It's fairly often enough that questions pop up asking about language learning. Usually the questions ask how useful it is to study a language, and which language one should study. If you go about it with the goal of fluency, then it is definitely useful, and will definitely pay off.
I've found that there are 5 big things you need to do to develop all-around (reading/writing/speaking/listening) fluency in a language. And if you are going to take the time to learn a language, your goal should be fluency if you hope to someday use the language in a business context. Nobody has any use for a kid who can only utter a few disconnected phrases.
To become fluent, you need to immerse yourself in the language. What does immersion mean? For starters, immersion definitely entails living in the country where the language is spoken. However, living in the country in and of itself will not immerse you. It's entirely possible to live in a country for years and never speak the local language beyond "hi/bye" and giving basic directions to a taxi driver.
- Intensive Classes
- Private Tutor
- Graded Reading Materials For every language there are reading materials out there that are tailored to your ability. This helps expose you to a variety of situations, more than what you would find in a textbook alone. And it gives you topics to talk about with your tutor. This is especially important because it doesn't make sense to jump in and try to read a newspaper when you're just beginning. It's self-defeating. With the internet now, access to thousands of different things at every difficulty level is just a few clicks away.
- TV/Movies Download your favorite TV shows and movies in the target language, but watch them with English subtitles. This will develop your ability to listen to people speaking at a normal conversation pace in a variety of situations. Having the subtitles will help connect what is being said with its equivalent English meaning. You will also quickly pick up on the most commonly used phrases and words.
- Monkey Love Nothing will improve your foreign language skills faster than a significant other that is a native speaker of the language you want to learn. Ideally this person also won't be very good in your native language, forcing you to speak in the target language. Maybe it's just me, but there's also something kind of fun about picking up a chick using a foreign language.
3 to 4 hours of classroom study per day, 4 to 5 days per week provide a controlled environment for learning; and lay the proper groundwork for developing correct grammar, structure, etc. Tests given in class can help provide an objective measurement of your progress. And having class everyday in a sense 'forces' you to learn the language; it's harder to say "f-it, I'll do it tomorrow."
Private tutoring sessions help reinforce the grammar, structure, etc. that you learn in the classroom. It also gives you an opportunity to practice speaking in an environment where the pressure is off and it's okay to screw up. You get individual attention and can practice different ways to say things and can ask questions that an average speaker of the language wouldn't know.
You want to eat, drink, and breathe the language you want to learn. I've found that these tools will get you going in the right direction. What other strategies have you monkeys used to learn a language?