Scott Young and Vat Jaiswal looked into how much truth there is in the advertising slogans of language courses.
Can you really learn a foreign language from scratch in 2 weeks? Or maybe in 2 months?
Scott and Vat are two friends who decided to test the efficacy of language learning through immersion.
They presented their findings at the TEDx EastsidePrep conference. You can watch the video from their presentation on Youtube.
Why do we fail to learn a foreign language?
Researchers from the University of Maryland investigated language courses popular in the US, such as Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur.
It turned out only 6% of the volunteer participants in the study managed to devote more than 100 hours to learning.
All of the tested programs assumed that to gain language proficiency one must learn for much longer than 100 hours.
Talk about an underwhelming result!
Is the tedious form of study to blame? Or is it the human factor? Can we blame our linguistic ineptitude on poor education, lack of perseverance, boring content, or plain old… laziness?
In their presentation, Scott Young and Vat Jaiswal debunk a number of myths concerning fast and effective language learning.
They think age has no significant impact on our language skills. They back this up with science – research has shown that it’s the adults, not children, who are quicker to learn foreign languages in a fast course.
So you can drop the excuse ‘I’m too old to start learning English’!
According to Scott and Vat, moving to another country will not help.
Yes, living in England while learning English allows for better language immersion, but it’s no way to learn the basics. This is due to the fact that often expats lock themselves in ‘cultural bubbles’, which slows their language learning significantly.
The No-English rule
Scott and Vat have just one piece of advice for language learners. They say, ‘Don’t speak English’ (which of course applies if you’re a native English speaker – the general rule is: don’t speak your first language).
This simple method allows for complete linguistic immersion, and therefore faster and more effective language learning.
To prove their theory right, Scott and Vat decided to live in various countries for a year… without speaking any of their native English. They called their projectThe Year Without English.
The two men spent 3 months in Spain and 3 months in Brazil. For the rest of the year they were in China, South Korea, and on Taiwan. During their trip, they learned Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, and Korean.
How did they do? Watch the video here:
The Year Without English – conclusions
Obviously, this experiment is not really repeatable by the average person wanting to learn a new language. Who of us has the time and means to go abroad for months merely to learn what they speak there?
The researchers were also helped by the fact that they traveled as a pair – although they only spoke the language they were learning, they did encounter more-less the same vocabulary. They could therefore understand much from context alone.