I recently saw a comment on a friend's Facebook. He was at a coffee shop and saw an old man seated nearby with a Spanish workbook, a huge Spanish-English dictionary, and one of those giant books of 500 Spanish verbs. He guessed this old man was in his 80s, and he found inspiration in this scene. The Facebook comment was, "I hope I'm still learning languages like this when I'm 80."
Yes, it's inspiring to think that you'll still be passionate about the things you love when you get old. But unfortunately, that doesn't sound like the case with this old man. He wasn't passionate... he was studying. I hope you're not ever learning like him... at any age.
I've already been quite clear in the past about how I hate memorization, study, and all the traditional methods of learning. So, unsurprisingly, I get questions from people all the time, asking me How do you learn if you don't study?
But the real question is, How can you possibly learn when all you do is study?
You may think that's just a clever response, but it's actually a serious question! I can't imagine how anyone could learn anything if all they ever did was study.
Do you think you could spend weeks, months, or years reading books about cars, and driving, and suddenly be able to drive a car? If you've ever actually been behind the wheel, you know that five minutes of driving will teach you more than a lifetime of reading about it.
Do you think an athlete could spend all his time reading about his sport, and suddently become a good player? The guy who's on the practice field — even rarely — will play better than the one with his nose in a book 24/7.
You are what you do
Reading books will make you a great reader. Memorizing conjugations will make you a good memorizer (not a conjugator). Most importantly, spending your language time sitting alone in a coffee shop with books written in English will do very little to improve your ability to speak with others in Spanish.
Language is not a fact. Sitting at a table by yourself, memorizing verbs or nouns or words on some vocabulary list is not the same thing as learning. I keep saying it, because it doesn't stop being true: you are what you do. Learning doesn't happen when you study, it happens when you make learning a part of your lifestyle.
Stop buying books. Stop studying. Get out of the coffee shops, out of the bedrooms, out of the classrooms. Lessons aren't for you, they're for everyone else... a show to prove that you're doing something. Stop thinking about lessons.
Go write on Lang-8. Make a Skype call to someone who speaks the language. Find a foreign restaurant or shop and talk to someone there. When you start using the language, you will learn it.
Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.