Which is better? To learn a language slowly or quickly? This may seem like a dumb question to you. If it does, then you've already made up your mind, which means that you're not being open-minded.
If, however, you are one of the people who are interested in hearing my view on this, then please keep reading.
I'm sure most people would say they want to learn a foreign language as quickly as possible. Even if I could convince them that there was a tradeoff, they'd gladly take the tradeoff. I know most language learners, though, wouldn't buy the tradeoff theory. They're the people who say there's no bad way to learn a language.
I'm not writing this post to try to convince anybody that they'll be doomed by using all those shortcuts and other 'bad for your health' techniques. I'm not even trying to convince you that you're better off learning slowly. I'm just here, expressing my thoughts.
I've read a few comments on the web with people saying that I could have learned more Chinese in 2 years than I did. You know, if I would have looked up all those words being used in the dramas then I would be able to understand everything they are saying by now. Right?
Not necessarily. First of all, it would have taken an incredible amount of effort to look up unknown words. Looking up the words means less time spent watching the dramas. Plus, it would have really worn me out. I'm quite certain I wouldn't have lasted if I had been doing that.
Secondly, having a lot of new words can be overwhelming. If you look them up right away, then the next time you either have to recall the translation(s) of the word or look it up again, or find your notes where you had written it down. You end up doing that so much that you create a reflex in your head, "Now what was the meaning of that word?"
Language learning is not about being able to translate every word into your own language. When you do that, you forget how to understand by observing what is happening. You become reliant upon your mental dictionary. Your other abilities are turned off and you wait for the answer instead of figuring things out.
Sure, learning a language by watching TV can be a slow process. I've never said it was quick. But for me, after about 1500 hours I wasn't sitting there trying to learn the language anymore. I could understand enough to be able to follow the dialogue well enough to know what was going on and to just enjoy the story. Of course I was enjoying watching long before that time because there are plenty of visual clues to make things comprehensible.
While I slowly pick up new words, I get a massive amount of repetition to words and phrases that I've already learned. I always want to strengthen my base before piling more on top. The stronger you are with the basics, the better you can learn more advanced language. That's the way I look at it.
It takes time for the brain to sort a language out, and the more input you've given your brain, the better it can do it's job. I don't believe that a foreign language can be taught. Not even that you can teach yourself a foreign language. Rather than a conscious, deliberate process, I believe it's subconscious (or unconscious, if you prefer) process.
Despite all of you hard work, maybe you can still learn a language, but not until you've given yourself enough exposure to it. So if you're not in a hurry, why go through all the hard work? Just put in the time the easiest way you can. The easier it is for you, the more time you'll put into it.
I believe the slower process (meaning unforced) will, in the end, produce the best results. The best result is to become a native-speaker. Yes, I want to become a native-speaker. Is that too much to ask?