It is always surprising to see how many people from around the world want to learn English and how very few of them eventually achieve their goals. Among the variety of problems which accompany studying a foreign language, there are two things that learners usually lack most: persistence and efficiency.
Essentially, speaking fluently is a skill that can be acquired over time. As with any other skill, the key factor contributing to success is persistence. Experts agree that studying for half an hour every day is much more useful than studying for several hours once a week. What's interesting, this fact comes as no surprise for the majority of students. However, this knowledge does not make much difference. Students still tend to study when they are in class and tend to ignore English altogether when they are not.
For me, the routine use of self-study books was a game-changer. Until 2011 I attended classes once a week, watched TV-shows and occasionally tried to make sense of obscure rules of English grammar. In January, I bought several textbooks and started going through them one unit at a time. By April 2011, after I finished two of them, I had a sound foundation of grammar and my fluency was better than pretty much anyone else's in the class. Ultimately, in a couple of months I quit the army of pathetic amateurs and was on my way to success.
Strictly speaking, you can succeed in learning a foreign language even if you lack efficiency, so this part of the equation is important but hardly essential. If you take care of the persistence aspect and have a plenty of time, achieving fluency is almost inevitable and everything will be fine. Most of us, however, don't have the luxury to spend five to ten years just to get there. Fortunately, the conventional approach is anything but optimal and we can do a great deal to speed up the process.
Interestingly, this gives rise to numerous new methodologies. Their authors sometimes claim that using these shiny techniques allows to achieve expertise in a matter of weeks. Well, unfortunately, this is simply not true. My experience suggests that it's possible to get from B1 level (pre-intermediate) to C1+ (advanced) level in two years but I would not expect anything much better than that. Having said that, it makes absolutely no sense to start slowly and spend months on elementary grammar. There are many techniques which may get beginners up to speed, so use them if you at this level, build a solid foundation and move on.
This concludes the first post in an upcoming series of articles. Please keep in mind, that almost everything here is based on my observations and personal experience. However, this is an introductory article and I'm going to cover details in later posts. All the examples are about studying English, but general ideas can be easily extended to other languages as well.
I hope I will be able to sustain the pace of publishing an article every three weeks or so. Next time I am going to give an overview of all the basic language skills, such as speaking and writing, and share my thoughts about their role in the learning process. If you are interested, you can bookmark this page and return here later. Or, even better, you can follow me on Twitter and get notifications when next posts are published.