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Fluent in 5 Minutes: A Modern Language Learning Myth

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After nearly a decade of experience as a professional teacher and a language school owner, I have interacted with thousands of students and taught hundreds myself, lots of them from scratch. Only four were able to reach a proficient level of Spanish in five or six months of lessons, by studying a couple of hours per week plus homework everyday, which is a truly incredible achievement. All four of them had a ‘helping hand’ either in the form of a native speaking partner, or thanks to existing fluency in another language.

The claim that anyone can become fluent in less than three months is misleading

If you examine those methods that promise fluency in record speeds, you’ll notice that they have something in common. Students aren’t making progress any faster, but the definition of the word ‘fluency’ is being shifted. Someone is said to be fluent not when they know a language well, but when they know the basics well, or even just a tense well.

A fluency arms race

What we are witnessing here is a fluency arms race, or perhaps a race to the bottom. If one online method promises fluency in a year, then the next must promise it in a matter of months. The bar must be continually lowered in order for schools and teachers to remain ‘competitive.’

This situation is bad for language learners and teachers alike. Some instructors can’t live up to their promises, which not only tarnishes themselves, but the profession as a whole. Hardworking students who don’t reach fluency in a few months, as promised, start to feel disillusioned, or even unintelligent. Reputable teachers who tell learners that it might even take years to learn a language very well, start to look outdated compared to the newer methods with flashier promises.

It takes a lot of hard work to learn a language – but it’s worth it

Learning a language isn’t a walk in the park, and you better think twice about trusting someone who says otherwise, especially if they have a new book that you can buy. Yet I’ve also seen many students succeed and achieve proficiency in Spanish where they once thought they would never become fluent.

Once students are prepared to put aside shallow language learning techniques and are ready to seriously engage with a teacher and the material, it’s possible to make huge strides of progress. No, the vast majority of students won’t be able to become fluent in their first year. We are talking here about the regular path of one private two hour class per week plus homework almost every day.

However, if a student is prepared to attend private lessons five hours a day from Monday to Friday, and do around four hours of homework daily, then after six months he or she will be proficient in Spanish. By this I mean that they will be well-equipped to live in a Spanish speaking country, be able to interact with the locals on a professional level, and score around 3 + of 5 points on the American scale, which is equivalent, more or less, to a C1 (maximum C-2) on the European scale.

Would you like to be at the advanced level? It will take more than three months, and probably more than three years, and a lot of hard work and a lot of fun. Being able to speak another language is a transformative experience that’ll change your life for the better. If you are interested in learning more, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Photo Credit: ilmungo

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