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juniper's avatar

How did you become fluent in your second (or third) language?

Asked by juniper (1910points) January 3rd, 2010

Could you tell me how you acquired your second or third language?

For example: how many years did it take you to achieve fluency? Did you start as a child, teenager, or adult? Were you around native speakers of the language? Did you live in a country where most people spoke your second language? Why did you decide to learn that particular language?

I’m particularly curious to know if any of you gained fluency without experiencing language immersion, but just with books, classes, cds, etc.

I’m an English as a Second Language teacher, but these days I’ve become interested in this topic on a more personal level. I’ve been thinking about my own study of Spanish and all of the factors that contribute to my current level of fluency…most notably—a serious boyfriend who is a native speaker of Spanish. You can imagine the increase in my motivation. ;)

So, what was it like for you to learn another language?

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21 Answers

wildflower's avatar

My native language is Faroese (which is similar to Norwegian and Icelandic) and from age 9 I was taught Danish as a second language. From age 11 I was taught English as a third language (I’ve also taken some German and Spanish since, but would not consider myself anywhere near fluent in those).
Learning Danish fluently was hard prior to living in Denmark, because of the difference in pronunciation of ‘r’, ‘a’ and ’æ’. However, I did find it very useful that my teacher was fluent and conducted entire class in Danish.
For English it was a mix as I had several teachers over the years and to be honest, I think TV, movies and music helped as much with fluency (i.e. conversational language) as classes did – by age 15 my fellow students and I corrected the teacher on pronunciation of several English words.

I’ve since lived in Denmark and now Ireland so I have immersed myself in both languages, but I did find the approach of classes conducted entirely in the language in question – as well as supplemental media (movies, music, etc.) very helpful in learning the application of the language.

juniper's avatar

@XOIIO: Okay, care to embellish? Did you study for a few years or did you continue your study long enough to gain some kind of fluency? Was it mandatory or optional?

XOIIO's avatar

I went to french immersion school as a kid. (which I still somewhat am)

jamzzy's avatar

my parents immigrated here from Peru and Mexico, I was born in the states and raised here…the I guess I picked up spanish first and english came to me while i was still a baby/toddler or whatever. As time went by I used english all the time like at school and with my friends who are all “white” spanish was used everyday at my house and still is but I find myself using ‘spanglish more’. I cant remember it but when i was in like 1st and 2nd grade I was put in speech classes to improve my english, didn’t really think i needed it but whatever. Now my family makes fun of me for having such a strong American accent when I speak spanish, I understand 98% of the spanish my family uses some words ill still be iffy about, and my spanish is alright, fluent and all, but ill mess up on how to say it and such occasionally or ill completely forget what a word means.

poisonedantidote's avatar

well, i learned my second language at the same time i learned my mother tongue. so it just came naturally. but as for my other languages, its a gradual thing. if you want to learn a language i say start with kids tv in that language, then move on to basic phrases, then study it more in depth, and finally put your self in a situation where you are forced to use the language on a daily basis.

Pandora's avatar

I think a real natural desire to learn. I learned to read spanish on my own as a child but my parents spoke English to us. I was the youngest of 5 so by the time I came around my parents already spoke english quite well and my siblings spoke only english. However I use to like to try to figure out what my mom and dad would speak of privately and also what they were saying with my aunts. So I would constantly guess and they would help me along. I was at least 7 by then. Once I learned the phonics of spanish the rest was a breeze. I would also pick up my aunts spanish novels and try to read it to her. I got better at interperting what certain words meant by the context in which it was used in the sentence. But mostly I believe it was my strong desire that motivated me to learn. I wanted to be able to have this in common with my parents and I always thought the words seemed to convey more feeling.

toomuchcoffee911's avatar

School, but not Rosseta Stone for sure.

juniper's avatar

@toomuchcoffee911: Hahaha, I haaaaaate Rosetta Stone. Not for me, ugh.

@Pandora: Yes, I agree that desire plays a huge role in raising your language to that next level. My parents (who are second language learners of Spanish, too) used to use Spanish as their secret language around me—they talked about where they hid the Christmas presents and stuff. Sounds kind of similar to your situation. :)

ness_t's avatar

Well, my second language that I speak is Spanish I learned to speak this language fluently because I have family that speaks in spanish so they taught. They taught me by reapeating the word a few times and a pointing to the object. My family only points to the object because I am a visual learner so if I don’t remember they point to the object and say the word and let me try to pronounce it.

Master's avatar

Watching many hours a day of TV in a foreign language. I understood most of what they said within 6 months, and was fluent by 2 years. I was in my teens.

bhec10's avatar

My native language is Portuguese, I went to a German School in Portugal and I’m studying in the UK right now. So, my strongest languages are Portuguese, German and English. Besides those 3 I also speak fluently French and Spanish. French I learned in school and used to practice with my mom who went to a French School in Portugal. Spanish by watching cartoons in Spanish with Portuguese translation.

I’m only 18 but those 5 languages are very useful. When I finish my graduation I would like to learn a 6th language, Italian :-)

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Immersion. I took classes, but the languages didn’t really take hold until I lived in the countries and among the people of the mother tongue. One must think in a foreign language in order to be fluent, and this is best done by immersion among the people who speak it.

zaphod's avatar

Immersion definitely seals the deal. I grew up learning Hindi as a third language (Tamil and English being native and second). I used to watch a Hindi movies and listen to Hindi songs as well, which I feel did help a lot. By 6th grade, I was decent in that I could understand most of what was being said in a conversation, but couldn’t speak very fluently.

Eventually, I moved to a place where a lot of people spoke Hindi, and it was there that I became much more fluent speaking the language.

I believe immersion is a strong factor in learning a new language.

the100thmonkey's avatar

Immersion isn’t the be all and end all of learning a foreign language. My wife has lived with me in the UK for three years, yet has not really become “fluent” by any stretch of the imagination – she hasn’t needed good English as I speak very good Japanese already. With an L2 community available, and no particular desire to learn a language, most people won’t.

I learned Japanese because I lived there, was self-employed and was involved with (and later married to) a Japanese woman who had limited English. Our having children together really sealed it, although I was already pretty good at Japanese when the first was born.

Ultimately, need is more important than ability or immersion. If you need a language, you will learn it.

gailcalled's avatar

I started by building the skeleton…four years of HS French grammar, conversation, reading and writing. Then I spent three months in France with no English speakers. I fell in love and that was the best incentive. When I returned to the US to start college, I took advanced French courses every year and lived on a corridor where we spoke only French.

All my teachers were native speakers, which is very important for rhythm, cadence and accent.

I eventually taught third and fourth graders for two years. That clinched it. I also took some advanced conversational courses at the Alliance française in Manhattan
every year.

When I took some college Spanish, it was easy due to the similarity to French…and much easier to pronounce.

I have some Grandmother Yiddish…she spoke it when she didn’t want me to understand. That is also a very successful teaching method.

Berserker's avatar

We moved from France to Canada when I was six. I didn’t speak a word of English…so, in order to communicate with people, I really had no choice but to learn. Despite going to French immersion schools, the entire province pretty much spoke English.
It took about a year for me to speak it fluently, and reading and writing it accordingly, actually, I learned from playing video games and reading books, a lot more than I ever did at school, that is, besides communication.

occ's avatar

For me, the technique that worked was intensive study followed by immersion. I took a year of intensive college-level Spanish classes (7 hours a week), and then went to spend a month in a Spanish-speaking country, living with a family that spoke no English. My Spanish got pretty good, but was not yet fluent…I followed that up with another year of classes in college and then 7 months in South America. The immersion experience was really what helped me to be fluent in the language, but the solid grammar foundation from the classes really helped (if I had just gone to South America without studying the grammar I think there are a lot of things that would have been hard to figure out on my own.

mattbrowne's avatar

Good teachers in high school. Reading at least 40 books a year written in the second language. Same for movies, documentaries, news etc. Engaging in regular written communication. But above all: Talking to native speakers for hours, day after day, month after month.

Choiseul's avatar

School, music, some books have helped. English is my mother tongue and French is my second near fluent language, though I Haven’t used it so much since I live in the middle of nowhere in the u.s…. Immersion helped a lot as well, but it was a short time.
If I could stick to a goal and commit everyday which is required almost in order to learn a language, I think one could (me in this case) learn a language at home… but yes, need vs. want is another thing. Majoring in French requires you to learn it rather than be interested.


liliesndaisies's avatar

I am not a native English speaker and i don’t speak perfect English. But we use it everyday so i get the hang of it. :)
The higher the exposure, the greater the effect.

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