In the final instalment of my articles discussing the method of language learning put forth by these two exceptional guys in their TEDx lecture I want to relay what they say about their experiences. I want to compare what they say to my experiences since I have been learning French at the ILA Immersion School in Montpellier. I’ve have written before about how I wanted to only speak French in my language classes, with my host family and with the locals more generally. It might seem that this would happen naturally doing a French immersion stay but you still need a bit of discipline and it’s easy to accidentally create an English bubble around yourself. Vat and Scott went for the extreme of not speaking any English at all, from day 1. This is what they experienced during their total language immersion.
They went to 4 countries over the course of a year, spending 3 months in each. 3 months is not that much time and if you followed the standard time line that would take you to roughly B1 level; low intermediate. They tracked their progress over the time they spent in each place and from week to week they noticed quite remarkable changes. This was not their first attempt at learning languages as Scott had already tried to learn French over the course of a year alongside his regular work and not had much luck with it. His method of learning French was very different to taking an immersion course in France and from how he approached this experiment.
Their Year Touring the World and How it Can Help You Learn French
First, they started with Spanish in Spain, then they headed over to Brazil to learn Portuguese. If you are thinking they just went for easy romance languages guess again, next stop was China for 3 months to learn Mandarin and the final part of the journey was South Korea to learn Korean. They found that by the end of their time in each country only speaking the language they were trying to learn they could have conversations with the locals about most subjects and they could live their daily lives pretty sufficiently.
They show some comparisons between their abilities when they first arrived and at the end of their language immersion and it’s pretty dramatic. They are able to speak confidently without long pauses and to express complex things, the progress they have made is amazing and inspiring for me in my quest to learn French in France.
They describe how for the initial part of the trip they had to communicate through their dictionaries which is something I have experienced myself when living with one of my host families who did not speak a word of English. After 2 weeks, they noticed things were becoming easier and continued to become easier constantly and by the end of the 3 months they were talking automatically and didn’t have to concentrate at all on studying. They were well and truly through the tough part of learning a foreign language and into the enjoyable and effortless part. In just three months!
You may be thinking this is not going to be applicable to you as you will need to speak a bit of English whilst doing your French language stay in Montpellier but what they go on to say is how this technique can work in a limited context. That is to say you can do the no-English rule with one or a few people and it will still be effective. If you make this rule with certain people it will remove the ambiguity and you will know whenever you see them it’s time to switch on.
I have found during my time in Montpellier learning French that the more I refrain from speaking English and the more I commit to continuing my French immersion outside of my classes the more I progress. When I was living with a host family who only spoke French my progress was fast-tracked, even though sometimes it would be tiring this extra push made the time I spent struggling over certain things much shorter. I recommend giving the video a watch as it is inspiring and incredibly useful to all of us who are studying French in France.