Vacation plans in a foreign country? Learn a language


Chicago Tribune

Need to learn a foreign language in a week? In a month? In a year?

Ideally, we’d all have endless hours to devote to perfecting this skill, but what’s key is figuring out the best way to maximize the amount of time you’ve got.

The experts in language acquisition recommend different methods for learning language depending on how much time is at your disposal.

•  If you have one week: Learn basic phrases. Alexander Arguelles, director of the Language Learning Institute at the American University in Dubai, suggests getting a general phrasebook and studying the language for 30 minutes every day. “You should be able to make people appreciate the fact that you have learned their courtesy phrases and also to do things like find the toilet in case of emergency,” Arguelles said.

•  If you have one month: Download an app. Apps offer you the opportunity to learn about a dozen languages via your phone for free, said Karen Gould MacGilvray, director of education at Language Stars, a language school for children. . “Apps like Mindsnacks or Duolingo make short blasts of language fun and literally rewarding with virtual points, badges and currency,” MacGilvray said. On Duolingo, for example, you can practice basic skills and phrases — and it will also translate texts in the language you’re learning. Also get the Pimsleur audio series (, which offers courses in about 50 languages, and teaches you a language in half an hour a day.

•  If you have six months: Take a course “If you were to train really intensively for hours a day, you could get pretty good in a friendly language,” Arguelles said. He suggests courses by a French publisher called Assimil ( If you can study the course for 30 to 60 minutes every day, you’d have enough time to get through one of the manuals. This would make you proficient enough to go to the country and function on your own.

•  If you have a year: Watch TV. The BBC created a series for beginning and intermediate German called Deutsch Plus, which can be found on YouTube, said Bill Fowler of the American Language Program at California State University. “If a learner is at the intermediate or advanced level in any language, they should try to watch a lot of real television. Soap operas are usually fairly easy to understand because of the simple repetitive plots, and kids shows can be good too. Almost every foreign learner of English whom I have met that has achieved a really high level of proficiency has watched a lot of American television and movies.”

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