You don’t need to join a class to successfully learn a language though you may want to do so for social reasons. There is so much information on the web you could easily use and it’s free. Or you could do what I did when I learned French, I just bought three books, a dictionary, a university reference grammar book and a book of common phrases and idioms and learned the contents. But when you absolutely definitely need or want to succeed, you should be starting somewhere else entirely.

As has often been said “People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.” And a good plan will so dramatically improve your probability of success that I am shocked people don’t take that part more seriously. Although where would you get the idea you should have a plan? Not from school, that is for sure.

My ‘O’ Level French at school started with my teacher entering the room and saying “bonjour” and it went on pretty much like that week after week for 5 years. He followed the book without ever really thinking about what he was doing or why. I went to a good school and even at my school a decent proportion of the students failed the ‘O’ Level. What was the plan? There was no ‘active’ plan! They simple followed a process, the same process as last year that failed some proportion of the people who followed it the year before.

My dad was a smart man but when he invited me to learn German with him at around 14 years old, the plan was buy a book and work through the lessons. That was the depth and finesse of the plan. We both quit. Which is just as well because the book’s title offered a false promise of being able to speak German in 3 months and this certainly would not have been the case even if we had got 100%. We did not have a way to retain what we had learned from chapter to chapter, nor did we know how far through the problem we were (the difficulty was not linear).

So at Total Fluency we don’t post videos on “how to learn the future of être” etc (there are plenty of them out there!! Struggling with être isn’t really the problem for 95% of language learners, it’s either not having a plan or not having an effective plan (giving you the highest possible chance of success!). That is what Total Fluency is all about.

Here are a few of the questions that you might want to make sure your plan answers:

  1. How do you intend to maintain your language skills when you have completed your programme?
  2. What do you need to be able to do number 1? i.e. How many words will you need to know? How fast should your reading speed be?
  3. How long have you got? Is there an exam or a trip deadline? Or a length of time after which you would be too bored and demoralised to continue?
  4. How will you avoid the pain of learning then forgetting then re-learning then forgetting and mercilessly repeating that cycle on yourself?
  5. If you plan to learn more than 5 words a day how do you plan to keep them separate in your mind?
  6. How much time will you need each day?
  7. How will you test your ability to know you are improving at the desired rate and that you are on track for success?
  8. What is your plan B (for when plan A goes a little awry)?

But even these questions pale into insignificance against the next one.

  1. How will you experience more positive emotion than negative emotion during the process of learning the language?

If you have a good plan, you don’t need a lot else. My plan, when I learned French was to learn every word in French that I knew in English (29,000), 3 examples of every grammar rule in my grammar book (2,000) and all the phases and idioms in my phrases and idioms book (5,000). I started by learning 100 words per day for the first two months (6,000) then dropped to 50 per day for the remainder of the two years I worked on it. It took 1 hour and 15 minutes each day – which I was careful to put to one side. By the end of the two years I could simultaneously translate in both directions and gave a keynote address to a national conference in Quebec in French speaking without notes. I received a standing ovation for the “frenchness of my French”. I never lived in France, I never had a teacher. Since I had a sound system for learning and retaining French, the biggest challenge I faced by far was managing my emotional state. I had that challenge even though I was making blistering progress (by using accelerated learning techniques) – in my first two months alone, I learned about as much French as you do in a 5 year ‘O’ Level programme + a 2 year ‘A’ level.

Tactics should always be the servant of strategy. You need a good strategy, a good plan. There are lots of great YouTube video resources out there BUT always make sure they serve your plan. They are not substitute for a good plan. And the most important part of that plan is your emotional state.

Here is an example of a terrible plan (I thought you might like to see one, to help make things clear). I met an English man who had moved to Spain and intended to stay. He decided he ought to learn Spanish. So he hired a tutor and they agreed that meeting once per week was the way to go – with no homework in between (he didn’t want to have to do homework). He lasted a year, spent £1,500 on tuition and couldn’t speak a word of Spanish at the end. Terrible tutor? I don’t know, I never met her, but I doubt it. Terrible plan? Absolutely. I would have been completely stunned and would have bowed in reverence awe every time I met him, if he had made that work. He’s not alone, I’ve come across that same story more times than I care to recall. It’s a good way to waste £1,500 (£30 per lesson * 50 weeks with 2 weeks off for good behaviour) given that I would not rate the odds of success as any better than 1 in 1000.

And whilst I love languages and get enthusiastic about helping people succeed with language learning, the best way I can save someone time and money is simply to run through their plan such that they realise that their goal is unobtainable or comes at too high a price and they never start at all. Money saved. Time saved. Pain saved. And if they ever do start later, at least they are not coming to the project with a failure under their belt which will sit in the back of their mind causing trouble.

And don’t think a good plan is an easy thing to create. I have spent over £3,000 and 3 years learning Thai because I couldn’t find anyone to help me build a good plan. And after all this time I have now learned enough through sheer tenacity and pig-headedness that I could now, if only I could go back in time, have learned more Thai in 1 year than I managed in three and for one third of the price. It would have been an infinitely nicer experience.

For those of you who don’t need or don’t want a teacher and all that expense, Total Fluency offer language learning planning sessions and accelerated language learning workshops. We love to produce independent learners, so this is truly something we enjoy doing. There are lots of good reasons to pay a teacher but like all other language resources it should be in line with you plan and be by choice rather than from necessity. And if you do decide to pay a teacher, before you become their student ask them to talk with you about their plan for your learning success. A great teacher will facilitate successful learning and could well form a highly motivational element of your plan.

Happy Planning! And Happy Learning!