Amidst a veritable slough of language learning programs, audio courses, online courses, web-apps, mobile apps, books, games and the odd bipolar disorder medication, it can be hard to select the best learning tools for the job.
But there are three attributes that many of the larger, more commercial language product companies always try to lure you in with: Organic Learning, rapid fluency and the ease with which one can learn a language if they only pay the price to buy their product.
When considering which products are the best for you it’s important to be wary of these claims made by industry titans such as Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur or Busuu.
The “learn like a child” tactic never gets old and plays upon -and worse, propagates – one of the greatest language learning myths of all time; the idea that adults simply don’t learn languages as well as children.
You can check out this post for more on the differences between L1 and L2 acquisition.
“Organic Learning” implies that users are immersed in their product in such a way that they absorb new words and grammar “naturally” or in much the same way that we absorb our first languages.
If it were actually possible to recreate these “critical period” qualities then yeah, it would be truly astounding and would revolutionize the education industry forever.
But it isn’t – at least not right now. (You can read more about a drug that supposedly rewires the brain to be more malleable, but to my knowledge it hasn’t really caught hold among the polyglot community and I would encourage skepticism.)
Adults and children learn differently; neither of them necessarily better than the other.
Whereas children may have malleable minds and the ability to absorb language without thinking about it; properly motivated adults have the ability to put a conscious effort into their learning as well as access to a world of resources, often resulting in extremely rapid acquisition compared to our younger selves.
Super fast fluency
We’d all like to pick up Pimsleur’s audio courses* and be fluent in our new language after three months with the program – and according to some of the language learning supergiant’s advertising campaigns you damn well can!
Except not really.
Actually – if you dig a bit deeper, the actual Pimsleur website* makes no such claims. I recently heard directly from a Pimsleur representative that the advertising is handled by a separate company – who they should fire.
Unfortunately there really are no shortcuts when it comes to learning a new language. You’re going to succeed or fail based on little more than your own sweat and blood. Pimsleur is actually a pretty good product, despite a fairly high price tag, but if you seriously believe for a second that a single program will make you fluent in a miraculously short time you deserve your impending disappointment.
But it’s not just Pimsleur. Everyone wants their product to come out on top, and one way to do that is to sell what the other guy is selling; fluency.
I make no claims as to how long it might take you to learn a language – the answer to that is almost impossible to know and will vary tremendously, but I can tell you that it will in all likelihood take you more than a few short months.
The best strategy for faster learning, I feel, is diversification – another point not emphasized by many companies. Don’t be fooled.
Learning a language is easy
Learning a language isn’t usually easy, and programs that claim it is are full of it.
You probably know the saying “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
I feel strongly that when we claim that learning a language is extremely easy, we’re really doing no favors to prospective or beginning learners. Programs that claim this might be setting you up to fail by offering false expectations. We’re told that learning is a cake walk but when we discover that the cake is a lie we run the risk of losing our motivation and steadily slipping away from our projects all together.
Make no mistake – learning a language is usually pretty hard. Sure – there are easy elements, and you can certainly make it easier by utilizing the right strategies and learning tools for you, but at the end of the day it’s still going to require a lot of dedication and a lot of effort, and it sure as hell isn’t going to happen over night.
If it was easy, everyone would do it.
The next time you or someone you know is looking to start a new language project, make sure that someone does a little bit of research before laying own oodles of cash on a product that makes false promises.
Or better yet, learn a language for free with any of these tools and save yourself the hassle entirely.
- You can’t learn a language the same way a child can learn a language. It’s futile to try. Instead, focus on the things you can do with your adult strengths!
- Language learning is a process and a destination. It takes most learners – even dedicated ones – a couple years at the least to reach what most would call “conversational fluency”. Don’t listen to companies that tell you it’ll happen in just a few weeks or months.
- And lastly – don’t be caught off guard when the language product that promised you that learning German was uber easy turns out to be more than you originally bargained for. Languages are hard, but chances are there’s a better way than the one you shelled out $399 for.
Are these claims that you see frequently when perusing for a new language learning program? Which promises do you find to be the most empty or incorrect?
Leave a comment and tell me what you think!
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