Just now I watched this TEDx presentation about learning languages quick. Chris Lonsdale claims you can become fluent in a second language in six months by following the principles he outlines in the presentation. To me it kinda feels like he’s just pointing out the obvious.

Take direct binding for example. I think everyone who’s fluent in more than one language is familiar with the confusion when they’re asked what language they think in. At least it sure is tough for me to answer, since it’s a weird jumble in there. I think about ideas and feelings in Hungarian, and that’s also the language I talk to myself in most of the time. However when I’m using my computer (which is quite a lot of time) it all switches over to English, the native language of the internet. Then I go out shopping or drinking with friends and my mind’s already in Japanese mode. (I don’t think about plants. Or fish.) Of course I can (probably) express the same ideas in any three of these languages, but it’s just more comfortable in one than the others.

On the other hand I can’t help but wonder just how hard it must be to collect all the elements mentioned in the presentation. While he says that immersion doesn’t work just like that, the pieces he describes later are the important part of immersion. It’s not about just living in the environment – the point is that you’re dependent on the language. I spent a year in TUFS-JLC learning Japanese, and while that served as a very important basis, and I had people tell me just how good I was at the language half a year in, looking back I feel that my English improved more in that year than my Japanese. I lived in a dorm surrounded by other foreign students, all of whom could speak English, so we were simply not forced to use Japanese. Then I was thrown into the university environment where suddenly no one in my daily life spoke hardly any English whatsoever. A year later one of my clubmates told me, “man your Japanese got so much better. A year ago we could barely communicate at all.”

So basically the presentation’s point is this: you need to live in a helpful native environment where you’re forced to use the language. To me it’s but obvious that under those conditions you can get fluent in six months. Though I have doubts whether you can properly learn the language in that time. Daily conversation and knowing a language are two pretty distinct things. Sure, I could chat through the night (slightly drunk) in Japanese a few months in, it took years until I could reliably understand “everything”. I’d say that the toughest piece in Lonsdale’s equation is the language parent. I think it could prove extremely difficult to find someone like that. Or maybe you just need to be more social and less of a shut-in than I am.