Realistically speaking, however, most of us must resort to classes and learn at home programs in order to learn a foreign language. And these are not bad options at all! The key is finding quality programs with which to spend your precious time.
So what should you look for?
A Balanced Approach – If you’re going to get a study at home program, try to get one that simulates immersion a bit. However, you probably don’t want to go overboard on immersion, especially if you’re an adult learner. Everyone learns differently, and immersion is good, but its often believed that adults get the most out of language learning programs when they can learn a bit about the theory behind the language they are learning. One program that drastically does immersion is Rosetta Stone. However, many people have reported difficulties and frustrations with Rosetta Stone, and therefore it’s not our top recommendation. I personally had some difficulties with Rosetta Stone as it wasn’t what I was used to, and I found myself rather confused much of the time.
If possible, get a language learning program that gives you access to some sort of community where you can exchange ideas and get questions answered. Even better if you can occasionally chat with native speakers! This is harder to do, and is more an “ideal”, but be on the lookout! The Rocket Languages series has a small but budding community resource. While not super active while I was using the course, I did get replies to the topics I posted on their message boards.
Flexibility is key – you’ll want to be able to have the most options in terms of taking your language course on the go with you. If you’re able to access it online as well as offline (through CD’s or downloading the material onto your iPod or other audio device) then you’ll get much more out of the program itself. When you’re learning a language you want to be on top of it all the time to keep it fresh in your mind. You’ll also want to fill down time (such as driving in your car or taking a walk) with as much active learning as you can.
Well, this is rather obvious, but you’ll want to find a course that covers a wide range of topics. I once got an audio language course for Spanish that was so shallow I was surprised. I would listen to it in the car, but I found it to lack the depth I needed to really get into it. The best thing I’ve found, especially in terms of the Rocket Languages series, is that a program can be in-depth but not overwhelming.
Studies have shown that the more fun you have while learning something, the better you retain information. This is because your brain becomes actively engaged. You’ll want to find a program that doesn’t bore you to tears. This is hard to discern before you actually try the product, but do as much investigation as you can. See if you can’t find a program that has games and some fun topics.
Extend Your Learning
If you really want to drive French into your brain, then get some “real world” materials in French, such as newspapers, books, and magazines. This will help you to see it in action, not just in a course. I did this when I was learning Spanish in college, and it gave me a huge leg up compared to my classmates.
A study at home course – we suggest The Rocket Language French course
French tutors (find one through your local universities)
Movies, books, magazines in French (as a supplement)