What Makes Sense
For 10 years of our life we’re taught that sitting in a class if we apply ourselves that we’ll acquire the ability to speak a second language. Now we’ve graduated and it’s 5 years later and we suddenly have a strong urge to finally become fluent in that second language which we’ve already spent 10 years of our lives learning. The 4 years in college didn’t make us fluent. And now here we are 5 years later wondering if we’ll feel regret for having spent 10 years of our lives learning that language if we never become fluent.
And so we enter into a private institute but now we’re older and our brain seems much slower and it seems that we’ve forgotten most of what we learned those 10 years of our youth and high school and college days. Now we’re spending our own money and attending night courses and so we’re determined and much more dedicated and so to help assure success we even hire a private teach and take expensive private lessons on the weekends which is on top of an already intensive schedule of nightly adult classes at the local university or institute.
Now it’s 30 years later since we first entered school as toddlers, age 5 or 6 roughly. Some of us commenced learning a second language almost immediately especially if we lived in Europe and certain other nations or regions. Personally I was in America and lived on the Mexican border and so we were taught Spanish for at least one hour each day. Almost 10 years later I would elect to take French classes in addition to the Spanish classes.
My teacher protested because it was unusual and considered possibly detrimental to attempt to learn two foreign languages at the same time. She relinquished however and I performed just as well as the other students and so it never became a problem. However in high school my desires changed and I dropped the Spanish classes and only took French. Then a few years later in high school a pretty girl convinced me to join her Spanish class and so I was back to learning French and Spanish both.
Entering college my desires changed again and I was considering taking German or Russia, however I felt it would be a waste of my French if I didn’t try to become fluent in at least one language before graduating from school life. By the end of 4 additional years of advanced courses in French being alongside the best and brightest French class graduates many of whom had been spending their summer vacations in France for those 10 years of school life, none of us were fluent.
Then I moved to Brazil where I became fluent instead in Portuguese. With only a few months of studying at a world famous institute my ability to speak Portuguese was still limited however I had enough of a foundation that it didn’t seem impossible and I was actually able to have moderately decent conversations with people in Portuguese. After a year and 6 months people began doubting that I was American. My Portuguese had become so good that they didn’t believe me when I told them I wasn’t a native of Brazil.
After 3 years in Brazil when I came home to America my mother was in tears because I couldn’t speak English very well. It took several months for my English tongue to start coming back. Then I moved to Asia where the governments were spending $2 billion dollars per year on English education programs for their citizens.
And everybody was offering me many thousands of dollars to teach them private lessons. The Universities begged me to teach classes at the university. A local hospital paid me hundreds of dollars for a 45 minutes class. They paid me that again and again each weekend for just 45 minutes of my time. And during those 45 minutes they stuffed me full of Pizza and Coca-Cola as I taught a group of around 30 doctors some English conversation. It was remarkable.
However, I began to feel guilty. Because as I walked around Asia and made thousands of friends… the only ones that could speak English were people who had actually lived in America or English speaking countries for 10 years or more and had probably even been raised in those countries and attended American or British schools etc. For example one of the doctors had attended a British school in the Fiji islands. Many persons had attended University in the US/UK etc.
However, anybody who had merely learned English during elementary and high school and college in their home nation, they couldn’t speak English. A huge majority of those nations scored higher than any other nations on their English exams and yet couldn’t speak the language. When those same exams were given to Americans and British even at Ivy League schools they regularly failed the exams! Yet could speak English fluently, of course, they were native speakers!
And so I soon recognized that fact that you can’t learn a foreign language in the classroom. Just like how I learned Portuguese was on the streets, not in the classroom. With only 2 months of studies my Portuguese became fluent on the streets. Those who studied for 10 years in elementary and high schools and college were not fluent. Just as I wasn’t fluent in French or Spanish.
My ability was good enough to pass exams however I couldn’t speak fluently. I could have a basic conversation if you considered talking about the weather and asking somebody their name and age and if they’re married as a basic ability conversation then so be it. Personally I didn’t consider that a conversation at all. That was just regurgitating memorized phrases that everybody else has memorized also. Veering off that path of memorized phrases you soon discover that you don’t know the language not even one bit!
And so, why were these nations spending $2 billion dollars on a program that didn’t work? Why was the whole world using traditional school methods and curriculum if it obviously didn’t work? As an American I’ll never forget when it became headline news that the average high school graduate in America was illiterate. The joke which in fact wasn’t a joke was that graduates couldn’t even read their own diploma! The certificate that congratulated them on their graduation from a lifetime of education.
They couldn’t read it.
Americans as a whole are notorious for their inability to spell correctly. It might just have something to do with the English language? However in Asia the majority of students in several Asian nations don’t have errors in spelling or grammar and in fact are better at English than Americans and British! However, they can’t speak the language whereas Americans and British are fluent speakers of course.
And so, what’s real? What makes sense? Should we go to school to learn how to speak a foreign language when it’s impossible to learn that in school? Should governments continue spending $2 billion per year on school courses when it’s impossible for students to learn that subject in school? Simply is impossible. And so, what can we do? What makes sense?
There are in fact people who can speak a foreign language in this world. But don’t look to India. For many centuries we’ve been taught that India is an English speaking country. But I’m still not sure that I believe that 13% of the population can pass as a proper representation of the entire country. And especially when you consider that 97% of those English speakers in India are all males.
Now you can understand why they try hiding that fact by simply saying they’re an English speaking country. Yes, almost 13% of their population can speak English, and most of that 13% can’t speak it very well, and only 3% are women. Their only saving grace is the fact that there are so many people in India that 13% is more people than who live in the US/UK and so they’re a huge portion of the total human population.
Actually it’s only half the population of the US but double and triple the UK population. And so that is significant. But what about the remaining 87% of India’s population? Don’t they matter? And what about all of Asia? And the rest of the world that can’t speak English?
And what about the unfortunate American people? They can only speak English! That’s 300 million people who can only speak English! How sad! What if their island sinks? Where will they go? They can’t all fit in the UK. They need to swim to Australia maybe. Probably the only country in the world that has been successful in teaching nearly 100% of its people a foreign language such as English is the nation of North Korea. Isn’t that frightening? What’s going on the academic world?
Does anything make sense anymore?
Well, like I mentioned before, there are success stories for example nearly 50% of the human population can speak a second language (43%). That’s fantastic! However, they didn’t learn it in school. Those are people who live in nations where there are 10 or more different languages and they must speak a second language to survive.
How many people can speak 3 languages? Well, unless it’s a necessity, the average person won’t learn a second language. Less than 13% of the world can speak a 3rd language. Less than 3% can speak 4 languages. Less than 1% of the world can speak 5 languages. Yet nearly 100% of the people on this planet are taught a second language in school. Only 43% of them become fluent. Almost 100% of Americans in a nation of 300 million people can only speak one language.
In the UK (including Italy, Portugal, Ireland, and Hungary) more than 60% of the population can only speak one language! Yes, only 38% of Britons speak a second language, only 18% speak two and only 6% of the population speak three languages.
In Europe it’s not much different. Almost 56% speak a second language, only 28% speak two and only 11% speak three.
And we’re not talking about fluent. We’re not talking about the ability to speak that language like a native. Most people are only talking about “proficiency.” Proficient means that you can do almost anything in that language. But not as a native, not perfect. But that’s okay because not even natives are prefect. Have you ever heard the saying, “you speak better than a native!” That phrase exists because not only is that possible but it’s actually quite common.
The reason foreigners can speak better than a native is because natives don’t take studies seriously when the classroom subject when they’re kids sitting in a classroom at school is their own language that they already speak fluently. They take it for granted that they can already speak the language. They don’t realize the importance of becoming an expert in their own native language. They already speak it. They don’t care about grammar. Grammar is sometimes wrong. The spoken language and the written language are never identical. And the spoken language doesn’t follow grammar 100% or even 80% of the time.
All languages are idiomatic. A huge portion of a language is made up of idiomatic expressions and phrases. What is an idiom? An idiom is a phrase that means something different from its natural definition. Imagine if 20% of the words in the dictionary have a different definition than what’s found in the dictionary?
Now, how much of the language is humor? How many jokes are based on culture, politics, history, traditions, movies, novels from that country? That nation? How is it possible for a foreigner to know those things? There are hundreds if not thousands of reasons why a student who learned the language in a classroom can’t be fluent in that language.
Is there a way to become fluent? And quickly, easily, and for free? There is one aspect of language that’s overlooked by the schools and most experts: Muscle. Speaking is a physical activity. In fact, if you don’t believe that fact then you should probably consider the fact that the most powerful and largest muscles in the human body are used for speaking. The muscles supporting the jaw bone and the tongue are necessary for speaking. Even the vocal chords are muscle.
And humans use something called muscle memory for almost everything they do. Have you ever wondered why we can’t forget how to ride a bicycle? Or why we can drive a car so well? How can we look in the rear mirror at the car behind us but can still continue driving forward or even turning on a curve or making a turn or U-turn without looking in the direction that we’re going? Most of what we do utilizes muscle memory. Muscles have a brain of their own. It’s called muscle memory.
Some languages cannot be spoken 100% fluent by a foreigner because they utilize sounds that require muscles that you don’t have unless you developed those muscles as a baby, infant, toddler, and child. That’s proof that muscles are a vital aspect in language development. Muscle memory is real. And our brain takes our muscle’s seriously. If your muscles in your mouth don’t like the feel, they’ll tell the brain, and the brain will think that you’re doing something wrong. That translates into fear, doubt, low self esteem, hesitation, and so on.
It’s very difficult to speak a foreign language when the brain is telling us that we’re doing it wrong because the muscles in our mouths are telling our brain that it feels strange. Everything feels wrong and strange the first time we do it. Especially riding a bicycle or doing a back flip or cutting vegetables or driving a car or flying an airplane or doing martial arts or speaking a foreign language. It always feels strange at first. Even our own native language is difficult for us when we’re babies first trying to say Mother and Father and hungry. Practice doesn’t just make you perfect, it also makes you feel comfortable doing that activity.
To learn more you can visit my website at www.anaezine.net but the bottom line and conclusion is that the way we’re doing things now doesn’t make sense if it’s not working! If we’re not accomplishing anything. If we’re not obtaining success! The secret to learning to do anything is practice. But it’s perfect practice that makes us perfect.
Contact me anytime,
Ben Arnold (AnaEzine)