This is what I've been doing the past eight months. Trust me, I'm not particularly smart, and I have no problem learning languages. If you can get into college, you can learn a foreign language.
My guru is Khatzumoto at alljapaneseallthetime.com. I'll be updating my blog with tweaks that have worked for me, but in all things, Khaz is the master. That's not to say he's some kind of genius, either. He's clearly a smart guy, but mostly his success seems to come from a few traits that I happen to share:
1) pigheaded stubborness
2) a love for the sound of a particular foreign language
3) an ego big enough to withstand only understanding 10% of what I see/hear
But Khaz taught me the most important thing: that talent is a myth. "It isn’t talent. It’s time."
From Calvin Coolidge:
From Craig Tanner:
Having taught undergraduates now for a year, I see this now all the time. Khaz's posts showed me that it's not only OK to fail--it's essental, and it should be my short-term goal. But my students are only concerned with maintaining their fragile egos by only doing things that come easy to them, which isn't their faults. They've been taught by our society that talent is everything. Some people are good writers, and they should be the ones who write; there's no point in trying to get better, because you'll never be as good as they are. It's the subtext to American culture.
This isn't how most East Asian societies bring up their kids. They're taught that if you suck at something, it's your own fault for not working hard enough. I say it's your own fault for not keeping at it and trying new methods until one works. Never give up on something you want to do--but keep working at it and keep refining your method.
This is true for writing, languages, sports--anything. There will always be someone who is physically incapable of becoming accomplished in a particular skill, but this is a much smaller portion of the population than people usually assume. I don't know about purely physical skills, but when it comes to learning languages, the bar for entrance is very low. I mean, do you know how many truly stupid people speak the language you're trying to learn? A lot. How did they learn it? By listening to it countless hours a day for the first few years of their lives.
Adults learn better than children do. Here's why: if you want to teach a 1-year-old how to say "apple," the kid has to learn all kinds of things in addition to that one word. Apples are something you can eat, they're sweet, they're red or green, they are different on the outside and the inside, they shouldn't go on the floor... One top of that, they're called "apples," which is a little hard to say. But if an adult wants to learn how to say "apple" in French, you just tell him it's "pomme" and call it a day. Which is, like, 1% of the time it took the child to get to the same level in English. If you spent the hours and hours a five-year-old has to learn a language, you'd be talking circles around all the five-year-olds.
But most people don't want to spend the time. So in the end, it's a defeatist attitude backed up with laziness. Which is fine, but don't pretend that it has anything to do with intelligence or "talent."
So here's the method in a nutshell:
1. Listen to 10,000 hours of a language. You don't have to actually pay attention the whole time--just have it on in the background.
2. Learn how to pronounce, understand, and write 10,000 sentences in the language. This is how you learn grammar and vocabulary. You aren't memorizing them, but you are reviewing them often using an SRS.
3. Read a lot for pleasure in the language. No metrics here, although 1 million words has been batted around.
4. Enjoy yourself: your brain won't pay attention to what you don't think is worth paying attention to. So find things you like in the language.
I keep a daily log and mark off milestones on a chart. Every day I use a stopwatch to record how much of the language I heard and I use an abacus in the morning to count off how many sentences I put in my SRS. I try to review my SRS often. I carry a book around to read. That's it. No classes--which just slow me down anyway.
So, a free method for learning languages that just takes 1-2 hours a day of active focus and let's you get to proficiency in about a year and a half. Why isn't everyone doing this?