Research-backed insights for language learning

Why Language Learning in the US is Broken

If you’re going to do something, do it right.

Unfortunately, language learning is rarely done right. In the United States, it’s especially broken. Billions of dollars and millions of hours spent a year with very little to show for it. High school classes, free mobile apps, prestigious universities, expensive software to study on your own. Yet less than 1 percent of American adults are proficient in the foreign language they studied in school. That’s staggering when you consider almost all high schools in the country “teach” foreign languages.

For most of us, nearly everything we were taught about how to learn a foreign language is wrong. We spin our wheels for months or years wasting precious time on the wrong type of study. How much time and money have you spent doing the following?

  • The Grammar Distraction. Do you know what the Oxford comma is? The future perfect continuous tense? If you do, congratulations! But it has nearly nothing to do with how fluently you can speak a foreign language. So why do we spend hours upon hours filling out worksheets of verb conjugation tables in class? Grammar study is language appreciation, not fluency acquisition. Just like sports fans may love learning about Michael Jordan’s personal history, it’s not going to help those fans increase their own free-throw percentage. (Pro tip: shooting thousands of free-throws will help increase their free-throw percentage.) We love grammar as much as the next language nerd, but studying grammar is not the path to spoken fluency and listening comprehension. We care deeply about proper grammar, but we know how to acquire it naturally.
  • Time-Wasting, Sit-and-Listen Formal Classes. How many people do you know who studied Spanish or French in high school? How many of those friends became even close to fluent from those classes? Several hours of language classes a week for often two or more years of school and what do they have to show for it? Can you imagine how fluently a student could speak today if those hundreds of hours were spent using effective language acquisition methods? And then there’s college! Students pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of listening to a teacher speak (mostly in English) to a large class of students.
  • The Private Tutor Lottery. Paying for an expensive private tutor. The quality of outcomes with this approach is all over the board. Usually, the student drops off after a few expensive sessions and you never know if the tutor is implementing correct language acquisition principles for the student. And even if the tutor is excellent, there’s still the matter of how much time is actually being spent immersed in the target language. Tutoring sessions often consist of talking about the language, such as grammar rules and vocab, instead of listening to and speaking in the target language. Students will also primarily rely on the tutoring session and do only a few exercises outside of the session, such as fill out a worksheet or listen to a song. Tutors, in any discipline, aren’t meant to be a replacement for the hard work the student has to do on her own.
  • The Solo Study Black Hole. Language is inherently social. It’s dynamic and ever-changing. It can’t be learned in a vacuum by yourself. It’s imperative that the input you receive and the output you produce often occur in a communicative way. The back and forth of communication cements in the language better than anything else. Students who study alone often focus way too heavily on reading and get little listening and speaking practice.
  • The Flashcard Promise. Flashcard software applying spaced repetition — basically the science of not forgetting — is often hailed as the secret shortcut to learning a language. We think spaced repetition is super important, too. Regrettably, the power of spaced repetition is almost always applied to the wrong area: remembering single vocab words. Spaced repetition applied to listening to audio of full native sentences? Powerful.
  • The Language Partner Dating Dance. Now we’re talking! After failed attempts with formal classes or solo study, learners start to realize they need to communicate with natives to become fluent. So they try finding a language partner where they spend half the time speaking English and the other half speaking the target language. It’s a good system, but it rarely lasts. It’s hard to sync up time zones. It’s nearly impossible to remain consistent since you’re relying on two people staying motivated. It’s difficult to find a language partner you click with. All the effort to coordinate even one video call usually results in an encounter like a first date where you may not click with the other person, or they may not click with you. Then a second study date is even harder to close. Most have one or two sessions with a language partner before quitting.

What’s the Correct Way?

Immersing your brain in what linguists call “comprehensible input” is the only path to fluency. It’s how your brain acquired your native language.

To accomplish this, Parley Blue is a combination of 1-on-1 tutoring calls plus daily in-app lessons made just for you by your French, Spanish, or Portuguese coach. From day one, you’re immersed in your target language, listening to and speaking full sentences like a native. You become fluent learning topics and phrases that are meaningful to you.

Try a free coaching call with no obligation. They’ll then go to work creating custom lessons, just for you.

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