As you can probably imagine, Babbel is packed full of polyglots. A few days ago I was loitering by the coffee machine while two colleagues were shooting the breeze in Québécois. He’s English and she’s German. It makes no sense. Why don’t they just speak English?
This kind of behavior is impressive, but it certainly isn’t normal. These are people who’ve dedicated their lives to the pursuit of excellence in language; when they’re not working at a language learning company, they’re either studying for degrees in linguistics, out with friends from all four corners of the world, or complicating the idea of leisure time by reading grammar books for fun. Such commitment is admirable, but what about the rest of us? What about us normal folk who work a 9-to-5 and require a dose of caffeine before even considering human interaction? How can we learn a new language?
I had an idea that I wanted to test, so I recruited two colleagues from the marketing department, Alberto and Stefano. Alberto comes from Cadiz at the southern tip of Spain, Stefano from the south of Italy. Our task was to attempt to learn as much French as possible in one working week. This would mean fitting our studies around our day jobs, exploiting opportunities to go for lunch with French colleagues, and populating chat messages with whimsical French commentary. Then, come the weekend, we would each have two days of intensive lessons with our own personal teacher, followed by a dinner and a monologue in which we would display our newfound prowess in the French language. The plan was to have the theory — all the basic grammar and vocabulary — under our belts by the weekend. We wanted to be conversational by Sunday evening. I asked our teachers — Marion, Anne and Laure — what they thought of this aim. Here’s what Marion said:
“I like the idea of challenging yourself to learn something new in a restricted period of time. I think that can focus the mind and get you off to a flying start. Doing it in a working week is a different proposition entirely though. I wish you all the best and think you will make some significant progress, but I don’t expect the world.”
Hmm. We commenced the challenge as soon as we awoke on Monday morning. Here’s our account of the week, along with a few tips we picked up along the way for how to squeeze effective studies into a busy working week.