23 August 2011

Une Question

For a while now, I've been studying French. I've always loved the sound of the language, its romantic connotations. I never studied it at school, but I decided to start learning it a few years back at the local adult education. I have no real need to learn French, but it is something that I would love to say I could do. So I did 2 hours a week for 20 weeks, and learnt the very basics. And since then I've been going it alone. I am one of those people who is a sucker for language learning products. I have flashcards, CD's, books, podcasts, you name it, I have it.

Now you would think that after 3 years of, well intermittent, learning, with all these wonderful tools at my disposal, I would have progressed. And to an extent, I have. At best though, I would say that I am of an elementary level. Not full beginner, but not much further. My main problem, I think, is that I have no native speaker to practice with. You know someone to correct my grammar and pronunciation. And secondly, my study has not been daily.

I read about Steve Kaufmann the other day. This guy speaks ten languages fluently and he reckons he does it through daily immersion, and in a similar method in which we all learnt our first language. For example, I grew up in an English speaking home, so I became fluent in English because I constantly heard it spoken around me. He applies the same principles when he is learning another language. He watches foreign news and movies, he reads foreign papers and books, listens to foreign songs.

So what I would like to know is: is the only way you can really learn a language is to fully immerse yourself in it? As in, does one need to actually go and live in a French speaking country to become fluent? Or can you, if you are dedicated like this Steve Kaufmann obviously is, become fluent with all your resources around? Or does it depend on how you learn and your aptness for languages?


  1. That's a massive question, Eve, innit? It's the base difference between the teaching methods of learning TESL(teaching english as a second language) and TEFL (teaching english as a foreign language) ... as far as I can remember. Learning as a foreigner is learning NOT in that country, and learning as a second language is more the immersion IN the country.

    Some freaks learn languages like there's no tomorrow, but I think that only applies to people who already have a second language so they have their linguistic centres all fired up and systems of learning in place to re-apply to the next language and so on.

    I'm a bit of an idoit with languages and have tried the immersive in the country of lingo and out of country versions and I think that being in the country is the go.

    Push come to shove, grammar drills and flash cards and all that stuff is all replaced with sink or swim when in the country. Ultimately we all end up swimming (unless you are me and you are me in japan; terrible outcome).

    Yes, it does depend on how you learn ... but mostly it depends on how much FUN you want to have while you learn.

    So, in short; go to France, like yesterday dude! Or, of course, don't.
    Frankly in the absence of OS opportunity moments, I'm all for the old foreign podcast on the ipod ... works a treat for me.

    Here's a good teacher of the CD variety. I love this bloke and he does great methods, in fact my favourite and my best choice. He's actually excellent. I think he gets the talking happening, the talking that happens without thinking.


  2. I think as adults it becomes harder to become fluent in a language if you don't already have a couple under your belt ... so immersion is good ... but immersion is so much better when you have the basics of grammar and some vocab under your belt - cause then you are more able to ask, in the language what stuff means, and piece together the riddle as you are listening. Continue on with your flashcards and stuff and then when it comes time to get amongst it for real ... you will fly!

  3. i reckon the only way is through immersion. having said that i want to learn french so next time you are back here, let's try only speak in french!