When we learn a foreign language in high school or college, it’s usually not really how native speakers use it in everyday life. We learn the language in a very proper and academic way, but that tends to not be very useful in real life situations. So you end up with people who might have studied a foreign language for several years, but can hardly use what they’ve learned at all. It’s pretty sad right? I mean, why else would you learn a language?
I definitely understand why academic institutions teach languages like that. They want people to learn proper grammar and in a way, sort of protect the language, but it just seems like a giant waste of time that so many people spend all this time studying something and end up being unable to use it in a practical way.
So if you’re studying a foreign language with the intent of actually being able to apply what you’ve learned, studying in a classroom is not nearly enough! You have to go out and use what you’ve learned in order to be proficient at it. There’s really no other way.
Personally, I’ve never met someone who said anything remotely like “I took a French class/read a textbook, and then I went to France and had no problem conversing with the locals”.
I have, however, met a decent amount of people who learned a second language and could it speak fairly well. They all generally said the same thing. They learned the basics, but then they had to go out and practice it A LOT in real life in order to be able to use the language in a practical way.
The problem with how most people currently learn languages is that they’re limited to textbooks, exercises, and tests, which can be helpful, but they don’t spend enough time using the language to become proficient at it. If you want to have beautiful, flowing conversations in French, you’re going to have to practice having beautiful flowing conversations in French with other people.
It’s a lot like driving a car. You can read a book about driving and learn the rules of the road, but unless you actually get behind the wheel of a car and spend a significant amount of time practicing, you’ll never be a very good driver. There are some things that you would just never be able to learn in a classroom.
So for those of you who would like to speak a foreign language proficiently one day, I highly suggest you get out of this “classroom” mentality and focus on using the language as much as possible. Sure you can learn the basics and even take a couple of entry level classes to get your feet wet, but get out there and start using what you’ve learned as soon as possible.
There are sites like couchsurfing.com and meetup.com, and there are even Facebook groups where you can easily find some friends who speak the language you’d like to learn and practice with them. Don’t overthink it! Just have a good time with your new friends and remember, the only way to get good at this sort of thing is to practice doing it.