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0A: Overview: The Refold Roadmap

Before diving into your language learning journey, let's take a quick tour through what you'll be working on in each stage.

There are 4 stages to achieving fluency:

  • Build a foundation
  • Develop comprehension
  • Learn to speak
  • Refine to mastery

Stage 1: Build a Foundation

The major advantage we have over child learners is that we can strategize, study, and use tools.

In Stage 1, you will use traditional language learning tools like flashcards, vocabulary lists, and grammar guides, BUT you will use them differently.

Instead of using these tools to learn how to speak, you will use them ONLY for understanding. You will only study one direction: from TL to NL. You will not attempt to speak or write (a.k.a. “output”).

Simultaneously, you will begin immersing in TL media (a.k.a. “input”).

The vocabulary and grammar you learn will immediately make your immersion more comprehensible. When your brain sees a word and understands it in immersion, you will start developing the instinct for how to use the word.

You can think of this process as building a little machine in your head that converts the foreign gibberish into pure meaning (a.k.a. “mentalese”). The combination of conscious study and immersion gives your brain all the tools it needs to build this machine.

Stage 2: Develop Comprehension

The key to developing comprehension quickly is to narrow your focus. Rather than randomly choosing TV shows or studying random vocabulary lists, you will choose immersion content that is the most comprehensible to you and only study vocabulary within that content.

In Stage 2, you will focus your conscious study on your immersion. By focusing your study on exactly what you need to understand your immersion, you create a feedback loop between the two, accelerating your language acquisition.

You will start with more comprehensible media, then build up in difficulty until you can understand native level content aimed at an adult audience. By starting with easier media, you can build a solid foundation of understanding and enjoy the media you're immersing with.

Once you've attained a decent level of comprehension, you will narrow your focus and master a small subset of the language. Once you have near-perfect comprehension of this small subset, you will be ready to speak.

Stage 3: Learn to Speak

If you've ever tried to learn a second language, you know that speaking a language learned through “study” is exhausting while speaking your NL is nearly effortless.

One of the coolest parts of acquisition is the moment when your brain starts outputting naturally. Suddenly, when you've received enough comprehensible input, the little machine in your head starts to run in reverse. Your TL will start spilling out of you.

Once you reach this point, you’re ready for output. You’ve spent all this time building a pool of latent ability through input. The next step is to convert that latent ability into output ability.

In Stage 3, you will deliberately expose yourself to situations that force you to output: writing, then speaking. Exposing yourself to these situations causes your brain to search through your pool of acquired language and make those words and phrases available to you for output.

Sometimes, your brain won’t be able to find the right thing to say. These moments show you where you haven’t yet acquired the necessary language. Armed with this knowledge, you can target your immersion and fill in the gaps. This output/input loop allows you to quickly achieve basic fluency.

Stage 4: Refine to Mastery

By this point, you will have acquired the language to a B2 level and will be able to comfortably understand and communicate.1

If you want to go beyond B2 level, repeat stages 2 & 3 with more areas of the language. Each time you repeat those steps, the process gets easier. Pretty soon, you'll be at a C1, C2, or native level of fluency.

Starting Is Half the Battle

The other half is to keep showing up.

Learning a language takes time, but it’s not complicated. The challenge of language learning isn’t like learning calculus. It’s more like losing weight. There’s no single thing that’s difficult, but you have to be consistent in your effort over months and years.

The rest of Stage 0 will focus on helping you adopt the mindset and habits that will make this consistency possible.


  • 1: B2 is a reference to the European framework for language levels. CEFR, Wikipedia