Reference Points

May 02, 2014|By June Sawyers,special to Tribune Newspapers

"Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language From Anywhere in the World"

HarperOne, $17.99

The subtitle might seem too good to be true but, according to author Benny Lewis, it can be done. Lewis is an Irishman and affable linguistic guide as well as the creator of fluentin3months.com, and he should know. At last count, he reports, he could "use" 12 languages "in varying degrees of proficiency." In addition, he understands the basics of another 12 languages, and this from a guy who dropped out of his Spanish class as a dismal failure. How does he do it?

One of the many secrets uncovered here is to "live" the language and "use it as a means of communication and connection"; that is, to learn enough of a language to be able to converse with regular folk on their level. Out go the boring grammar drills, in comes role-playing and language games. Rather than learn a language, Lewis insists, people should acquire a language. Another secret is to make the language a part of your life, to immerse yourself in it even before you set foot in the country of your choice by listening to music in that language and generally surrounding yourself in the language in whatever forms are available.

Lewis dismisses some of the most common myths about learning a language (adult language learners are at a disadvantage; a "language gene" is necessary; it takes too long to learn; some languages are just too difficult to learn). He provides shortcuts on how to learn thousands of words quickly (hint: visual images are the key, not rote memorization). And when one language is not enough, he offers tips on how to speak multiple languages without mixing them up or forgetting the ones you have already know.

Among his other tricks is what he calls the Jack Sparrow method, but that's another story.

Language learning has never been easier or more fun.

—June Sawyers, for Tribune Newspapers

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