Don't need to go to a foreign country to learn a language.

wolf4   Fri May 01, 2009 3:24 am GMT

I came across this site by accident and saw an article written on the subject of:

'Myth #1:
"The best way to learn a foreign language is to go to a foreign country"'.

I found it at:

I do not know who wrote the article because I don't see the name on that site, but I would like to add my view on it.

I agree totally with the idea that it is a myth to believe that the best way to learn a foreign language is to go to the foreign country.

Everyone I meet all seem to think the best way to learn a foreign language is to go to a foreign country. I strongly disagree. It was the first time I have actually seen an article that mirrored my own thoughts on the subject.

I had clients who were going to move to Portugal, Spain etc. and they all had this naive belief that by simply being in a foreign country it would magically over a period of months and years make them reasonably fluent in the foreign language. As if by some miracle they would become bilingual with no effort on their part. They weren't even studying the language before going to the country!

This was when I was in England and my clients were British. I had to explain to them that unfortunately if you are serious about learning a language then it requires effort, study and dedication if you want to learn a language. One lady I can remember looked at me with such a sad and depressed look when I told her that.

The truth is she didn't want to believe me. She wanted to believe, like everyone, you can learn the language just by being in a country. As if by magic breathing the foreign air would make you fluent in the language over time. How wrong she is!

I explained to her that the best way to learn a language is to first get yourself a grammar book with exercises and start at the first chapter of the book. With each chapter you are introduced to the "rules of the game". You learn how to say "the" in the foreign language and how to say "a". You are introduced to foreign nouns and verbs and the rules regarding their declensions and how to conjugate the verbs. Then you are introduced to pronouns and the positioning of them. Each chapter introduces you to new rules of the "game", so to speak, with exercises to practise and become familiar with these new rules.

Learning the "rules" of the grammar of the language is the basic building block of the language.

After having gone some way with familiarizing yourself with grammar it is time to hit the reading! One does not need to finish all the chapters on the grammar before starting to read. You can start reading when you feel it is right for you.

One then buys either a magazine or novel and the largest language dictionary available and you start to read one word at a time! It means also that you will be looking up every single word because you will not know them! It means you will have to "slog away" at this boring method, looking up every word you don't know and then a few seconds later you will forget that word! It's boring but that's life! If it means underlining every word and looking it up in the dictionary then so be it. If it means destroying that book or magazine with ugly lines under most words then so be it. The truth is you are beginning to "chew" and "chew" into the language, you're chewing it to the bone! You will come up with so many phrases that one will have to learn them by heart, by writing it out or by coming across it in the magazines and novels so often you remember them.

Reading, reading and reading will beat anything any day!

It will beat watching a foreign film. It will beat listening to foreign music. It will beat chatting to a foreign person in a café. Yes I said that! Why? Because that foreign person is not going to be with you throughout the whole time introducing you to as much vocabulary as you could have learned if you were instead in your room reading and underlining all those words you did not know, and then trying to memorize the new vocabulary.

It is the EFFORT you make on your alone time that helps you to learn and memorize new words and phrases. THEN you can go to another country and "pop out" into the street and practise what you have learned. Then you can use all the words you already have stored in your memory and use them to "chat" with someone. Of course this is a bonus and a good thing to do. But the common mistake is in assuming that this is better than studying!

If I knew not one word of German for example and decided to fly to Germany for the first time in my life and told myself I would spend each day sitting at a café drinking beer trying to start a conversation with a German person, how far do you think i would get without knowing German grammar or vocabulary? Before you can even utter a syllable you need to have the ammunition inside your mind. You need to have some store of German words, phrases and grammar at your disposal. It does not come to you by just sitting there and soaking in the atmosphere of this pleasant German café.

If there was a German person willing to talk to you at the café and he knew your language then he would help you to some point by translating some words to you. You would repeat those few words out loud to him and you may even write them down. That is too in a way making some effort and that too is studying the language. But it is not enough! It is too limited. The amount of hours spent at the café and... you have learned how many words from this German person?

You don't even know the rules of the grammar. In the end, you will gain far greater progress by not going down to that café, but by remaining in your hotel room studying some grammar and doing some reading! Then you can practise what you have remembered on a German person at the café. That is the dessert.

The trouble is most people think that the dessert is more important than the main course! The main course being studying on your own time! All the rest like travelling to a foreign country, listening to foreign music, watching foreign films, chatting to a foreign person etc., these are all extra bonuses which help you to fine-tune your knowledge of the language and fine-tune your pronunciation skills, the street vocabulary etc. But these are all secondary to the real work involved in learning a language, which is pure hard graft study of the grammar, vocabulary and reading, reading and reading.

Wynton Marsalis, the famous trumpeter, became an accomplished jazz musician by practising everyday on his own for hours and hours on his scales and arpeggios and other exercises. He was working, practising his "guts out" on these boring scales and arpeggios because he knew that in the long run he needed to gain the speed and agility of both his breathing technique and fingers to run up and down the scales with ease and quickness.

He did not waste his precious hours of practise by playing the trumpet with band members when he had no mastery of the trumpet! You don't learn the trumpet by jumping right in and playing with other musicians thinking that somehow magically your playing will improve. No, you master the trumpet by first doing the real hard work, the real hard grafting, by practising, practising and practising on real hard exercises. You do the main course first, later comes the dessert.

The trumpeter has to master the TECHNIQUE first before he can enjoy the music playing! And mastering technique means you need the self discipline to do the necessary exercises and study. The same goes for a figure skater on ice. Before he/she can enjoy the experience of skating he/she must do the necessary repetitive and boring exercises to master the technique. And the same holds true in learning a foreign language!

We all want to skip the boring bit. We all don't want to study the grammar. We all would rather go to the country, sit at a café and pretend that we are learning the language.

My brother, before he moved to Italy, was studying Italian at home in his room every day and he would do some reading. His Italian was quite good. Then he moved to Italy. About two years later I visited him. His Italian was worse than it was before he left for Italy! Why? Because he said stopped reading Italian and got a bit lazy. In other words he did not progress any further despite the fact he was in Italy, because he stopped reading! He confessed this to me and knew it was because he stopped reading. Yes he can speak Italian but the point is that it did not improve but got worse because he did not do any reading of novels and therefore did not expand his vocabulary. His vocabulary was only limited to his daily activities.

Going to a language class is not going to make you learn a language. Most people enroll to a language class thinking that that is enough to learn a language not realizing that it is your ALONE time studying that determines whether you learn a language or not. The same goes for going to another country. You can live in a foreign country for 30 years and still not have made much progress. It is not the number of years in a foreign country or the number of hours at a language class that determines ones proficiency at a language.

The point I am trying to get across here is that the only thing that makes you learn something is when it is YOU who applies the effort. Everything else is just pure pretence.
Rui   Fri May 01, 2009 11:18 am GMT
From time to time we came across here on antimoon with posts like this one, which make the visiting to this site worthfull. Excellent post mate!

I reall think register should be obliged here.
uwtpqoier   Fri May 01, 2009 1:19 pm GMT
Antimoon tells us: don't learn grammar. See this link:
Freebooter   Fri May 01, 2009 1:40 pm GMT
If you want to learn a language, you need to fuck the chicks that speak it.
fraz   Fri May 01, 2009 2:30 pm GMT
Phew! Some post mate.

But I largely agree with you, learning a language is a hard slog and you have to put massive amounts of time studying by yourself and treat conversations with locals as the chance to enjoy the fruits of your effort.

I do think you were a bit negative towards foreign films and music. They help improve your passive command of the language and sharpen up your listening, which is very important.

But there's no getting away from the fact that the only way to become good at something is to practise it over and over again. Yes, that can be repetitive and boring but it's how you learn.

Because there isn't much of culture in English-speaking countries of learning other languages, a lot of people are completely unaware of just how much time and effort is involved to reach a reasonable level of fluency. A lot of people enrol for an evening class but drop out after a few weeks because they can't magically speak the language, the old "I'm no good at languages" excuse often kicks in at that point. I've heard of businesses sending language novices on a 12-week intensive course in, say, Italian, expecting them to conducting negotiations with Italian companies after a mere 3 months of learning.
K. T.   Sat May 02, 2009 7:25 pm GMT
"Everyone I meet all seem to think the best way to learn a foreign language is to go to a foreign country. I strongly disagree. It was the first time I have actually seen an article that mirrored my own thoughts on the subject."

A better way is to learn some of the language before you go to another country, then acquire more when you live or visit there.

It's also possible to learn the basics of a language with recordings, a teacher, etc., then go to restaurants, stores, or language clubs in your own country to "practice" with native speakers of your target language.

Some people learn it with a boyfriend or girlfriend, but I think this is very dishonest if this is the ONLY reason you are seeing the person.
An exception would be a language exchange which developed into an honest romance.

"Because there isn't much of culture in English-speaking countries of learning other languages, a lot of people are completely unaware of just how much time and effort is involved to reach a reasonable level of fluency."



I always say this, but I don't think there is any one "right" way to learn a language. You will run across people who THINK they know, but the truth is they know what worked for them, not what works for everyone.

If you have the luxury of learning slowly, I would suggest these ideas:

a. Find material you like. If the book looks too hard, get another one.
Read reviews of the program if you use one and find out how far the method will take you. Expensive does not always mean effective.

b. Reading is good, but it won't be easy in languages that use very unfamilar scripts. You'll have to "slog it out" (as someone put it) in languages like Mandarin and Japanese until you can read, so get in some listening practice in the meantime.

Only study and concentrate for ten to fifteen minutes, if necessary. It's also good to leave something exciting, so you can come back the next day or later in the day WANTING to continue.

I listen to recordings when I am doing mundane tasks. This works well for me.