The wrong and right way to learn a foreign language

The wrong and right way to learn a foreign language

Britain does not like learning languages. Did you know that 62% of the people in Britain cannot speak any language other than English? Even with their remarkable accent, this fact is a bit on the unpardonable side.

The sole responsibility of this fix lies in the fact that the approach towards learning a new language is flawed. What is the first thing we do when we decide on learning a new language? Enroll in a class. And what happens there, is a sad repertoire of grammar and vocabulary drill that sucks out all the enthusiasm that we started the 'bonjour' with, in the first place. All that remains is a regrettable belief that shrieks, “I'm not cut out for French.”

Where we went wrong

A fact: When a child learns to speak her first language, is she fed grammar and vocabulary with the spoonfuls of grub? No. She learns to use the same grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation as the people around her.

This proves one thing. We have been doing it wrong all these days. Four problems:

1. If you have no idea about the language, a nice, long dip in the grammar pool will do you no good.

2. Worst of all, the language that you are exposed to in a class is unabashedly simplified with an ideal situation to accompany the endeavour.

3. A forced speech at the end of an incomprehensible input results in a low confidence level.

4. The language classes are devoid of a chance at an actual exposure to the real language.

And the consequences are drastic. It is like riding an airplane, the pilot of which aced his flight simulator exam, without any real flying experience. I would definitely not get on that flight.

What needs to be done

A new chapter, some sample sentences and loads of exercise drill to practice the new structure – sounds familiar? This has been the method to learn a new language since the 1980 and implemented even now with a digital integration. And this needs to change. Here's what helps:

1. Set your priorities right. Why do you want to learn the language? It could be just to get by and to be able to ask direction or, an attempted fluency.

2. One of the best time tested methods is to start with the words and then slowly creeping up to sentences, instead of jumping to grammar and accumulating words.

3. A very important step is to determine where you are at and then picking up from there. Your stage will chalk out your methodology.

4. Comprehensible input including informal interaction has been found to be highly beneficial in learning a new language.


We all know by now that language boot camp is not a solution. Learning a new language opens up new pathways for the learner. All you need to do is, make sure that the purpose is not lost in the illusion of achieving. Listening to the pronunciations to the new words seem like a good way to start. Give the grammar study a rest at the beginning and aim at conversation. Things will work out better than you can imagine.


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