How to Become Fluent in a Foreign Language

How to Become Fluent in a Foreign Language

Sofia C. , Staff Writer

 How many times have you wanted to learn a language? How many times have you started, and realized it’s too hard and then gave up? Or how many years have you been studying Spanish, French or Italian in school? Be honest with yourself have you really learned anything? You see, there is a problem with how the school system teaches foreign languages, in not only the United States but also in the rest of world. This week, for the Bulldog Tribune, I will be telling you why you will never become fluent in a language studying it in school, how you can become conversationally fluent in a language at home… and get this, 12-24 months (1-2 years). So sit down, and enjoy!


Why you will never become fluent in a language at school

           Problem one: I asked some of my friends how much of the language they know from learning it at school. Someone said. “If I went to Spain and broke my arm I would die.” You see, schools focus so much on learning grammar, that they forget about the vocabulary you would need to know in order to use that grammar. Grammar isn’t inherently important when speaking. When you are speaking do you think “What is the word order of sentences again, I forgot,” No, you don’t think about that you think about the message that you want to convey. As someone who grew up in a Spanish speaking environment I don’t think about word order and when to use  the “El, la,” (the, in Spanish). I think about the idea that I want to express. When you spend so much time studying grammar you get bored. You don’t want to learn how to conjugate verbs, you want to learn sentences and words that you can use to speak to speak!

        Problem two: Not enough listening practice. As someone who is fluent in Spanish, but also takes Spanish class, there is not enough listening practice, and when there is, it is slowed down Spanish, that anyone can understand. This is the problem, people in Spanish speaking countries don’t speak that slowly, they speak really fast. So when people who have studied Spanish in school, they don’t understand a word because they simply didn’t have enough listening practice. Listening is an essential part of communication and conversation.


          Problem three: Not enough speaking practice. In my Spanish class, as well as in the French class, speaking is the most important part of learning a language. It is replaced with writing. When you rewrite sentences over and over and over again, you don’t know how to pronounce words, and the English sentence that you are supposed to translate isn’t there when you are speaking to natives. So you have no idea how to respond to what the other person is telling you. Also, since you didn’t have any listening practice, you probably couldn’t understand a word they were saying either. So you are stuck fake laughing and saying “yo no hablar español” (I don’t to speak spanish) (since learning conjugations was so boring you probably forgot how to conjugate as well.) 


         Problem four: Learning languages in school is boring. This isn’t just a problem that I have, this is also a problem that most students have. I asked people in my advisory and every person except the three French students said. Answers varied from “it’s boring to it’s pretty darn boring” while the French students said “it was fun,”. An anonymous student said that they usually go to orchestra lessons during Spanish class. Meanwhile another anonymous student who became fluent in Russian out of school said learning it was not boring. With the way schools are teaching languages, it is more of a chore than anything else. 


So how can you learn languages effectively, have fun and become conversationally fluent in less than four years?

         Number one: Get an effective language learning app.

        Now your first thought might be Duolingo! Since you probably don’t want me explaining why certain things don’t work, let me tell you, Duolingo doesn’t have native speakers saying the sentences. It also relies on multiple choice and is quite random when teaching, with notorious sentences such as “I am cheese” and “horses drink milk”. I wouldn’t ditch it completely, it’s good for learning new vocabulary and you can learn a lot from Duolingo. Duolingo also uses robots for the speech and not native speakers, so you will end up sounding robotic when speaking the language. But Duolingo shouldn’t be the only app you rely on for fluency. Some good language learning apps would include…


Mango, Mango is structured, uses native speakers and doesn’t rely on multiple choice. It also gives you listening practice, and reading practice. It also gives you cultural notes. You can get Mango for free using your library card. 


Pimsleur: An app that runs through pronunciation and uses native speakers. It has been called the most useful language learning app. It runs through the basics, and uses the tool of repetition. It also uses flash cards to help you memorize vocabulary.

*Pimsleur is not free*

Is mango free?

If you want to learn the basics of a language for free you can use Language Transfer. I haven’t tried it myself but it is completely free, and has amazing reviews so please check it out.

Number 2: Immerse yourself in the language!

         Immersing yourself in a language means surrounding yourself in it. This can mean listening to music in your target language, watching tv shows in your target language, listening to podcasts, and anything really, just surround yourself in that language. Even if you don’t understand a word you are saying, this will help adjust your brain to the language, and also help expand your vocabulary. For example, I learned how to say “English teacher” using a japanese podcast. I heard the word EigoNoSensei. I knew the word Eigo meant (English) no was (particle of possession) and sensei was (teacher). But, at the time, I didn’t understand how everything correlated, or what it actually meant. So with google translate I looked it up and found out it meant English teacher. So, since I know the word for English I was able to replace that word with other language words, and now I can say Spanish teacher, Japanese teacher, Chinese teacher, and French teacher. All because I listened to a Japanese podcast, and knew some vocabulary. I also got listening practice and I understood some of the things that the people were talking about. You don’t need to understand everything that the person is talking about, as long as you understand some things and get listening practice, that’s all that matters. Listening to native speakers can also help teach you how to speak like a native, and not sound overly formal, or overly informal. Immersing yourself in a language by watching TV shows, and listening in your target language can also help motivate you to keep learning. There is a Japanese artist called Zutomayo that I listen to, who is one of my motivations to keep on learning Japanese and to be able to understand her music. 

Maybe move the last sentence to motivation? 


Number 3: Motivation 

            This is probably the hardest part of learning a language, having the motivation to do it. Motivation isn’t just something that stays forever, it comes and goes. What happens to most people is that they start learning a language and they are really excited, and then a month in they start to lose motivation, and eventually give up. Some good things to help keep you motivated to learn a language is…

          -Figure out why you wanted to learn the language in the first place. If it’s just because you had to, then find another reason to learn a language such as TV shows and movies. Any motivation that has nothing to do with “I had to” is good motivation to learn a language. ( I didn’t know what you were trying to say there)

          -Entertainment, entertainment can be a great motivation to learn a language. If you can’t find motivation to learn a language, then look for a TV show you are interested in and start binging it. If it is an English TV show, you can most likely make the show your target language by looking at the language settings. Remember, when starting a language you should always turn on the English subtitles. 

          Remember the benefits of learning a language! Sometimes the motivation that we give ourselves isn’t sufficient enough to keep us going. So sometimes we are confined to the rigid grown up motivation… benefits.

Benefits of language learning include…

  • Better Memory
  • Better at multitasking 
  • Encourages cultural appreciation. (Being interested in a certain culture can also be used as motivation in itself)
  • Encourages creativity 
  • It will make your brain bigger
  • You get a greater chance at getting a job
  • And so much more!


           Cultural identity. For example, a lot of second or third generation Americans learn Spanish because they have Latin American roots. If you are learning a new language because you want to understand more of your roots, that can be a great motivation. So if you know you have roots in another country, the time is now to learn the language and culture from that part of the globe!


Number 4: Discipline

            Ok, so know you have the motivation and the tools you need to learn a language, but now it’s time for discipline. Discipline in language learning is basically having an every day goal for what you want to learn. The plan is up to you but my daily plan for learning Japanese is something like this

-finish one Mango lesson and review

-listen to one Japanese podcast

-review quizlet notes I have on Japanese

-listen to Japanese music

            Of course, I don’t always follow up daily, but getting at least one of these checkpoints is better than nothing.

           Your plan to learn your target language can be any way you want, but remember, you want a combination of entertainment and language learning programs to balance out. It should consist of at least 30 minutes of studying the language and 20+ minutes of entertainment such as music, movies, podcasts, and TV shows. 

            The hard part of learning languages is disciplining yourself to studying it everyday. If you skip the 30 minutes of studying one day be sure to at least listen to some music in your target language, so you are not completely skipping your learning. 

            Set a goal! Setting a weekly goal can help keep you disciplined and motivated, such as learning 20 words by the end of the week. Whatever your goal is make sure it is doable, and that you stick to it. How you want to motivate and discipline yourself is completely up to you, and it will take time to figure out what works for you. So be sure to study daily, and find new ways to keep yourself interested in learning a new language. This kinda seems like tips)



      Tip 1. Remember to take breaks while studying. Your brain has two memories, long term memory and short term memory. If you study something over and over again, in a 60 second time period, it will be put into your short term memory. Meanwhile, if you review a word once a day and can recall it even if you studied it 24 hours ago, it will be put into your long term memory. This works even if you can’t remember the word, or if you struggle to remember the word. After 30 seconds of thinking and you still can’t recall it,  your brain will think “oh, this is important! I should put this into a long term memory!” So remember, don’t study things over and over and over again in a 60 second period. Give your brain some time, and hope that it remembers the word.

Do brains really think about short and long term? This seems oppinated, but idk


Tip 2. Make a Quizlet! 

          Add vocabulary words  to your quizlet and as you keep learning new vocabulary be sure to add it to your Quizlet. Remember to study your Quizlet once a week.


Tip 3. Practice speaking! 

          This one might seem silly, but really, speaking is the most important part of learning a language. If you are using a language app, or podcast be sure to practice saying the words and sentences even if it seems silly. This will not only help your pronunciation, but this will also help your memory.


Tip 4. Look for words. 

           If you hear the same word over and over again, but don’t know what it means chances are, it’s important and you should add it to your quizlet vocabulary. You can  google translate the word and then put it into your quizlet vocabulary, and study it. If you keep using entertainment to learn new vocabulary, your quizlet list will get larger. 


Tip 5. Apply your knowledge to the real world

           This one if pretty simple, when you see an object that you know the word in your target language, say it in your head. This will help your memory, because now you will associate the word with the object you saw in the real world, helping your memory. Another way you can use your language knowledge in the real world is when you hear someone speaking the language you are studying, you could try speaking it with them. Speaking with native speaker can be empowering, and motivating, it can only help you to keep on learning.


Tip 6. Don’t overestimate yourself 

            Don’t predict how long it will take for you to become conversationally fluent. So what exactly is conversational fluency? It means you are able to have a conversation with a native speaker, and you know what they are saying, and they know what you are saying, just a basic conversation. Most people when they think of fluency they think of knowing EVERYTHING in a foreign language. But think about this, there are English words that not even you know, you probably know a lot of words when discussing subjects you like, but probably not so much when it comes to the subjects you don’t like. So when studying a foreign language you should study words that can be used for your interests. Such as Arts, Sports, Science, History, etc. Knowing vocabulary in the subjects you are interested in is a lot more useful than learning vocabulary in subjects you aren’t interested in. Another thing, don’t estimate how much time it will take you to learn a language, learning a  language takes time so don’t try to tell yourself that you will be fluent in twelve months when you start. Just have fun!

If you want this in more detail check out this video.

(Where is it?)


Tip 7: Have fun! 

          Learning a language is fun but also a stressful experience that is rewarding in the end. So be sure to have fun learning about the language you chose and the culture behind it. It is 2020, and this year make your New Year’s resolution to be fluent in a language! I dare you to learn a new language! 


         By the way, most of the information from this article is from YouTuber and polyglot, Ikenna. I highly recommend checking out his channel for more depth on the information in this article. Check his channel out here. For more details on information covered check out this video



Helpful resources

Why ninety percent of people fail at learning languages 

No more excuses how to stop whining and start learning a language

Learning French in Six Months

What are the most important languages of the 21st century?

YouTube channels 

Japanese Ammo with Misa

Italian Pod

Learn French With Vincent

Butterfly Spanish


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