Learning a foreign language is not difficult, but it takes time and commitment.
Anyone can master a foreign language, and it does not require studying verb tables, memorising vocabulary, or buying a lot of books and resources. In fact, it doesn’t really involve any of the things we did at school in our foreign language classes. To be honest, many of those things seem as if they were just busy work, things our teachers assigned to us because they are easy to check and evaluate, and give both students and teachers the feeling that they are actually doing something. This is the good news.
The bad news is that it takes a lot of time to master a language. Let’s say you want to be in a position where you can understand pretty much everything people say to you in your daily life, as well as be able to watch TV, read a newspaper, and deal with any paperwork that comes your way. You will need a passive vocabulary of at least 5,000 to 10,000 words, and an active one of around half that.
In order to learn a word so that you know it passively (ie you can understand it when you see it or hear it) you will have to encounter it in text or aural input 20-50 times in context. In order to acquire it so you can use it actively (when speaking or writing), you will have to encounter it even more, as well as start using it yourself.
Doing the math (something I am not good at), you can see that you are going to have to read millions of words, or listen to hundreds or thousands of hours of audio, in order to get the exposure you need to the language.
Before you give up and go and take up a more sensible pursuit, such as counting grains of sand on a beach, however, there is a final piece of good news (I was saving it until the end):
None of this needs to be boring or a chore.
With the proliferation of free content on the internet, it is fairly easy to find interesting audio and text on almost any topic, as well as online translation, vocabulary learning, and grammar explanation websites, without spending a penny. I’ll be introducing some over the next few weeks.
Here’s the first one:
A wonderful online system for delivering graded content that is mostly free (you can pay for tutors to correct your written work or speak to). The founder, Steve Kaufmann, has a blog that is well worth checking out.