Feel the fear but learn a language anyway

Learning some of the local lingo in your host country is undoubtedly an incredible way to discover the culture and understand its people. There’s just one problem… you absolutely hate learning languages.

The reluctant polyglot

So can you learn a language, if you don’t like learning languages? Well, it hasn’t stopped the globe-trotting polyglot Benny Lewis, who is fluent in seven languages (some of which he has learned in three months). Lewis claims he doesn’t even like learning languages but argues this is an advantage. “I’m not passionate about learning languages but I am passionate about using them,” writes Lewis, who comes from the ‘use it or lose it’ school of thought when it comes to learning any language.

Get out there…

Introverts might not like the sound if it, but much of Lewis’ advice boils down to having an outgoing attitude and maximising communication. Worrying about ‘butchering’ the language is what he calls ‘perfectionist paralysis’. He also claims language schools that are not immersion based are likely to be over-analysing the language. To his mind, it’s always better to be conversing with locals.

Pique your own curiosity

If you’re still feeling reluctant about trying to learn the local lingo, perhaps you need to pique your own curiosity and have some fun with it. Find ways to enjoy the experience of using what you have learned. For example, foodies / homecooks can sign up for a cookery class. People into staying fit can join a yoga / pilates class, find a running group, or a football team. Music lovers can go to concerts. Basically, find situations which stimulate you. The idea is to coax yourself out of your own shell and start conversing with locals as much as possible.

The 80-20 principle

To give yourself a ‘foundation’, try learning as many of the core words of a new language as you can. You may find that a little goes a lot further than you thought. When learning a language, Lewis applies an interpretation of Pareto’s Principle of 80/20, which dictates that 80% of the results in any endeavour come from 20% of the input, material, or effort. According to Lewis that means knowing 20% of the words in a language can help you to understand 80% of what you hear spoken! Is that really true? Well, he’s the polyglot, so let’s give him the benefit of doubt.

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