Here is why you aren’t learning Spanish, or French or Polish or whichever.
1. You are not doing something every day.
Honestly, a dabble here and a dabble there is a waste of your time. Even a class once a week is largely a waste of time, and money. You will get nowhere unless you do something intense, a lot.
Think of it this way: one drop of water every 15 minutes will not give you a shower. Dabbling in language learning will not get you to fluency.
2. When you actually do something, you think 30-60 minutes is sufficient.
Your eye should essentially be off the clock when you are practicing. The point is not how long you are studying, but how intense the study time is, and how practical it is.
If you view your study time as “trying to get through this 30 minute lesson”, it takes on the same ridiculous boredom as those days in compulsory schooling.
Presumably you are learning a new language for yourself, and not because someone else told you to, or because you are expected to.
3. You spend your time clicking pictures.
I don’t care if you spent $500 on the software. Clicking pictures is an activity of selection and not one of production… Do you understand the difference?
You will only get good at the activity you practice.
If you practice selection (and silent selection, I might add), it will not help you much when it comes to production, i.e. the ability to say what you want to say when you want to say it. You would be better off trying to hammer out 30 minutes of real conversation than 3 hours clicking pictures.
4. You spend your time reading websites in English.
If you spend all your time reading English, why do you think your Spanish reading skills still suck?
Find a major news source for the country you are interested in and put it in your RSS reader. If you are interested in Colombia, check out El Tiempo. Read a few articles a day until you understand them and your reading skills will skyrocket, along with your knowledge about the country.
You could also just follow celebrities who speak your target language. Like their facebook page and follow them on twitter. Updates from them will then be really good practice in your target language, and will satisfy your urge to vicariously live through them. 😉
I mean, certain special ones will also post in English to help people just like you, my dear reader. Shakira, for example, recently posted to her Facebook wall about being attacked by a sea lion in Spanish and in English… What a sweetie.
5. You lack social interaction.
You really have to get over the idea that you + your computer, or you + a book, is the proper formula for language success. At best, it is only part of the equation. At worst, it is the very thing keeping you from becoming proficient in your target language.
Do whatever you can to get into a social group where you practice your language. Play a sport? Join a Latino-laiden soccer team. Like to dance? Take salsa lessons completely in Spanish. Like to eat? Get to know the folks running a local Latin restaurant.
… Still too stuck in some pathological self-absorption? At the very least you could connect with a native on Livemocha.
6. You aren’t living in a country who speaks your target language.
This is obviously the principal way to immerse yourself in the language. No matter how much you do it at home, it just doesn’t have the same effect as living in an area in which people only speak your target language.
The name of the game is immersion. The most exciting way to do this is to travel.
Besides, presumably you are learning the language so that you could actually go someplace exciting, and actually experience something rich, right?
7. You haven’t decided on a no-English policy.
Even if you move to the country and you meet people who are perfectly bilingual and can teach you things as you move along, it will do you no good until you adopt the very definitive position of not speaking English.
That’s right, you have got to decide that you will not speak English. Maybe you can go a day, maybe a week, maybe a month. The point is that there is nothing quite like forcing yourself to use the target language and to not fall back on your native language.
Falling back into English is like a crutch. It might be needed in the very beginning, but in order to learn to walk, you’ve got to throw away the crutch.
8. You don’t have a girlfriend who will only talk to you in your target language.
Now, there is a possibility that even if you move to a foreign country, your acquisition won’t be as fast as well as you like. The way to fix this fast is to get a girlfriend/ boyfriend who will only talk to you in your target language.
There is nothing quite like the ‘long-haired dictionary’ to work wonders. What you are doing is hooking language learning onto something that captures your attention, and the effects are dramatic.
Come to think of it, this could be the #1 language hacking tip of all time.
Anyways, if you fix just 3 or 4 of the areas above, your language learning will utterly skyrocket. Now stop the excuses and get out there! 🙂