To become fluent in a language is the goal of many a learner. A large percentage of those who respond to our surveys tell us this.
But very, very few people ever achieve fluency without a period of total immersion in a country or community where the language is spoken.
I have found that there is a common thread with people that do achieve a level of language fluency without ever visiting a country or community where that particular language is spoken.
What is the technique that enables so many Dutchmen, Danes and Swedes etc to speak such great English? How do you become fluent in a language without visiting a country where the language is spoken?
Can you do this? Believe it or not, you can!
Become Fluent - WITHOUT visiting a country or community that speaks the language....
What is a key factor to become fluent in a language without being immersed?
I am always impressed with how well the average Dutchman, Dane, Swede or Norwegian speaks English. I worked with many Icelandics and they also have a very high level of spoken, and written, English, yet most had never lived in an English speaking country or community. Go to any of these countries and even those that have only ventured outside their borders for short holidays often speak very good English.
One factor is that these people all came from smaller countries whose native tongues are not spoken much outside smaller areas, and they learn English in school from a young age. But that is not the real key point.
Usually when someone speaks English so well it is because they have lived in an English-speaking country and their accent will usually hint at which one it is. This is called the process of total language immersion, and to become fluent in any language a period of total immersion is the most effective way to consolidate your learning, and advance your language skills and fluency.
I have also been struck by the high level of English spoken by certain individuals I have met, these being people who had never even been to an English speaking country.
Many stand out.
I quiz people on why their English is so good, when they have never visited an English-speaking country and I have found that ...
... and you CAN and MUST ADOPT these simple, enjoyable practices to improve your language learning, comprehension, fluency and 'tuning of your ear', even though you may be a thousand miles from the nearest community of native speakers of the language you are learning.
But first let me tell you a few more of the cases of these people with ...
Pavel is a Latvian who arrived in the UK within days of Latvia joining the European Union. Seeking streets paved with gold, his dreams came quickly to reality and he ended up working for us in the sweatshops of 200 Words a Day! Headquarters.
Despite it being his first visit to an English-speaking country Pavel's grasp of the language, of idioms and expressions was bafflingly good. His understanding was very high. And his fluency increased rapidly in the company of native English speakers in the office.
What was intriguing was that his high-school English, which he had never really practised with many native speakers, was better than that of most of the French interns who were working with us, and yet, the French interns all were completing university Bachelors and Masters degrees with tuition in English to year 3, and were highly literate, educated and intelligent people.
Recently on the Eurostar train from Brussels to London I was seated beside a Romanian woman on her first trip to an English-speaking country. Because she had an accent I assumed she was francophone, as we were leaving Brussels. I spoke French to her, and she replied in English.
Her English was extremely good, and her use of expressions, sayings and idioms was, like Pavel's bafflingly good.
What is more interesting is that she had spent 10 years learning French at school and 6 years learning English at school. Yet her English was much better than her French, and she was much more confident using English, than French.
How could this be?
What was the secret?
Days before I spoke to the taxi driver in Amsterdam. Again his English was superb, yet he had never visited an English-speaking country. Of Indian descent, he was born and bred in Surinam, South America. He spoke Dutch, Hindi, Papimiento (local Creole) and English.
...and of course as importantly...
The answer is that in these countries many of the television programs and Hollywood movies are not translated into their native tongues.
They simply have sub-titles added.
So for years, the Dutch, Danes, Icelandics, Swedes and others that I have mentioned, have been watching American and English movies with English spoken by the actors, and with sub-titles in their mother tongues, so they pick up terrific English skills. Their ears are tuned to it, they see and hear words, phrases and expressions in context with all the requisite facial expressions and physical actions etc.
This is why Pavel spoke such superb English (relative to the other non-English speakers). The French students come from a country that has its own substantial movie industry, so they had not spent years of watching English movies. Most Hollywood movies are translated and dubbed into French.
Pavel kept coming out with all sorts of expressions that he'd picked up from watching English movies and TV programs that were subtitled in Russian or Latvian. Pavel was able to become fluent in English more quickly than the others because of the huge exposure to spoken English in movies. And lots of the language would have been absorbed at a subconscious level. His progress over the months was impressive.
Irina, the Romanian lady had spent 10 years learning school French and 6 years learning school English but was more confident using English than French, despite 4 MORE years in the French classroom.
Because she had watched loads of English and American movies with actors speaking English and subtitles in Romanian. Mainly because Hollywood churns out movies in English, movies that the masses want to see.
In the larger countries e.g. France, Germany, Spain their population is large enough to warrant translating and dubbing English-speaking movies into the local language. In the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Latvia, Romania etc only the 'bigger' movies are fully dubbed. The majority of movies are subtitled. Because their national film/TV industries are smaller, a great deal more product is imported.
Therefore millions of people like the Dutch, Danes, Latvians, Romanians etc watch movies where the actors speak English. Do that for a number of years, and particularly those with an interest in the language will pick up lots and lots of the vocabulary, grammar etc all delivered in context.
So can you adopt this practice to improve your own language skills, and to become fluent?
Of course you can.
I call it simulated immersion, which means the practice of building your own 'simulated' total immersion situations. The best way to achieve fluency is to live in a country and totally immerse yourself in the culture and language. But simulated immersion is probably the next best thing!
Then of course, to become fluent in a language you must practise, practise, practise by speaking, speaking, speaking.
But in the meantime get yourself a stack of DVD's in your target language, grab your dictionary, a pen and a pad of paper and start watching foreign language movies, and develop your own simulated immersion environment to help yourself become fluent.
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Become Fluent in a Language when not Totally Immersed.