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Learn a Language in Two-and-a-Half Weeks: Impossibility or Future Standard?

Alpha du centaur/Flickr

According to CEO David Bailey of Spotnight, learning a language in just 17 days is a highly attainable goal–one that he claims to have reached. But others maintain that it might not be as easy as he suggests.

Bailey argues that there is one way to most quickly and effectively learn a language, and outlines in Time Magazine the necessary steps, tips, and tricks one must adopt in order to do so.

The Bailey Method

Bailey’s “ambitious learning goal” is characterized by a self-disciplined and self-designed program of daily written grammar practice, exposure to conversation, writing, listening, and training in the colloquialisms of the language. Some of his more original tips include writing brief biographical essays for practice in common talking points, actively listening to music in a foreign language for increased familiarity with new sounds, and teaching yourself “word fillers” to ease the flow of conversation.

A So-Called Language Learning “Secret”

Bridget Coila/Flickr

Bridget Coila/Flickr

Bailey presents his approach to language learning as though he’s found a magical answer to everyone’s foreign language woes. But in reality, he isn’t prescribing anything all that new or groundbreaking. In a post on learning a language in “record time,” self-declared polyglot and blogger Tim Ferriss raves about Fluent In 3 Months’ Benny Lewis and his take on high-speed language acquisition. Although three months is obviously a longer period of time than 17 days, it is still remarkably quick by traditional standards. Ferriss’ ideas frequently overlap with Bailey’s, including his emphases on consistent daily studying, interacting with native speakers, and taking advantage of free resources. Again, these are more or less applicable to anyone trying to learn a language in a self-taught setting, rather than an academic one.

The Definition of “Fluency”

Sigfrid Lundberg/Flickr

Sigfrid Lundberg/Flickr

As pointed out in a Yale Daily News article on the subject, the concept of fluency has varying definitions, all depending on the context. To a Yale professor, one is more likely considered fluent when he or she can not only carry a simple conversation, but also write an essay in a second language. To be worthy of the title “fluency” in an academic setting, one would probably have to pass a series of college semesters learning about grammar, conversation, history, and fine literature. Bailey, on the other hand, sets his own French ‘fluency’ standard at being able to read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

As such, it makes sense that he claims to only need 17 days to acquire some conversational knowledge, verb conjugation, tones, and sounds to reach a point where he felt comfortable communicating verbally in his second language. Bailey may have possessed the self-discipline and fortunate circumstances to use 17 full days to consume the basics of a language–in his case, he describes learning French in the solitude of a remote French village with no English speakers–but such circumstances are hardly universal. Already a Spanish-speaker, Bailey also had the experience of learning a second, similar Romance language under his belt before he began to learn French. There is no way to ascertain how solid his 17-day language success actually is.

Bailey proudly claims that after teaching himself for 17 days, a native Parisian mistook him for a long-time resident of France, but, anecdotal evidence aside, there are plenty of valid concerns regarding his approach. Interested in learning a language in your own city, thoroughly, and at the right pace? Contact us to get in touch with a native-speaking instructor today!