Since this is generating some internet buzz I thought I’d post it: How to learn any language in six months, Chris Lonsdale at TEDxLingnanUniversity. I’m always suspicious about “fast-track” learning. Most are gimmicks and as I know from experience learning a new language when in adulthood is as much about a person’s intuitive abilities as anything else. Some can, some can’t, and most just fall somewhere in the middle. I’m very much in the “can’t” camp.

5 comments on “Learn A Language In Six Months?

  1. I haven’t watched this yet, but others of this ilk come out fairly regularly. What puzzles me is this. Language learning is important for lots of reasons. Small language need more speakers to survive, large languages need to be learned for commercial and political reasons, and these and many other reasons mean there can be a lot of money to be made.

    Unfortunately, instead of the experts getting together and figuring out what really works, we get an endless parade of Gee-Whizz snake-oil salesmen offering their Guaranteed Easy Way to whatever language you want. Many systems are ‘propiatory’ available only for a fee, but even those freely available seem to share the same characteristics. A clever name, a special ‘system’ and so on.

    Now I have a degree in psychology from way back when, and I’ve been interested in various aspects of linguistics for many years too. So a while ago I decided to try and find out what the up to date research had to say about how to learn/teach languages, thinking there must have been some good empirical work done over past decades. But I couldn’t really find any. Just people touting their own ‘magic bullet’ systems.

    Indeed it’s been suggested that they all rotate around in an endless cycle, each approach getting reinvented/revived under a new name after a sufficient time lapse. It’s even been suggested that the whole thing is geared to selling new textbooks to schools every decade or so.

    All rather sad and disappointing really. Maybe things aren’t quite so bad outside of the anglosphere?


    • Yes, I’m sceptical myself about “magic bullet” learning. I’ve tried a few courses in years past but with little success. Language in particular is something that is very particular to a person’s own innate linguistic abilities. Many find it easy, may find it impossible, but every case is different and broad sweeps of what is and isn’t achievable should be approached with caution.

      The only tried and tested method seems to be prolonged linguistic/cultural immersion. Which is certainly not easy to do. Even with the Irish language when living in Ireland!

      I’m in envy of those people who seem to be able to pick up fluency by simply ordering a few audio CDs and interactive CD ROMs. They may be a tiny, tiny minority but they do seem to exist.


      • In fact it turns out this is one of those videos I’ve seen before. I agree that the ideal is an ‘endless’ supply of content in the language, ideally material that you’re already interested in or that is somehow immediately relevent. I’m sure the reason many ‘foreigners’ learn English to such a high standard is simply the satuation of the media with English language content. For instance just watching subtitled films or TV series leads to a kind of “emersion by proxy”. For people learning English this sort of thing is very hard to avoid. For English speakers it’s more difficult to find the equivalent, but way better now with the internet, at least for the ‘big’ languages. For the likes of Irish or other ‘small’ languages it’s not at all easy. Maybe there are feature films/series in Irish. I’ve found the odd one or two, but ideally there needs to be lots more and almost “in your face” for this method to work. There has to be so much that you don’t feel the need to hang on to every word but can simply let it flow until you find the common phrases etc. starting to stand out.

        That’s assuming you’re outside of the community speaking your target language. If you’re more or less embedded in the country/language/culture (but where in Ireland … at least without paying?) then as an English speaker you face another barrier. English is the language almost everyone uses to speak to ‘foreigners’. When a Swede needs to communicate with a Pole, they use English. Anyone you try to converse with will use English, and their English will usually be better than your command of their language, and that’s before you add in the ‘shame’ factor for oppressed languages, which seems to long outlast any direct oppression.


        • Agree with all of that. Just wrote something on the poor nature of TV and cinema in Ireland.

          What I have found most useful in learning bits of French or German is watching familiar English language movies with French or German subtitles. Strange I know but it works for me. If I could watch English language movies or TV shows on a regular basis with Irish language subtitles I personally would find that a great help. Unfortunately it is very rare to find them and few of any interest.


          • A bit of everything is probably best, dubbed or subtitled, either into or out of your own language. I admit most of my ‘foreign’ language experience is through reading, so hearing a language spoken with subtitles to give the meaning is good practice in making sense of connected speech. This is something of a skill in itself, but simply with passive listening I’ve found (by accident as it happened) that first single words, then short common phrases, and eventually some at least of the more complex speeches start to crystalise out the ‘matrix’ of babble you initially hear. OTOH the benefit perhaps depends on how similar the target language is to your own (or others you know). The point is that you don’t need to hang on to every word and try to understand it, the way you need to in language courses, because there’s this ‘endless’ flow, so if you miss a word, then like busses in Birmingham, there’ll be another alone in a few minutes. Or not, in which case the word/phrase probably wasn’t very important in any case.

            I’ve found some Irish material online, once I realised you used a funny word or your own for ‘film’ (lol), mostly shorts or bits of series. Often funny, but all too often self-referrential. Interesting to me, but if the only films in the Irish language are actually about the Irish language, then that’s just a little worrying maybe?

            Some Scottish material, mostly from schools etc., they believe in starting them young 🙂



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