The Secret To Learning Foreign Languages


You lucky devils.

Today I have decided to share with you all the one true secret that I believe is essential to learning a language. Sure, knowing this information alone won’t be enough to learn a language, but you also can’t learn one without knowing this rule.

Surprisingly, it is quite logical when you think about it. However, I think that this secret is, unfortunately, largely absent from traditional language teaching in schools and the like, despite the fact that, unless they are native speakers, every language teacher knows this secret and would have had to consciously acknowledge it in order to learn the language that they teach to fluency.

Yadda yadda yadda. You guys just want to know the secret, right? What is it, you ask?

The overarching rule of successful language learning is that the process itself must be enjoyable.

What is so frustrating about this rule is that it is extremely easy to forget. Chinese is my fourth language, and yet I often find myself getting frustrated at myself for forgetting characters, or for not learning as fast as I would have liked – but this is the worst thing you can do. The learning process must, above all, be fun and enjoyable – you can’t force yourself to learn a language. You may be able to mindlessly rote learn a few basic phrases, but to gain any substantial ability to communicate in a new language, the process itself must be enjoyable.

I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but people often say to me that I must have a gift for learning languages. I hate hearing this, because what the person saying that really means it that they think they aren’t gifted, and so they can’t learn a language. This is definitely up there in the biggest excuses potential language learners make. I always reply that I’m not any more gifted than anyone else. This isn’t false modesty, this is the truth. Really. The reason I’ve been, so far, relatively successful in my language learning comes down to these four things:

  1. Language learning is my hobby, not a chore. I’m not learning Chinese to get that big job promotion, or to impress people. I’m learning it because I absolutely love learning new languages and about the cultures of the people that speak it. Nothing gives me a bigger rush than speaking with someone from China about government corruption, the one-child policy or the growing divide between the ultra-rich and super-poor. Call me a nerd.

  2. I’m not fixated on the end result. Perfecting a language (if that is even possible) is actually a sad thought for me. That would mean that the journey is over. Of course I want to become fluent, but I am patient and know that it will come with time, as it has in the past. I enjoy the learning process, not just the thought of speaking fluently. Too many language learners have this obsession with getting fluent as fast as possible, but language learning doesn’t work like that. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you can’t enjoy learning, you will quickly get frustrated and stop altogether. This is one of the main things new language learners have to accept, and embrace.

  3. I am confident that I will succeed. Because I have before! The reason the third, fourth, fifth languages you learn are infinitely easier than your second language to learn is only partly because your method of learning gets better – the main reason, I believe, is because you are confident that you will succeed. Faith is a big thing in language learning. When I was learning French, at age 15, I was constantly Google searching ‘how long does it take to get fluent’, ‘fastest way to get fluent’, ‘will I ever be fluent’, and the like. It seemed like such an impossible task to learn a language to fluency. I see now that it really isn’t, and it’s a very natural process. Humans have been learning languages for hundreds of thousands of years, we’re good at it. So don’t worry.

  4. I put in the time. Whoever said that famous quote “you only get out what you put it” was spot on. This point is kind of connected to my first point, because I put in the time because language learning is my hobby, and so I am constantly finding excuses to learn them, rather than excuses to avoid them. The reality is that no matter how talented or smart you may be, you’re going to have to put in a serious amount of time to learn a language to fluency. But it is far from a waste of time, it is an investment in yourself and in your future. Plus, it’s fun! And you’ll meet some great people and learn things you never could if you stayed monolingual.

So, with this knowledge – go forth! Language learning is almost like a mathematical equation: time + interest = fluency.

Also, thanks so much to all you guys for following my blog – today marks 2000 views since I started a few months ago!

Author: Dan

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