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Learning a Foreign Language Easily

8.30.12

If you were like me, high school language class — Spanish in my case — felt like trying to stuff a dictionary into a watermelon. Completely unnatural and practically impossible. In fact, the entire process should be written off as totally inefficient. To absorb all those words and conjugations took intense, repetitive, strenuous memorization, and then, within 6 months, it all evaporated from your brain. Despite having continued my Spanish all through college, the best I can still muster is the very first thing I learned, “Necesito ir al bano.” I need to go to the bathroom.

But learning a new language shouldn’t be that hard. When we’re kids, we don’t require flash cards or repeat-after-me drills to speak fluently. We just do it. The process comes naturally through listening and observing. Yet, when we’re asked to do the exact same thing just a decade later, instead of fluid prose, stilted phrases tumble from our lips.

Why? Turns out it may all stem from the way we’re taught.

In the 1960s Paul Pimsleur, an applied linguistics professor, realized foreign languages weren’t being taught according to the way the adult human brain processed language. So he developed a systematic, method of teaching that enabled the brain to catalog foreign words in not only our short term, but also our long-term memory through a process of “graduated interval recall,” where students are reminded of words at gradually increasing intervals, as well as being expected to anticipate the correct response, which further cements the recollection of words.

His approach to foreign language learning proved to be so proficient the CIA, FBI and NSA all used — and may still use — it. And you can too. The Pimsleur method is available in 48 languages — from Albanian to Vietnamese — and requires only 30 minutes for 30 days to get you speaking conversationally.

At least, that’s what they claim, and after having tried it for the past week, I can believe it. Already, I can fluidly ask and answer a number of questions in Croatian without ever having memorized a single word. It just flows naturally. So naturally, that by the time we land in Croatia for our wedding and honeymoon, I’ll easily be able to greet, “dobar dan,” thank, “hvala,” and even comment on my Croatian, “malo razumijem Hrvatski — ne tako dobro,” to anyone I meet.

2 Responses to "Learning a Foreign Language Easily"

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