“Fluent in three months” is unrealistic for most

Irish polyglot Benny Lewis is among several enthusiastic linguists who have cleverly used social media platforms to promote the notion that you can learn a language in three months (as well as to promote themselves of course – no harm in that, if you are doing something of service that you are passionate about).

Essentially, their proposition is quite straightforward. By immersing yourself in the target language and not making any excuses, you can essentially become fluent in three months.

Well, not quite…

It is of course entirely feasible that if you move to, say, Spain, and you live with a Spanish family, and you are determined to learn Spanish, you will end up conversationally proficient. Indeed, I did so myself in 1998. And it is worth noting that it takes very little skill – motivation combined with exposure will generally suffice.

Easy. Well, no…

It is probable that my own example – which consisted of five months living with a family while doing two modules of a university course in Andalusia – was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For many, such an opportunity will never arise. Anyone going on the relatively regular academic and professional career path while building a family will likely never have the opportunity to take three months or so in a given location and immerse themselves in the local language. There is almost zero chance of anyone having the opportunity several times in a lifetime – unless of course they choose to make an entire business out of it perhaps by running a blog, doing a few sponsored videos, and writing a few books!

To say the least, therefore, I would urge caution. I am the first to argue that anyone can learn a language (that it is like driving a car – some will learn more quickly than others, but anyone can learn). However, I also caution that it cannot be done without effort (hence the absolute need for motivation, even in the unlikely event that you do live in the country of your target language for a period).

I would go further an even state some concern that language learning is being presented by some as somewhat easier than it is. Many people, believing that fluency is possible in three months, will give up when it becomes apparent that there is a little more to it than is sometimes presented. Also, it is somewhat unhelpful to present “immersion” or “no excuses” as the main drivers of success, when in fact there are techniques and priorities that language learners should follow if they wish to maximise the impact of whatever effort they do have time to make.

Fluent in three months? Probably not unless you have nothing else to do. Proficient in three months? Maybe, but stay motivated for longer and success will be even greater!


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