So many language learning companies flout promises of being able to learn naturally like you learned your first language. However, I estimate that in the majority of language learning situations, this is actually not possible. “Why?” You ask?
1. You are not living in France. Or at least not a French-speaking country. To learn like you learned your first language, you have to be surrounded by native speakers for the majority of the day. Speaking native speed, having regular conversations. However, just living there isn’t enough to make you fluent. Ex-pats living in France can tell you that even they don’t always understand the language spoken around them. This is why you need #2.
2. You do not have a dedicated tutor. By dedicated, I mean one that will give you lessons, at your level, 7 days a week for longer than 30 minutes (or an hour). When you learned your first language, this was probably your mother or nanny or daycare employee. Unless you happen to have a lot of money you want to burn quickly, this is likely not an option for you.
3. You don’t have 5 or more years to learn the language. Think about how long it took you to learn your first language. Infancy to at least kindergarten (if not longer; around 1st or 2nd grade until you got pretty good with all the necessary vocabulary, verb tenses, and grammar). You don’t want to spend the same amount of time learning subsequent languages. By virtue of the fact that you have learned one language well, you should be able to learn subsequent languages in much faster time.
4. You don’t have all the materials. Think about all your parents and teachers put into teaching you your first language. Coloring books, books (at a variety of reading levels), songs, music, movies, games, flashcards, toys. So many things. I guarantee you don’t want all that stuff around you for every-single language you learn.
5. The necessity is not present. Unless you are actually living in a French-speaking country there is no real and immediate need to learn to speak, read, write, or understand another language. You can get along just fine in your day-to-day activities speaking English. You can accomplish your work, you can buy your groceries or food. The immediate need that drives a child to learn to communicate in the language of their parents, is simply not present for you.
Don’t Get Discouraged
Now, I have just listed off a bunch of reasons stating why you can’t reach your dream of becoming bilingual (or trilingual, or whatever). However, I promise you that the goal of this post is not to tell you that you can’t do it.
In fact, I want to be your biggest cheerleader and your strongest advocate. I want you to succeed in achieving your dreams and goals in multi-lingualism. I have told you why you cannot learn naturally like you did your first language, but do not fear mes amis, because I am now going to tell you how to shove all these reasons in a bag and do it anyway.
Be like the bee.
According to the laws of physics that we use to get airplanes to fly, bees should not be able to fly.
But bees don’t live according to our methods and knowledge.
Bees have found a more unique way to fly by moving their wings backward and forward instead of up and down.
They have found their own unique way to accomplish their work and fly anyway. And unless you look very closely and slow things down, no one can tell the difference in the way the bee “flaps” anyway.
Though you may have to move your wings in a different way, you can definitely still learn how to fly and soar through speaking French.
How to Be Victorious
Once you have a clear expectation of how to learn, find your unique way to “flap” your wings and fly.
1. So you aren’t constantly surrounded by native speakers. Find a way to add French to your everyday life.
Add some French music to your day with YouTube music videos or Spotify.
Occasionally watch a movie in French (but please keep a clear expectation that you will not understand most of it at first). Relax, be patient, enjoy just listening to the sounds.
Start listening to an audiobook that includes natural French conversation like you would actually hear in France (or any French-speaking country).
2. Find a tutor that actually cares about your success. One who will support you through your learning process and encourage you to understand more and speak more than you thought you could. Find your supportive tutor or an encouraging tutor.
3. Take the time you need to learn, but don’t take too long. They say it takes approximately 200 hours of study to complete one proficiency level.
If you study only with something like Duolingo for 15 minutes a day, that will take 800 days to move up just one level.
The more intensive the program, the faster you will learn.
Yes, it is possible to become completely fluent in 3 months, but you’d have to make learning French your full-time job like this guy. Make your goals reasonable. Being able to have a somewhat normal conversation about the topics closest to you within 3 months is definitely reasonable.
Five years is definitely a long time, but 2 weeks is definitely too little. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time, based on the time you have to dedicate to your studies.
4. Give yourself the appropriate materials. If speed is the key for you, ditch all written materials and writing practice books and focus solely on conversation. Get a fantastic audiobook and practice repeating the conversation as well as the questions and answers.
Memorizing this will help you learn the flow of French conversation and will help you as you practice your own conversations.
Don’t forget that key portion of your learning materials; you need someone to practice with.
5. Create some necessity. You’ll learn more slowly if you don’t feel like there is an actual necessity to learn. Create that necessity by setting days and times when you are only allowed to communicate in French.
Even if this is only with your tutor a few times a week, you must have periods of time when you have to speak only French.
The other option is to schedule a flight to a French-speaking country and give yourself a deadline. If you want to communicate when you get there, you have to learn to speak NOW.
You cannot learn a second language like you learned your first because the same circumstances that led you to learn your native language are not present now. However, YOU CAN learn a second language and you can speak very native-like regardless of the age you start learning.
Find your wings and fly mes amis!
**DISCLAIMERS: This post may contain links to affiliate content. Please note that I always recommend products that are in your best interest and not mine. Please also know that I am not a native French speaker and my pronunciation is not perfect, however, I can definitely help you improve your pronunciation and get to a point where you can converse with native speakers and they can fine-tune your pronunciation.