priority)
2. Obligation (interest)
3. Efficiency (practical)
Effectiveness, commitment, and competence refer to “what,” “why,” and “how” to learn the target language, respectively. In simple terms, you must first decide what to learn, based on the frequency of use (priority); You then filter the material based on the likelihood of continued study and review, or commitment (interest); Finally, you determine how to learn the material most efficiently (the process).
Let’s cover each separately. This post will focus on vocabulary and topic. To learn the rules, I suggest you read this short article. For “reactivating” forgotten languages – like high school Spanish – this sequence will do the trick.
Effectiveness: If you choose the wrong subject, it doesn’t matter how you study or study – practical fluency is impossible without the right tools (subject). Teachers are subject to materials, just as chefs are subject to recipes.
Commitment: Revision and multiple exposures to the same material will always present an element of monotony, which must be counteracted by an interest in the material. Even if you choose the most effective substance and the most efficient method, if you don’t stick to repeated study, effectiveness and efficiency mean nothing. In other words: can you persevere with the material and method you have chosen? If not, less effective materials or methods are still better. The best approach means nothing if you don’t use it.
By analogy, if jogging uphill with bowling balls in each hand is the most effective way to lose body fat, how long will the average person stick to such a program?
If you have no interest in politics, would you stick to a language course focused on this subject? Ask yourself: Can I study this material every day and stick to it in order to achieve my divorce goals? If in doubt, change your choice. Often times, it is best to choose content that matches your interests in your native language. Don’t read about something you wouldn’t read about in English, if English is your native language (eg, don’t read Asahi Shimbun if you don’t read newspapers in English). Use the target language as a way to learn more about a subject, skill, or cultural area of interest.
Don’t use material that conflicts with your interests as a language learning method – it won’t work.
Efficiency: It doesn’t matter if you have the best materials and commitment if the time to fluency is 20 years. You will not be required to return on investment. Ask yourself: Will this method allow me to achieve accurate recognition and recall with the fewest number of exposures, in the shortest period of time? If the answer is no, your method should be revised or replaced.