Yesterday I was invited to Prof. G. Kimura’s (Sophia University) Esperanto class at TUFS to talk about my experience of language learning and how to gain fluency in a foreign language. A few years ago, I wrote an article titled “Kiel fluparoli kaj fluparoligi la aliajn”. It now occurs to me what the biggest problem of foreign language learning is and why the teachers avoid talking about it — that is, mistaking non-comprehension as a process to be avoided.

To gain true competence in any foreign language is to be at a certain stage fully immersed in the foreign language environment. This entails an unknown but necessary period of non-comprehension. After the mastery of basic grammar a good instructor or a smart student should create for themselves such environment. Most students fear such situation because they thought they are not understanding and therefore not learning (and teachers have nothing to teach as well!). But this is precisely the moment when one gains true competence, just as any other skills in art, music or sport.

The best analogy is boiling water in a kettle. One just has to sit there and let the fire do the work. The Asian teachers have to let go of the hand-holding! The transformation from non-comprehension to comprehension requires active participation of the learner. If the student resorts to explanations, drills and tests constantly from the teachers or the books, not only do they become distracted, the superficially useful instruction become an excuse for not participating in this vital process, like taking the kettle away from the fire to check on the temperature all the time.

My experience of learning over 20 languages during the past 30 years: Lengthy classroom or textbook learning, though useful and even fun, rarely translates to success or mastery of a foreign language. Success often comes when I had the (mis)fortune and courage to be stupid long enough to let the magic happen.–_Kiel_fluparoli_kaj_fluparoligi_la_aliajn