What is the actual secret to language learning

Lots of forum posts are about this topic “what works” what “doesn’t work”.
I believe everything works as long as you do enough of it every single day and keep doing it. 10 minutes a day won’t cut it and neither will a single class once a week.
The real question is something like “if I use this method and do it for an hour a day will I be fluent in a year”.
Or three months. Or six months. Or two years. Or four years. Or whatever.
I’ve experimented myself. I don’t believe an hour a day will get you to conversational fluency in any language in three months. Audio and speaking only might work if you already know a substantially similar language (or two) to your L1 mother tongue, but you likely wouldn’t be able to read or write. Likewise if you spent three months only reading with no listening, I don’t believe there is any way it is possible to be able to understand spoken speech or speak in three months. No way no how.
Six months at 2-3 hours a day or a year of the same it starts to get interesting and possible, depending on how far away the language is from your L1 mother tongue and assuming you don’t already know a similar language from the target group.

^^^ the above is my own opinion based on my experience with 1+ years of Spanish, six months of audio french and six months of audio russian + lingQ.


The true secret of language learning is a heck of a lot of effort behind the scenes. That’s it. The effort has to be put in. The “trick” to language learning is make it enjoyable effort.

When I bench press, I am putting in just as much effort as the guy next to me, but I love working out and he may hate it. Same effort, same results. But I had fun doing it while he hated it.


100%. Language learning is a ton of work. As you say the trick is to make it fun.

" I don’t believe an hour a day will get you to conversational fluency in any language in three months." - I agree how that seems very far fetched.

Two of my favotire lines about how to do whatever you’re going to do:

© Артемий Лебедев

© Shia LaBeouf

Stick a babel fish in your ear…

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Thank you. Those are realistic and useful comments, and certainly fit in with my experience as a language learner and speaker over several years.

My goal in Italian is solid fluency. I’ve been working hard on it for 8 years, and even though it’s my second foreign language after French, I’m still not fluent. To me the secret of language learning is patience, constant work of at least an hour a day, every day, because in the end successful language learning takes a great deal of time for all of us, except for the most gifted among us, who really constitute a small number, in my opinion.




What does “solid” fluency mean to you?

I find one of the difficulties is that “fluent” means different things to different folks.

If we mean high-end FSI quality fluency across all domains (speaking, listening, reading and writing) is “fluent” that is very different than “I can understand when they ask me random menu-related questions when trying to order food in a restaurant”. There are gradations.

Curious to what “solid” means?

PS: There is no “right” or “wrong” answer here. Everybody’s opinion and approach counts.

I heard from some people on this forum that 100,000 known words is around fluency. I’m not sure, but by the looks of it your stats are about half way there. Keep on chugging!

You can´t map known words in LingQ to overall fluency, especially not verbal fluency. You can roughly map that number to literal fluency though, in which case the number depends on the language and the level of fluency (what bar do you set for fluency?). I´d say literary fluency in most West-European languages comes at about 33K for low fluency, 40K+ for pretty decent fluency and 50K+ for good fluency. You certainly don´t need a 100K. I´ve got about 68K in French and 65K in Dutch and I became a fluent reader in both, long before I reached those numbers. I´m 62K in Norwegian but I could fluently read it from the start cause of how similar it is to other languages I know.


I think what you are saying is pretty key. Verbal/listening fluency and literary fluency are two different things.

As far as listening fluency goes, I suspect that once you have a high intermediate degree of listening comprehension AND you can simultaneously pronounce sufficient written words, then reading should help drive listening from that point forward. But I believe a baseline listening comprehension is required or it won’t transfer.

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With LingQ you can gain a lot of vocabulary by reading but my advice is to not get lost in just trying to get a high known word count. You should try to listen as much as you can so your listening comprehension keeps up with your reading comprehensions. When both of these are high, it´s much easier to become a fluent speaker, cause then you only have to catch words when you hear them from whoever you are talking to and you only have to find words in your memory to form sentences, not learn them in the conversations.


My idea of solid fluency is to be able to conduct myself in Italian in a way that reflects the person I am. As a former teacher of English at a university level, I pride myself on my English. Someday I’d like to pride myself on my Italian. For the past three years or so my weekly Italian lessons have been a sort of book club format. My teacher and I read the same chapters of whatever Italian novel we’re readin (so far all of Ferrante, most of Morante. some Ginsburg, some Starnone, and discuss either those chapters or the 500 word essay I write about them. I like to think I have fairly sophisticated ideas about those chapters and I can get most of them across to my teacher but with many errors. My hope is to get to the point where I will make fewer and fewer errors while talking about anything I want to talk about. I’m losing hope, however, about how good my accent will ever get.

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I agree.

Ah gotcha. You are definitely aiming for a more sophisticated level than I typically shoot for. I don’t really care about making errors as long as I can be understood. That said, I’m not trying to any kind of high level job with my foreign languages just watch TV and communicate with native speakers from time to time.

My accent isn’t horrible (I think), hypothetically because I typically learn from audio instead of reading, thus avoiding transfer of English phonetics to my target language.

I have, for example, been told by Spaniards (from Spain) that my Spanish though clearly foreigner Spanish, sounds like I learned it in Mexico so I must have picked up the accent from the telenovelas I was watching.

You might want to read about “shadowing” to see if you think that might be helpful for you. I hypothesize that it will work to improve the accent.