Helping You Reach Your Fluency Goals Through Self-Guided Immersion
I created Language Mastery to help adult learners reach their foreign language acquisition goals as quickly, cheaply, and enjoyably as possible.
As a seasoned language learner and teacher, I have seen the carnage caused by traditional language education first hand, and strive to help learners avoid the common pitfalls caused by bad methods, bad materials, and bad attitudes. I am a strong advocate of “self-guided immersion”, and believe that language classes and teachers are not necessary to reach a high level of fluency in your target languages (though they can be of great help if used correctly). Learning a foreign language well does of course require an investment of time, energy, and money, but if you are smart about it, the process will take far less of all three currencies and evolve into a ridiculously rewarding process you look on with joy instead of dread.
Why Self-Guided Immersion?
You will see in many of my articles that I am quite critical of traditional education, especially when it comes to school-based language learning. This is not because I failed in school (I actually did quite well in elementary school, junior high, high school, and university), because I don’t like school (I love the academic life and hope to get my PhD one of these days), or because I don’t think school can be a benefit to some (it certainly can). I do believe, however, that for the vast majority of people, the vast majority of subjects, the vast majority of the time, formal, classroom-based education is far less effective than what I call “self-guided immersion”, that is learning a language on your own time, using your own materials, all toward reaching your own goals. Ultimately, it’s the motivation factor that makes the difference. As Leo Babauta of Zen Habits puts it:
When teachers (wonderful people that they were) tried to teach me something in school, I often became bored, and just did what I needed to do to do well on the test. Not because the subject or the teacher was boring, but because it wasn’t something I cared about. They wanted me to learn it because they thought I should, but that’s not why people learn something. They learn it because they care about it; because they find it incredibly interesting, or because they need it to do something they really want to do.
What I Mean By “Mastery”
You’ll notice that the site name includes the word “mastery”. Many people have their own idea for what this term means, so let me share mine before we move on. I define mastery in a language as:
“The ability to use a language for your communicative purposes.”
That’s it. It is completely relative to your purposes. So if you are learning a language to live and work in a given country, then “mastery” would mean being able to easily communicate with your colleagues, your boss, the server at your favorite restaurant, or new friends at a bar. If you want to open a cafe in a foreign land, however, then “mastery” will require being excellent at inane smalltalk, and knowing lots of coffee-related words (“I want a double-tall decaf skinny caffè latte with two pumps of hazelnut in a for-here mug”). If you will just be traveling to a country short-term, then mastery will entail being able to ask directions (and actually understand the answer), checking into and out of hotels or hostels, and asking about local sites and bites. You get the point.
What I Don’t Mean By “Mastery”
But no matter your purpose, it is important to accept that mastery does not entail learning every last word you may hear or read. For starters, I am a 30-something, well-educated, native English speaker who spends a lot of time reading and writing, but there are still plenty of English words I don’t know!
While you certainly should strive to constantly expand your vocabulary, it is far more important to be able to use what words you do know with ease (this means knowing the different meanings of a given word, pronouncing words with the right intonation, tone or stress, knowing common collocations, etc.).
Just as in martial arts (my preferred analogy for language learning), having lots of moves is not as important as mastering a small set of techniques. As the old saying goes:
I do not fear the 10,000 kicks you have thrown once. I fear the one kick you have thrown 10,000 times.