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What’s the best way to learn a language?
If you look for the answer to this question online, you’ll find YouTubers, coaches, teachers and podcasters telling you how to “take your language to the next level”.
A teacher on YouTube might tell you to use subtitles when watching movies so you can expand your vocabulary. Another, however, will advise against them so you can really improve your listening.
A language coach in a podcast might say, “Stop worrying about your grammar mistakes! Focus on communication!” But then you hear another one saying, “Language is made of grammar. Grammar is important! Study it!”
Who should you listen to? Who has the right answer to “What’s the best way to learn a language”? That’s a question I asked too when I was a learner of English.
My first language is Italian and in 2011 I couldn’t speak English well. I sounded like a broken robot. Four years later, in 2015, I was teaching it at the New Zealand Language Centres, one of the most renowned and accredited English language schools in the southern hemisphere.
How did I improve? Did I have any special learning talent? I swear on my cat I didn’t. I’m not “gifted” to learn languages. In fact, I only speak two: Italian and English. But I can tell you I have a lot of stories about what *I* did to improve my English skills. And I decided to tell you all my stories in a little book called Any Language You Want: 18 Conflicting Lessons for a New Kind of Language Learner.
In Any Language You Want, I answer “What’s the best way to learn a language?” not one, not two, but eighteen times. In each chapter, I talk about the problems, beliefs, thoughts, and frustrations I had as a learner, and share the strategies I adopted to improve my language skills. I then advise – in an imperative tone – that if you want to learn a second language, you should do exactly what I did. Each chapter talks about the best learning method so the final sentence of each story is always the same: “This is how to learn a language”.
But there’s a twist: each story disagrees with the next.
For example, in one chapter I strongly recommend that you take language classes. This is what I did when I was learning English in London and it’s what you must do too if you want to improve. Taking classes is the best way to learn.
In the next story, however, I persuade you to do everything on your own. Never hire a private teacher. Don’t join any school and learn everything by yourself. I didn’t have any classes in Australia -- and that worked too.
What about language exams? Should you take them? Of course you should. You must! I took several: the B2 First, IELTS, and C2 Proficiency. Knowing I had an exam to pass was motivating for me. So study for an exam because this is the best way to learn a language. Or is it? Read the next chapter and you’ll discover that no, it’s not.
Which story tells the truth? Which one is right? All of them and none of them. It’s up to you to decide. It’s up to you to try things out, experiment and find what works for you.
Are you embarrassed by your accent? Then read Chapter 15, Keep Your Accent. Are you fluent but make mistakes? Study Rules, Chapter 7, would help you the most. Are you obsessed with grammar to the point they can’t utter a single word unless it’s 100% correct? Make Music is the right story for you. Every chapter is a specific tool to solve a specific problem. And you’re free to use them all.
These are all the “tools” inside the book:
- Invest in a New Life and Language Classes
- Walk Alone, No Investment Needed
- Plant Seeds
- Learn Unconsciously
- Don’t Ask the Impossible
- Take Mistakes Seriously
- Study Rules
- Make Music
- Take Language Exams
- Take Up Real-World Challenges
- Accept There’s No Blueprint
- Adopt the Best Method in the World
- Become a Master Solo-Storyteller
- Include Everyone
- Keep Your Accent
- Speak Like a Native
- Trust But Verify
But I didn’t write Any Language You Want to give you tips. I wrote to encourage you to question every piece of advice you receive and show you why, despite what some say online, there’s no “best method”, no “secrets”, no universal “fastest way”. This is a book to help you think with your own head so you can become an independent learner and find the best way to learn any language you want: your way.
It’s short, only 78 pages. It’s suitable for A2 readers and available both in Kindle version and paperback on Amazon.
If you decide to read it, I would love to hear from you, so please email me to let me know. All my contacts are on my website – www.fabiocerpelloni.com
Note from Alastair Budge, founder of Leonardo English: I read Any Language You Want before speaking to Fabio on his podcast, and it really struck a chord with me. He is walking, talking evidence that there is no one way to become fluent in a language. His journey from (in his own words) “speaking like a broken robot” to native-level fluency is inspiring to all, and is a welcome and refreshing reminder to every aspiring language learner to find their own path and embrace the journey.