NPR logo

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/14689512/14692394" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Approaching Fluency

Approaching Fluency

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/14689512/14692394" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

For most of us who try it, learning another language is a long, frustrating process. In middle school, I made stacks of flash cards to memorize Spanish vocabulary. My friends and I affected accents for class presentations and humiliating skits. And I dutifully conjugated verbs into the present perfect, the future perfect, the past perfect, and the imperfect. By the time I left for college, I was upset that all my hard work hadn't rendered me fluent. A few years later, I spent a semester in Bolivia. (Finally, a chance to put my Spanish to good use!). For weeks, almost every conversation was tedious. What tense is she using? What is the word for that? I must sound really stupid. (In retrospect, I'm sure I did). My host sister, Mariana, would roll her eyes at every malapropism. "That's so gringo," she'd say — in English, to add further insult to injury. I swallowed my pride. I took solace in David Sedaris' stories of ex-pat life. And things got better. Eventually. Today, in the second hour, we'll talk to the editor of a new book, How I Learned English. If English is your second language, how did you learn it? Can you remember that moment when you finally felt fluent?

We no longer support commenting on NPR.org stories, but you can find us every day on Facebook, Twitter, email, and many other platforms. Learn more or contact us.