We got the chance to sit down with one of our most prolific students. For Sean, language-learning is a lifelong passion. He inspires us because he reminds us that you don't have to be a language scholar or a naturally-gifted linguist to make huge improvements and become close to fluent in another language. Here's what he told us.
What was your experience studying foreign languages before Fluent City?
Before Fluent city, I studied Arabic and German in college; mostly just normal coursework, but I also got to study German in Berlin during the summer before my senior year.
At what point did you feel the need to embark on your journey to learn a foreign language?
Well, I technically didn’t have much of a choice, as my university had a 4-semester language requirement for all students as part of the core curriculum. So the issue wasn’t whether or not I would study a foreign language – it was choosing which one I would study to fulfill the requirement. I ended up having a lot of fun in my foreign language courses, though, and knew that I would want to continue those studies after graduation.
What problem has Fluent City solved for you?
Funnily enough, one of the reasons why I started studying French at Fluent City was because my girlfriend’s grandmother doesn’t speak English – she does speak French, however, so I wanted to be able to communicate with her when we would visit. So that problem has been solved! She thought I didn’t speak any French before meeting her, so it was fun to surprise her with what I knew.
How has Fluent City changed the way you think about languages, learning, your own ability to speak another language, or what it means to be fluent?
One of the biggest things that I’ve discovered is that learning the basics is really the biggest hurdle to get over. And what I mean by that is: once you know how to work with the building blocks of a language, it becomes much easier to stay motivated in continuing your studies. Your knowledge of a language may be limited, but it’s still exciting to be able to understand some dialogue in a movie or the gist of a conversation you overhear, even if you don’t understand complicated grammatical constructions or native speakers speaking to one another.
Something else I’ve noticed in both myself and others when it comes to studying languages is that we really tend to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The amount of effort required to reach perfect “fluency” in a language seems overwhelming when you start out, and sometimes you feel like giving up when running into challenges. But you don’t need to go into it with the idea that you’re going to become a professional translator; if you can learn enough to express yourself a little bit, so that you can get around when traveling or just to help familiarize yourself with a culture more, then that’s a huge win right there.
Do you have any specific “Aha!” moments when you feel like you really made a breakthrough in your learning, with your conversation, or otherwise during your experience at Fluent City?
I find that learning languages doesn’t afford as many “Aha!” moments as studying, say, math or physics might. It’s always been a very gradual process for me, although obviously that process can be accelerated by making more disciplined efforts to stay on top of my studies. I do have moments where I’m proud of myself when I can read the majority of a news article or a menu at a restaurant, and I’ll know that a year or two ago I wasn’t able to do that. Unless you’re exceptionally gifted, learning foreign languages requires patience, time, and an acceptance that you’re going to make a lot of mistakes – but it’s always worth it in the end!
What is something you think you’ll take away from Fluent City once you leave it?
I think the thing that I’ve taken to heart most from Fluent City is just the understanding that you don’t need have grown up multi-lingual or to have a four-year degree in a foreign language to be proficient in a language that’s not your mother tongue. Once you choose a language, you just need to set aside time to work on it, even if it’s just a couple of hours a week. You’ll get a little better every time you study, and in time you’ll get to a place where things feel more second-nature than you ever thought they would.
Anything else you’ve loved about Fluent City?
One of the best things is the teachers! I’ve taken courses with four different teachers at Fluent City so far, and have really enjoyed studying with all of them. I’ve also appreciated the handful of times when we’ve done social outings as a class. Getting to know other people in the class a bit makes things easier when you’re doing exercises in class with them!
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