I first started thinking about accelerated learning as I worked on the framework for our new Welsh course – at the same time I was getting stuck into finding out how/if we could promote our Spanish course on Google Adwords.
Two things seemed clear: that everyone would like to be able to push a button and speak a new language instantly, and that people are (understandably and extremely!) cautious of promises that you can ‘learn a new language in [x] days/months’.
Of course, every single language advert ever that says ‘in [x] time’ means ‘learn a certain amount of the target language in that period of time’. For two reasons: one, achieving conversational fluency takes more than a few days, and two, there is no agreed and easy measurement of ‘being able to speak a language’.
As I thought about doing a better job of making early stage learners on our new Welsh course capable of engaging in real conversations, I started wondering at what point they would start to sound like confident speakers. We know from experience that anyone who has completed our old Course 1 is capable of surviving for a week without using any English – although it can be a frustrating experience! The aim with the new Course 1 is to make that experience better, smoother and more enjoyable – but how long should it take to do the course?
We always tell people to take their time – learn at their own pace – and that freedom is important.
On the other hand, we’ve seen people fly through Course 1 in a couple of weeks – so it’s not clear cut how long it should take.
Once I started thinking along those lines, it was only a matter of time before I was going to have to try some experiments! The first was to see how much of the 10 sessions of Dutch Louis had built I’d be able to get through in a day [this is a very hefty video – the meaty stuff, where you get to see me being tortured by Louis, is in the last ten minutes or so]:
After I did that, Louis and Susanna took on the challenge of doing the same thing with our Spanish tourist course, when it was only 10 sessions. Here’s Louis, who has kindly put his Facebook video on YouTube now:
And here’s Susanna, with some great ‘walking through the snow’ shots:
What Louis, Susanna and I managed to achieve in terms of communication on our first day of learning seems really exciting to me.
Since then, I’ve fine-tuned the sessions to go into a bit more functional depth, so the ‘tourist’ package has grown from 10 sessions to 20 – and now, we’re about to take the next experimental step, which is seeing how well someone does if they spend an afternoon doing the 5 sessions that focus on using the language in a restaurant, and then have a meal out in a restaurant where the waiters/waitresses speak that language – without using any English…:-)
And rather wonderfully, Ali and Phil have offered to be our first guinea pigs, so we just need to sort out how we’re going to film them doing it (oh, did I mention that they’re going to be filmed doing it?!) and then see how it all works out.
We should either end up with a video which shows genuinely unusual levels of communication for people who started learning that afternoon – or we’ll have conclusive evidence that this kind of testing should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention…;-)