A couple of years ago, I decided to get cable tv on the basis that I could improve my languages by watching foreign channels. Instead, I got hooked on 'Seinfeld' and CNN and my German remained as rusty as ever.
Interlenguas, an intensive language-training course, seems the perfect way to bring my German up to blazing conversational level in two days. I've always wondered what happens on these one-to-one, intensive, super-expensive language courses. Despite registering for countless German intermediate courses, I've never tasted more than a few sessions. Somehow there was always something better to do than German grammar exercises and waiting one's turn for some token basic conversation.
Exhausted from a long week at work and in no mood to talk in English let alone in German at 9am on a Saturday morning, the prospect of eight hours of German and grammar exercises terrifies me. The interlenguas method (even if you're starting from scratch) is absolutely no English.
Dagmar, my tutor, gets me achieving what I had hoped for in 16 hours in about three. The pace is fast, with no time to get bored. Just as your mind is curdling from recounting your life history in another language, you move on to reading a short story: just as you begin to tire of comprehension exercise, there's a respite with pronunciation fine-tuning; sensing fatigue and hunger, it's out for lunch.
By this time it seems almost natural to be chatting in German about men, coffee and films. The brain simply adapts to finding simpler words or different ways to express something. When we move on to a gallery and lapse into silence looking at paintings, I realize I am thinking in German.
Back to 'work' at the Interlanguas South Molton Street office, and we're reading and discussing newspaper features, by which time my brain starts faltering, so we round up with refresher exercises on times, dates and numbers.
The exhaustion after eight hours is, paradoxically, exhilerating, and the next day, on a precious Sunday, I diligently do my homework. I even listen to the German news every day until the same time the following Saturday, when it's time for another eight hours of language workout. If I had ten days of this (there's also a 12-hours-a-day option) I'd be confident enough to interview Karl Lagerfeld in his mother tongue.
Most Interlenguas clients are professionals who have to work abroad. If you can get your company to pay for you to do this kind of training, do it because you'll arrive at your destination not only confident about expressing yourself, but also motivated to communicate in the language, instead of relying on everyone to speak English.