If you are reading this, I will assume that English is your first language. In the linguistic world, you hit the jackpot. People who are born into an English-speaking family and country will have little necessity in their lives to truly learn a new language. This is exactly why it is absolutely crucial that you, as a driven and motivated man, put in the time and effort to do the one thing that most people in the world simply do not — learn a new language.
I won’t patronize you by telling you that it will be a hard task; that much is obvious. In fact, it’s probably harder than you think. There are no shortcuts, and it will take much longer than you would like to feel the progress you want. However, there is good news as well. There are tools and strategies that will help you along the way. There are even ways to get a native-speaking private tutor for very cheap. And the payoff you feel as you make progress and become stronger in the language and in your overall cognitive ability is like nothing else.
All of this doesn’t make a bit of difference though unless you have the proper motivation to begin learning a language and stick with it. While some may argue the benefits of language learning for game, which are undeniable, I think that the greater good comes in the form of self improvement. The first area of development and the first hurdle in learning a foreign language is…
Learning a new language is simply the most consuming activity there is in terms of time input and mental work. With proper daily practice, a person could learn an instrument from scratch and be proficient within a year. A year of daily practice will barely have you conversational in a new language. With the goal of becoming functional in a language you will have to invest at least 30 minutes a day, though an hour is preferable, for at least a few years.
When I talk about functional, I don’t mean knowing how to order another beer at the bar. I define functional as being able to live and work in society using only the target language. Essentially, being able to read, write, listen, and speak about any topic up to about a high school level. While learning some of a language is better than not learning at all, the real benefits come from a high degree of proficiency.
The level of self discipline it requires to achieve this level of mastery is monumental. It will require a plan of action as well as the ability to follow through with that plan, even when it means eschewing other activities in favor of your language work. This is your brain workout, and just like you wouldn’t skip your gym routine to have a beer and burger with your friend, you can’t skip this either.
Figure out what kind of learner you are, and play to your strengths. Some people do well by memorizing vocabulary, especially using Memrise. Others may gain more from speaking practice with a native, which you can get on iTalki. One of my personal favorite methods is practicing through text messaging, where I have the benefit of being able to analyze and dissect the sentences or phrases that I read, and I’m able to pick up proper usage from that. But whatever you do, it has to be done daily, and with a way to check yourself as well. This leads to the next great benefit of language learning, which is…
Language learning is different than many avenues of study or work because of its infinite nature. Language is a constantly expanding and evolving entity, a truly living being that can never be completely mastered. This nature lends itself to high degrees of subjective evaluation when trying to determine progress.
As you begin learning a new language and start to progress, you will have a huge burst of immediate ability as you learn the basics, things that can generally be considered objectively. Basic conversation elements, the ability to introduce yourself, numbers and colors, and creating basic sentences are among these objective markers at the beginning of your journey. Once you pass the basics though, the road to fluency becomes a lot murkier.
Depending on your specific goals and reasons for learning the language, you will likely study things differently than other people on a similar proficiency level as yourself. When I’m out with some of my friends who are learning the same language as me, it’s very common for me to ask my friend the meaning of something he says, and the other way around. We often learn different things from different settings and experiences, so we can share those with each other to continue improving while we still learn what’s most important to each of us.
This is why the personal skill of self assessment is absolutely imperative to your continued success. You have to constantly be testing yourself, whether with flash cards or against a natural language environment if possible, and determine where your progress is satisfactory or where it needs improvement. An easy first step for this assessment and growth is to learn a new phrase and resolve to use it three times in regular conversation during the coming week. By the end of that week it should be ingrained as a standard part of your vocabulary.
The most important and beneficial aspect of this is that it forces you to be completely honest with yourself. There’s nobody here to pat you on the back, and there’s nobody here to laugh at you for making a mistake. The only grade you get is how satisfied you are with your own performance. Sometimes you’ll feel great about it, maybe surprising yourself with how much you’ve progressed recently. Other times you might get the shit kicked out of you in a verbal discourse and realize you have to dust off some old study materials. Either way, the only judge and the only impetus for improvement is you.
This self reliance and self assessment translates into other parts of your life as well, such as being in the gym and watching your form in the mirror or making sure you do your reps until failure, then pushing yourself for one more. It’s a mindset that grows to accept nothing less than the absolute best you can give at any one time, because it’s the mindset necessary to properly develop language skills to the point of functional proficiency.
One of the side benefits of this demanding mentality is that it helps develop a tremendous amount of…
When you first begin learning a language, your confidence will likely suffer. This is especially true if you find yourself immersed in a native language environment and you can’t understand anything going on around you. The first time I moved out of the US for an extended period of time, I went from understanding everything around me to suddenly not even knowing how to read a menu. You feel like a toddler again, but without family to guide and help you. It’s a swift kick in the balls, to say the least.
The good news is that this functions as a J curve. Although your confidence will go down at first, it will soon rise to new heights. With no crutch and the right attitude, it’s possible to quickly start picking up a language. You begin to recognize words here and there, and soon you are making complete sentences on your own. The thrill you get from the first time you say something that’s not memorized from a phrase book and people understand you is one of the most exhilarating moments in your life. It gives you an enormous boost to your self-confidence.
You’ll find your desire to study increased as well as your desire to speak the language and show off your new-found abilities. You’ll feel more comfortable speaking with others, in both your native and target languages. You’ll also grow much more comfortable speaking with new people you don’t know, because that’s much of what you have to do in order to practice a new language. This can be especially beneficial if you ever have approach anxiety, which everyone does to some degree. You’ll be able to do cold approaches on girls you don’t know, practicing a language and game at the same time.
You’ll also feel greater confidence in the other things you do. For any business, class, or hobbies you in which you participate, you will always remember that you have been able to conquer the mysteries of an entire new language, an ability is so complex and demanding that we are the only known species to be able to do it. On top of that, most people can’t or don’t do it. You are in the mental 1%. And that embedded knowledge will show in your every action.
In essence, learning a new language can be the most important thing you do in your life for yourself. The journey will help you grow and discover more about yourself. It will illuminate the ways you think, both good and bad. It will broaden your horizons and capacities in all aspects of life. It will try you and test you, it will knock you down and kick you. But most important of all, at the end of the day you will be that much stronger and more well-rounded for it. So stop reading this and go get started on your new language.
Read More: 15 Language Learning Tips For Self-Study