Memorizing phrases has become the go-to hack for tourists wanting to blend in abroad. But is this trick effective for immigrants wanting to master a language? Spoiler alert: Nope.
Ever walked into an elevator and proudly declared, "There's a joke in the elevator", or confidently asked someone, "What are you buying for me?" because that's what your trusty language course told you to say? We feel you. It sounds so smooth. Who wants to get bogged down with grammar, vocabulary, syntax, and all those pesky question words anyway?
This "phrase craze" started with those language guidebooks from the 90s, promising you'd feel right at home in any country if you just chanted a few magic sentences. And for short-term traveling? Sure, it worked. No arguments there.
But recently, the UAB team noticed language courses saying, "Hey, just repeat after us and boom – you're fluent!" It's as if they're offering cheat codes to a video game, but spoiler #2: languages aren't video games.
Here's the gist: this method is about as effective for true language learning as using chopsticks to eat soup. The main flaw? Repeating phrases doesn't help learners build genuine connections to words. So, if someone memorizes, "There's no reason for change", can they use "reason" or "change" in a different context? And what about changing the verb tense?
The bottom line is there are no shortcuts in language learning. As we've said before, it's a journey – sometimes fun, sometimes grueling – that requires speaking, writing, and reading with a rich vocabulary, verbs, syntax, prepositions, and more. You need to see words in various contexts to use them freely. So, who should memorize phrases? Tourists or diplomats who just need the language for a short stint and don't really need to dive deep or master it.
For new immigrants eager to truly master a new language: Ditch the shortcuts. Do it right. We promise the hard work will be worth the laughs, triumphs, and fewer awkward elevator encounters.