According to David Bailey, CEO of the nightlife app Spotnight, it is possible to learn French in 17 days.
But according to Yale faculty, it just is not that easy.
On Thursday, Time magazine published an article on its website in which Bailey recounted his whirlwind language learning experience, titled “The Secret to Learning a Foreign Language as an Adult.” In the piece, Bailey claims he taught himself fluent conversational French in only 17 days. The secret to his success, Bailey wrote, included traditional immersion techniques, such as speaking exclusively in French, in addition to more unorthodox strategies, like mouthing the words to French songs to accustom himself to French pronunciation.
Foreign language students and professors interviewed expressed mixed opinions about Bailey’s immersion techniques.
“No one gains fluency in any language in 17 days, so it is absolutely impossible to make that claim,” said Yale Center for Language Study director Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl.
True language learning is a process that takes time due to the complex cognitive processes it requires, Van Deusen-Scholl said. She added that in order to gain fluency as an adult, one needs an instructor.
But French professor Lauren Pinzka said she found some of the tactics Bailey wrote about to be clever. She said mouthing the words to French music facilitates kinetic association, which is a valuable language-learning technique.
French professor Kathleen Burton said that in French classes at Yale, students listen to an audio-recording of Camus’s “The Stranger” while they are reading the book for homework. She said this technique, which has similarities to Bailey’s method of mouthing lyrics, helps students tremendously with pronunciation because they are hearing what they are reading.
Some students said they thought Bailey’s techniques could be useful in casual conversations but questioned how practical they would be in more formal settings.
“Engaging in modern French media could be helpful because that is often how people speak,” said Spencer Bokat-Lindell ’16, who is a French major. “Being exposed to that gives you colloquialisms that will buy you time. But I think colloquial French is a different animal from more intellectual and academic French.”
But Andre Manuel ’16 said he believed the immersion techniques Bailey used could work well in tandem with traditional language learning methods, even if they do not teach academic French on their own. Learning a language, he added, requires more arduous work than can be accomplished in such a short period.
While the debate about Bailey’s unconventional techniques splits opinions among Yale students and faculty, these expressed a general consensus on the positive impact of Yale’s own language immersion programs.
“All classes in the French program are taught in the immersion model,” Pinzka said. “As soon as they walk in the classroom everything is taught in French.”
Pinzka said the accelerated French course, which teaches level one through level four French courses in one year in an immersion setting, has been extremely successful. She added that students can transition from no knowledge of French at the beginning of the year to advanced knowledge in only one school year.
French in Action, the immersion program taught in introductory French classes, was founded by Pierre Capretz in 1987.