I’ve been asked this question about a thousand times and there are just so many good answers that I’ve always struggled to come up with a single really clear, snappily articulated answer. Today I was lucky enough to read a pre-release draft of what I expect to become the indispensable handbook of ever language learner in the world. One line jumped out at me and stuck in my head:
“Give yourself goosebumps”
I think it lies at the heart of what technology can do and should do more of. It’s about motivation. About making a fleeting distant whim to speak a new language into a life-affirming passion that brings it to reality.
Because most people don’t ever actually start learning a new language. We have a vague intention to start, but never quite get off the ground.
I was rubbish at languages at school. 9 years of French lessons, and barely a shyly muttered sentence of Franglais to show for it at the end. It was pathetic! I knew I was useless at languages, so I stopped even trying.
It was only after studying the science of memory and learning as part of my Experimental Psychology degree at Oxford that I decided to give it another try. The science I had studied convinced me that my brain (like every human brain) had been perfectly evolved to learn languages… but my entire language learning experience up to that point suggested the exact opposite! Armed with a curiosity to work out which of these two compelling bodies of evidence was correct, I went to live in remote northern China to see if I could learn a new language, if I had to. I’ve written about that life-changing experience at great length elsewhere (here, to be precise), but to cut to the conclusion: the science was right.
So what makes us think that learning languages is so hard, and how we can overcome that thought without going to the extremes of self-imposed exile in bitterly cold corners of China? Language bloggers, who often subvert the traditional educational norms and give people inspirational examples that they can follow, have become hugely influential in finding answers to this question.
Benny ‘the Irish Polyglot’ Lewis is the undisputed king of these language bloggers. His new book, “Fluent in 3 months,” (the book that I read from cover-to-cover the weekend) has the best and most clearly articulated set of answers I have ever seen. He has crystallised ten years experience and writings into a blueprint for a new orthodoxy in language learning.
Read it. It’s important.
And as for us Ed-tech companies? Our best work is to do everything we can to supplement and accelerate this emergent new approach to language learning. We need to create experiences (like this ) that help you to get excited, nurture your motivation and therefore help you to feel and to benefit from the immense power of your brain.
Because that will give you goose bumps.
*full disclosure – we aren’t affiliated in any way with Benny Lewis or his book and aren’t earning anything from it – although he does (wisely) mention Memrise a couple of times in the book as a great place to learn vocab 🙂