I’m going to tell you the secret to learning a second language. I won’t even make you scroll to the end of the article.
Are we there yet?
Just kidding about the done part. If confidence were that easy to turn on then you would have done it already. But for most people, it’s scary as fuck. I don’t mean monkey in the closet scary, I’m talking about studying Spanish in your room for five years and without ever speaking to a native speaker kind of scary. That kind of subconscious fear seems logical, but it really isn’t.
It seems logical to send out fifty resumes to people you don’t know. It’s a lot harder to make three phone calls to people in your circle that could actually make a difference. It seems logical to hang out at bars and try to meet people. It’s a lot harder to invest your energy to make a profile on OKCupid and look for people who are more likely to be compatible with you.
Let’s compare two real people. One is Nathan (that’s me!). The other is a Czech woman I met in Lisbon, Portugal. Let’s call her Jana.
- Portuguese Study: 16 months
- Level of achievement: comprehend most conversations
- Resources: private tutor, 2 universities
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- Poruguese Study: 3 weeks
- Level of achievement: participate in most conversations
- Resources: a dictionary
Are you kidding me!?!
Granted, this was her third or fourth language, but there was something very different about how she spent her time in Lisbon. I spent my first three months only going to classes, avoiding much interaction with the locals. I went broke in six months and was planning my escape back to NYC when I finally found a job. Jana found a waitressing job in her first week. This forced her into constant communication. She also carried the dictionary with her wherever she went and would hold up the checkout line at the grocery store searching for the right word. Can you imagine your waitress stopping in the middle of your order to look up a word in the dictionary? That’s confidence.
What’s the hold up?
I’ve always been an A student even when I didn’t get A’s. Being an overachiever has its benefits, but one big drawback is that it’s easy for me to get stuck in an endless cycle of preparation and never take action. Thus, I would rather study Portuguese for 10 years and get it perfect before actually going to Portugal. But Jana didn’t give a fuck. She was going to get a job and learn Portuguese despite the potential awkwardness of that strategy.
Guys, what I want you to take away from this short story is that it’s a lot easier for girls to get ahead in the world. Wait, that’s not right. What I want to show you is that if you commit to bold action you can speed up the learning curve exponentially. When you get nervous because you are about to break some social custom or enter into a potentially awkward situation, observe that energy and move past it before you get bogged down.
So I did eventually learn Portuguese. It took about two years. I don’t get to use it that often since I moved back to the US, but I’ll never forget that lesson.