Other than growing up in a bilingual family, is there one thing that would make a huge difference in becoming truly bilingual at an adult age?
Let’s start by looking at the choices or the success factors? Most specialists would probably agree that the following are among most important success factors in learning to speak French:
Success factors in learning to speak French
1. Immersion in the country
2. Interaction with native speakers
3. Motivation: need and desire
4. Quality instruction: formal classes, tutoring, coaching
5. Effective learning tools and materials
6. Time and intensity
Now, if you had to choose the most important factor, which one would it be?
My answer is none of the above. Well, I’m kidding a bit because there is something that includes most of the above in one package.
The most important success factor in learning French at an adult age
In my observation, the most important success factor in second language learning is a significant relationship with a speaker of the target language. Be it spouse, partner, lover, best friend, girlfriend or boyfriend,
Just recently I attended a Spanish-language conversation meetup. Sure enough, most the people had taken classes, traveled to Spanish-speaking countries and fallen in love with the culture. Some had even purchased my Spanish-language calendar learning tool.
But what was striking was that all the best speakers, those that could really converse fluently, had been or were romantically involved with native speakers.
Why is this so? It’s pretty simple; a romantic relationship includes most of the success factors above. Three things stand out. First of all, a relationship implies lots of interaction with native speakers. This specifically means conversational language generally not covered in formal instruction.
Secondly, and something dear to my heart, you get the services of language coach for free. Someone who will correct your speech spontaneously and sincerely. You can’t get better than this.
Thirdly, do I have to say anything about motivation?
This all adds up to a powerful and effective “system” for language learning that beats everything else hands down.
Conclusion: the importance of a multi-level approach
Because most of us cannot change our romantic relationships in the name of language learning, we have to make do with what we’ve got. This is why I speak of a multi-pronged or multi-level approach to learning to speak French based on the known success factors.
What this means is that a group class two hours a week alone will not get you very far. Neither will just reading a book and listening to CDs. Not that there’s anything with these activities, It’s just that you if you really want to speak fluently, you have to work harder and smarter.
In general terms, what you need is a combination of interaction with the language and the methods and tools that best suit your learning style.
A visit to the country where the language is spoken, joining a conversation group, listening to songs and watching movies in the language, finding the right class and using good learning tools are among the things you should consider.
And finally I must say that I strongly believe that private coaching is especially effective if you want to reach the highest levels of proficiency. While it’s not as much fun as having that romantic partner, a coach will help you polish your French and make it shine.
1. How To Become Bilingual In French