First of all, I would like to mention that learning a foreign language is never effortless. If you want to acquire a new language you need to make a genuine effort to learn it. The method I’m going to suggest will not work if you don’t have a strong desire to learn the language.
There are a number of different ways to learn a foreign language effectively. You can use audio programs, textbooks, online courses, Skype, and a variety of other tools to study a language. And I really do believe that these methods can lead to great levels of proficiency if used properly. But they are certainly not the fastest way to learn a language.
Three years ago, my girlfriend couldn’t speak any English at all. (We shall refer to her as T from here on.) She couldn’t even ask where the toilet is. Nothing-well, unless toire is a valid synonym for bathroom in English. As you probably know, the level of English in Japan is dreadful, although you would almost never come across a local unwilling to help a lost tourist.
So one day, T’s university had a group of foreigners visiting. T had always wanted to learn to speak English, so her teacher, knowing this, ushered her to where the guests were hanging out. They all became good friends. But they had a problem: neither side could speak a language that was mutually intelligible. They had to resort to primitive gestures and body language to communicate.
Quite soon, T realized that if she were to know her friends better, either side would have to learn a new language. So she made up her mind to learn English no matter what it takes. She started Language of desire spending time with her foreign friends incessantly, twenty-four-seven, fully immersed in the English language and with a mindset that desired to acquire the language.
She didn’t give up the gestures though. They were still important for communication. But she started gathering words and phrases, little by little, to augment the body language. And this is how simple words and phrases started evolving into more sophisticated expressions. After a month, she didn’t have to rely on body language anymore. Thirty days of complete immersion had sufficed to develop the ability to communicate in another human language. No textbooks, no classes, and no homework were needed-just pure immersion and fun.
The level of English wasn’t just applicable to basic communication. T had become adept at mimicking people’s pronunciation. She started speaking with the same kind of intonation and accent as her friends did, which is probably why she still says aboat (about), as her Canadian friends would say, and has a distinct twang to her delivery of the words pants and pass, owing to her friend from Michigan, I suppose. She also would not say “What would you like to have for dinner?” which obviously sounds like a textbook expression, and instead would go for the casual “What do you want to eat?”
After witnessing the power of immersion in language learning, I began recommending it to friends and students, and saw the same effects taking place. My girlfriend and I also had a Japanese friend over at our place for a few months, and she learned to speak English extremely fast, probably because no one really uttered a word of Japanese inside the house.
The important thing is to refrain from taking the easy way out, that is, using a mutually comprehensible language. When you place yourself in an environment that necessitates your learning the local language, you also learn it faster because you know that you will be in trouble if you don’t. This is why I strongly believe that the fastest way to learn a language effectively is to immerse yourself in it and try to survive; and don’t worry because you will.