The idea of being “fluent in 3 months” is touted as achievable in some part of the internet language learning community**. The claim is that while there aren’t shortcuts to becoming fluent in 3 months, languages are learnt in hours, not in years. It is a matter of doing the right kind of learning as opposed to memorising word lists and grammar.
So is it really doable? In any language?
Language teaching experts such as the Foreign Service Institute are likely to scoff at the idea that any language can be learned to fluency in just 3 months. The FSI is the institution that trains US diplomats and its School of Languages Studies teaches around 70 languages. The duration of each language stream differs according to the Institute’s experience with getting the average student to a “proficient” (NOT fluent) level. The duration of their courses range from 24 weeks (600-750 class hours) for languages like Spanish and French, to 88 weeks (2,200 class hours) for the most difficult tier of languages like Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Arabic.
Six hundred hours for Spanish or French is 25 (full 24-hour) days. So if you study full time – let’s say 8 hours a day – that is indeed 3 and a half months to reach “proficiency”. For the most difficult tier of languages the 2,200 hours translates to 275 work days or 9 months to reach “proficiency” – far cry from the touted 3 months.
There is good reason to be highly sceptical of any claim that an average person can learn a language to proficiency in just three months.
And indeed the promise of “Fluent in 3 Months” could be counterproductive for several reasons:
- Unrealistic expectations: Setting unrealistic expectations can lead to frustration and discouragement. If language learners believe that they will become fluent in a foreign language in just three months, they may feel disappointed or defeated when they don’t see the results they expected. This can lead to decreased motivation and a negative attitude towards language learning.
- Underestimating the difficulty of language learning: Language learning is a complex and challenging process that requires a significant amount of time, effort, and immersion. Underestimating the difficulty of language learning can lead to a lack of dedication and effort, which can ultimately slow down progress and hinder success.
- Lack of patience: Language learning takes time, and it is important for learners to be patient and persistent in their efforts. The promise of “Fluent in 3 Months” can encourage a “quick-fix” mentality that may lead to frustration and a lack of commitment to the language learning process.
- Lack of emphasis on quality over quantity: Becoming fluent in a foreign language requires not only speaking the language, but also understanding it at a deep level. The promise of “Fluent in 3 Months” can encourage language learners to focus on quantity over quality, which can result in poor grammar and pronunciation.
- And perhaps most importantly is cultural understanding: Fluency in a foreign language requires not only a mastery of the language, but also a deep understanding of the culture, customs, and values of the people who speak it. This level of understanding can only be achieved through prolonged exposure to the language and culture, which can take years, not just months.
** The book, Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis, is a popular language learning guide that promises to help learners achieve fluency in a foreign language in just three months. The author, who is a well-known language learner, Youtube creator and polyglot, presents a range of techniques and strategies for language learning, and emphasizes the importance of immersion and speaking the language from day one.