My whole life I thought I was bad at languages. Used to excelling in academics, I slunk out of high school Spanish classes feeling like the village idiot. Not very encouraging! Immersion-style university French classes were an improvement, but while I could read and write a bit, hearing and speaking were a disaster. With no one in my family for generations able to speak a second language, I concluded I must be missing the bilingual chip.
Then one day, a few years ago, I shipped off to Europe for a couple of months. I prepared some Italian and French in advance, and — lo and behold! — in context, I found I could communicate. I shopped at the markets in Rome, Florence, and Venice, picking up words and phrases along the way. I began to use prego in all kinds of contexts Byki never taught me. It was thrilling!
In France my great triumph was asking if I could order a croque-madame to go . . . and then doing so. It was the ultimate confidence-building experience. No, none of it was complex (it was rudimentary!), but it gave me vision and hope.
The vision: if even baby skills yielded huge rewards for my travel experience, how much might fluency enrich my whole life? The hope: if I could indeed communicate and acquire language in context, which was radically different from my failed academic attempts, then perhaps I might one day really speak a second language . . .
. . . if I could live in the country for a couple of years.
Buuuuuuut, since that’s not in the cards for me in the foreseeable future (did I mention we’re making a cross-country move right now???), I’m seeking alternatives. Are there ways to become fluent without years of immersion? Ways that are totally different from the academic model? Apparently, yes! I’m finding a lot of exciting resources, ideas, and strategies. Perhaps nothing can replace immersion, yet immersion is no guarantee of fluency — and there’s a lot I can accomplish from my hometown.