Why 1-Hour Language Classes Aren’t Enough to Build Fluency

If you’re like most, your primary goal when learning a language is to develop fluency. And fluency can come in a variety of different ways and degrees.

According to the U.S. Department of State , there are five levels of proficiency in a language and since we are talking about fluency…let’s concentrate on the speaking side of things.

There are people who –
• Have no practical speaking proficiency
• Are able to satisfy routine travel and courtesy needs
• Meet limited work requirements and routine social demands
• Can speak the language and maintain formal and informal conversations with sufficient structural accuracy
• Are fluent in the language
• Are at an equivalent speaking level with educated native speakers.

Becoming fluentin another language takes time. It takes, even more, time if you choose to learn languages that are particularly different from English. In fact, the Department of State estimates that it would take someone around 2,200 class hours to learn either Arabic or Chinese!

Now, put that in perspective and think about the average Mommy & Me or child language class. They are usually 45-60 minutes long, once a week. So, how long would it take for your child to become fluent in a new language, at this rate?

Let’s see…2,200 class hours, at one hour a week, translates into 42.3 years. So, your 4-year-old would be fluent in Mandarin when they hit their 46th birthday.
Don’t get me wrong, these classes do help expose children to the target language and buildfor simple words and phrases. But, if fluency is your goal, you may need to supplement with other (faster and cheaper) options.

The best way to develop fluency quickly is to immerse yourself in the new language you’re seeking to learn. That’s a method used by a lot of people around the globe. If you’re fortunate enough to afford to go to China (or where they speak the language you want your child to learn) – then do it. If you don’t have $15,000 laying around, like me, then maybe a tutor or a babysitter that speaks the target language is a more viable option.

You can set up an immersive environment in your own home, without going broke! The success behind this immersion technique for adults is that it makes grown-ups learn the same way children first learn languages. Instead of memorizing flashcards and studying for graded tests, you first learn by listening, comprehending gestures and actions, absorbing the knowledge every day . So find ways to bring the target language in your home. Post signs with in the other language next to common household items to build simple vocabulary for you and your child to practice.

And much of what I’ve been doing with my son on this journey for him to grow up learning Chinese and Arabic is, by all means, duplicating that language experience.

You can check out some of my previous posts for more in-depth information about each of these practices, but the nuts and bolts of it are here. I hired babysitters who would only speak to my son in Chinese or Arabic, which led him to understand and respond to commands and common expressions used by those babysitters in as little as two weeks.

I’ve hired tutors for him since he was a one-year-old. And I try to make sure he gets to watch cartoons and other visual media in the target languages. All of these practices help in providing a similar learning experience as children usually get when they first learn English.

I’m not claiming that weekly one-hour classes are useless, by any means. They are excellent ways for kids to be kids and have fun while hearing the target language spoken. But, the truth remains… while they are useful in the learning process for bilingual children, they alone are not enough to develop fluency.

I want to hear your thoughts on the topic – what do you think? And, let me know what other options you’ve chosen to help your children better develop fluency in their target language(s).

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