Heavy Repetition Is The Key To Learning Any Foreign Language

As most of you already know, I live in Chicago. With a Chicagoan in the White House, you may have figured out that basketball is a tradition here in Chicago. You might even remember a guy by the name of Michael Jordan being kind of good at it. When I was growing up, I loved to play basketball. Just like everyone else I knew, I liked to dream that I was Michael Jordan.

When the Bulls won six championships with Jordan, I was in my teens. Today, I'm 35 years old, and Chicago has a new MVP — last night, Derrick Rose became the youngest player ever to win the MVP trophy at just 22 years old. Rose is also a Chicago native, but at just 22 years old, there's no way he grew up watching Michael Jordan the way I did. (Believe it or not, Jordan is 48 years old!) So it's interesting that you can see a lot of similarities.


When asked about his expectations for the year during a media interview at the beginning of this season, Derrick Rose said, "[my expectations] are high. The way I look at it, why can't I be MVP of the league?" It sounded kind of cocky at the time, and no one really paid much attention to it — most people said he couldn't shoot a jump shot.

But while no one was paying attention, Rose set out on perhaps one of the most rigorous training schedules I've ever heard of. He spent the entire summer doing two practice sessions a day, six days a week, shooting at least 500 jump shots in each practice. That's more than 6,000 practice shots each week!

Recently, there's been a lot of talk about Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, and his assertion that, in order to do something well you must put in 10,000 hours of practice. Now, I don't know how many hours went into these practice sessions, but I do know that after taking 70,000 practice shots (3 months x 4 weeks x 6,000 shots), one can't help but improve. And it should come as no surprise that his jump shot has been a key factor in the Bulls' #1 record this year.

Are you taking those practice shots?

Not long ago, I read an excellent post on this subject by Khatzumoto (AJATT) about showing up, in which he mentioned a fitting quote from Bruce Lee:

"I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."

Imagine if he practiced that kick 70,000 times, eh Bruce?

You want to speak a foreign language well. Of course you do, that's why you're reading my blog. You want to speak well. And I've just told you the secret, absolutely free of charge.

The most important thing you can do is practice. The more you practice, the better you get. Want to speak fluently? Put in the speaking time that a fluent speaker puts in. Want to speak like a native? Put in the time that a native has put in.

Want to get really good, really fast, just like Derrick Rose? Then practice. Identify that thing that's troubling you and do it, over and over, 1,000 times a day. Turn your weakness into a strength.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
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.

Leave a comment:

Comment Policy: Comments and feedback are totes welcome but respect is mandatory. Disagree all you want but be nice. All comments and links are moderated.
  • I love sports analogies - and true stories! 70,000 shots. I'm still trying to figure out what 70,000 shots looks like for a language learner though. Or 10,000 hours. Still learning.

  • @aarongmyers:disqus It's repetition. If you're having trouble with conjugating a subjunctive, or declining an accusative, that's your "jump shot". I don't think any of us needs to do it 70,000 times, but a great example is that after messing up Afedersiniz twice on the call with you (for some reason I kept wanting to say Ahmedinejad) I have spoken that word out loud to myself more than 100 times. And I'll probably say it 100 more.

  • Over this side of the pond the news reported that Obama's birth certificate said he was born in Hawaii (nerd fact: last US state flag to include the British union flag)- is there another conspirarcy theory out there?

  • There are always conspiracy theories. But the only thing relevant to the topic at hand is the fact that Obama loves basketball.

  • Ah, yes. I remember my first weeks here in Istanbul. On the bus, as I approached my stop, I'd just start saying the phrase over and over again, and then I'd just raise my voice and blurt it out.Merdivenlerde inebilir miyim?

  • I took a 2 hour-plus walk this morning and that's pretty much all I did during the walk was repeat what I wanted to drum into my head. Luckily, only woodland creatures could hear me. Not another human being for miles.Seriously, I find alone-time walks to be the best time to do that sort of drilling. No distractions, and I can babble on without looking like a crazy person. And I think there's something to being up and moving around to improve concentration.

  • @twitter-22571874:disqus I'm doing something very similar... background: As of Jan 1, I was horribly out of shape, aerobically, so I signed up for a marathon, and I've been training to go up to 40k by October.One of the things I've read is that you're not in good running condition until you can have a conversation while running. Obviously, I began the year completely out of breath every time I tried a run, so what I do is while I'm running, I talk to myself, drilling foreign vocabulary over and over. When I speak it out loud, it's good cardiovascular exercise AND good pronunciation exercise. Win-win!

  • I'm familiar with Gladwell's stuff and I love it, the people who are insanely good at things don't have some special stuff you don't...well, maybe motivation and drive, but it's not some in-born talent, it's the motivation to go out and consistently spend ridiculous amounts of time working on getting good at one particular thing.Cheers,Andrew

Want to learn a language in 12 months?

Language you're learning...