Stop Looking For A Language Learning 'Hack' And Do The Work

Okay, you're probably wondering what diet pills and lottery tickets have to do with language learning. Or, maybe you're a wise and perceptive reader, and you already see where I'm going with this. Either way, I'm sure you'll get some value out of what I'm about to say.

Magic pills

You know those weight loss pills that are advertised on tv. They talk about a weight loss secret or a glycemic advantage, or some other provocative sales tactic with the illusion of science to back it up.

We all know these ads. They are shown on television, and they run in the backs of magazines, they even creep into your email and pop up in your browser when you're looking up words in the online dictionary.

But did you ever pay attention to the fine print? The little disclaimer text that runs with these ads? Not only do the make vague claims about the benefits, like "...may help with weight loss of up to 20 pounds in just one week..." but they also add disclaimers like "when combined with a healthy diet and exercise," or "results not typical.

If you're paying attention, you can see that they're practically admitting that the product does nothing. And I think most of us realize that these products do nothing — that there is no magic pill — but these industries continue to make billions of dollars in profit, which just shows that in spite of knowing they don't work, people continue to hold on to hope, gambling away their money on the chance (however small) that maybe this is the one that will work.

Golden tickets

Gambling the same way they do with the lottery. Did you know lottery tickets have disclaimers in small print, too? They even show odds of winning: 1 in 198,711,536. Think about that. You would have to invest $200 million dollars in lottery tickets in one week before you could begin to feel reasonably confident that you had an expectation of winning. (And mathematically speaking, you'd still be wrong!)

Given that the typical prize is much less than that, and given that most people won't invest anywhere close to that much in tickets, we should all feel confident that the way out of our financial woes is not going to be the lottery. Nevertheless, people continue spending money they don't have, charging up high balances on credit cards, and wasting money on lottery tickets.

People use the same logic to charge up high credit balances, thinking they're getting one over on the credit card companies, or the airlines, or whomever, by adding up miles and getting a free flight. They even spend money to buy into a "travel hacking cartel," thinking membership in a club that beats the system will suddenly make them world travelers, in spite of their terrible record of mismanaging money.

Reality check

So here's your reality check: there is no magic diet pill, you're not going to win the lottery, and at $100-per-mile, you'd be wiser to pay cash, outright, for 100 flights, rather than trying to hack your way to a free one. There is no hack that is better than doing the work.

And that same thing goes for learning a language. Giving $600 to Rosetta Stone does not make you a Spanish speaker. Surrounding yourself with lesson books and instructional CDs and classes and tutors won't suddenly make you fluent in German. Subscribing to the most popular blogs, and following the most popular Twitter users, and "liking" their Facebook pages and watching the popular YouTube channels, and signing up for email lists may be fun, and me even be beneficial, but it will not turn you into a polyglot.

There are a lot of "tricks" to make things easier to do, but even after they're easier you still have to do those things. There are endless "hacks" to get you through tough spots, but those hacks are useless if you don't go get yourself into a few tough spots. There are even some "secrets" that polyglots know, which you probably don't know... but none of them would be any good to you if you haven't done the work.

Now get out there and do the work. Do that, and you'll learn the language.

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I listed them here.

Author: Yearlyglot
I'll lead you through a 12 month journey from knowing absolutely nothing about a language to having professional fluency.

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  • Randy Yearlyglot

    And stop typing into google : "how to learn a foreign language"! It just doesn't work and is the biggest reason why in the first few months, I made virtually no progress in Spanish. Stop researching and just do it! I like this attitude.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Whole heartedly agree. There is no substitute for putting in the work. There are a lot of things we can do to help us create, maintain and protect the motivation, commitment and attitudes that help us put in the time. Not sure those are hacks, but it's certainly one of the reasons I read this blog.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    I completely agree. All that time spent looking for a solution could
    have been better spent finding the solutions. :)

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Exactly. Thanks Aaron!

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Funny, the Onion seems to have a simliar opinion.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    …but I guess you can't write a blog just about "just do it" ;-)

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Not without getting sued...

  • Randy Yearlyglot


  • Randy Yearlyglot

    "There are a lot of “tricks” to make things easier to do, but even after they’re easier you still have to do those things."
    What we need is to know some of the trick AND work hard to get the benefits. I don't know why people are becoming lazier!

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    I agree with this combination. There is no way to avoid investing time and energy if you want to learn a language, but said this, there are approaches that are more effective than others, and I think that it is also worth to invest some of your time to figure out what works better.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    I always loved that saying, I can't remember who coined it, that "the lottery is a tax on people who can't do math" (or, more brutally honest, it's a "stupid people tax").Cheers,

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    My tire-kicker self is protesting, but I believe you're absolutely correct! I used to believe in gimmicks that I'll be fluent in 10 days or that I need high-end software products if I really want to learn a language! I'm starting to learn a new language, and it's my first time to be this committed. I was bogged down with all the resources available to me that I wasted precious days just "picking" and "testing" stuff. Bottomline: Got an Assimil book and Anki and got down to it! Thanks for the great article!

  • Randy Yearlyglot


  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Hah, yeah, I've heard that before but forgotten it. What's saddest, though, is that by that definition there are a LOT of stupid people!

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    According to me the results are more apparent when the Diet Pills are combined with regular exercise and healthy eating habits.

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