Why Good Advice Is So Hard To Follow

When I was young and wanted to know how to get a girl's attention, people always told me "just be yourself". I remember how frustrated I was with this line! I used to complain, "obviously being myself' doesn't work, because I am myself and it's not working!" Later on, though, Eventually, I realized I was so focused on getting a girl's attention that I had become "the guy who wants attention from girls", and once I stopped trying so hard and started just doing the things that I liked — when I stopped trying to be something for other people, and started just being myself — I ended up getting all the attention from girls I could ever want.

So often, the best advice is also the most frustrating. What you're hearing sounds wrong because it's so different from the way you think. Sometimes the you can't learn something new unless you first un-learn something you already know... or think you know. Sometimes you have to change your beliefs in order to move forward.

One common theme that I repeat a lot on this blog, and indeed in all of my advice to language learners is that the best way to learn a language is to "just use it". I say it a lot, and I know it to be true because I've used this in my own efforts to learn languages. When I've used a language, I've done well learning it. When I haven't used it, I've had very poor results.

But when I give this advice, I often get arguments in response. When you tell someone the best way to learn is to use the language, you're usually meet immediately with a response such as "How the hell can I use a language I haven't learned yet?", or, "You have to learn it to use it, but you're saying I have to use it to learn it... that's circular logic!"

Indeed, on the surface, those look like very logical arguments. But they're still arguments. The first thing to remember is that any time you're arguing, you're not learning. Arguments are, by their very nature, the forceful rejection of an idea rather than welcoming it. (I can't wait to see how many "arguments" I end up with in the comments section after this!)

When I say "use the language", I mean it! There will always be time for you to study a book, or to write practice sentences, but those are activities with no personal investment. But if you print the directions to your next doctor appointment in another language, you have a very real investment in using the language, because if you don't use it, you won't make it to the doctor's office!

When you decide to USE the language, your deficiencies become immediately apparent. If you're making a grocery list, you won't have any doubts about which words you need to learn. If you change your language settings on Google, there will be no question about which words you need to understand in order to continue using the web site.

This blog is littered with posts with advice for how to use a language in order to learn it. I've linked to a few of them in this post. It's the best advice I know for learning foreign languages... but you might just have to change the way you think.

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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  • I know you have to use a language to learn it.  I know that you have suggested many ways to do that.  Why don't I do that consistently?  I have to take one of your suggestions and make it into a habit.  I have a habit of talking to my chickens every day, why not make it a habit to talk to them in Chinese?  They'll understand me just as well, and they won't nitpik on my grammar.

  • Great idea!

  • Thanks!

  • You're wrong and you have no idea as to what you're talking about!Nah, I agree, and I'm damned sure using that grocery list idea, never thought of that.  For what it's worth I like to use it doing things that are as fun as possible, e.g. watching movies or listening to music in the language in question, or talking with native speakers via Skype (language exchanges, they're awesome!) which is almost always a LOT of fun.I think people underestimate how soon they can start using a language, you can really do it the second you learn the minimum necessary to put together a sentence (which would be what, just a verb right? e.g. "go", "come", "sit", etc.).  If you know absolutely no Spanish whatsoever I'll tell you right now that "Qué" means "what", "es" means "is" and "eso" means "that", and the sentence I want you to learn is "¿Qué es eso?": do you have any idea how much friggin' Spanish you can learn with just that one sentence as your starting point, presuming you've got access to someone who speaks Spanish (with the internet, that would be all of you ;) )?Cheers,
    Andrew

  • so hi, your 'fans' may not like me and since the comment box in your flash cards are bad blog entry i am just gonna post it here and i would really appriciate it if you didn't erase it. the system depends on the person and you CAN NOT tell someone that a method is wrong. i have learned more than 6 thousand words with the flash card method and you can not say that it doesn't work. If you learn them from the cards and use them in real life, you won't have a problem. I'm just bothering to comment to say stop it to you. your method is not the only one, and you know it. you cant tell anyone to stop the method they like to do and help them to learn a language, and that is what counts. So don't make definite claims like '' Stop learning with flash cards, it creates extra steps...'' its just bogus! And if you are as clever as you claim to be(i doubt it), you should at least think about this before you write another entry. and please, dont be so self centered you are not always the one who is or will be right so you better get used to it. 

  • so hi, your 'fans' may not like me and since the comment box in your flash cards are bad blog entry i am just gonna post it here and i would really appriciate it if you didn't erase it. the system depends on the person and you CAN NOT tell someone that a method is wrong. i have learned more than 6 thousand words with the flash card method and you can not say that it doesn't work. If you learn them from the cards and use them in real life, you won't have a problem. I'm just bothering to comment to say stop it to you. your method is not the only one, and you know it. you cant tell anyone to stop the method they like to do and help them to learn a language, and that is what counts. So don't make definite claims like '' Stop learning with flash cards, it creates extra steps...'' its just bogus! And if you are as clever as you claim to be(i doubt it), you should at least think about this before you write another entry. and please, dont be so self centered you are not always the one who is or will be right so you better get used to it. 

  • so hi, your 'fans' may not like me and since the comment box in your flash cards are bad blog entry i am just gonna post it here and i would really appriciate it if you didn't erase it. the system depends on the person and you CAN NOT tell someone that a method is wrong. i have learned more than 6 thousand words with the flash card method and you can not say that it doesn't work. If you learn them from the cards and use them in real life, you won't have a problem. I'm just bothering to comment to say stop it to you. your method is not the only one, and you know it. you cant tell anyone to stop the method they like to do and help them to learn a language, and that is what counts. So don't make definite claims like '' Stop learning with flash cards, it creates extra steps...'' its just bogus! And if you are as clever as you claim to be(i doubt it), you should at least think about this before you write another entry. and please, dont be so self centered you are not always the one who is or will be right so you better get used to it. 

  • I talk to my cat in italian - he doesn't mind at all.  I also talk out loud 
    to an imaginary italian friend when driving, describing where we are going and why, explaining what is being said on the radio etc.  Best not to talk to yourself in a foreign language when in a public place though!

  • When I was learning French, I knew someone who spoke practically no English, but knew enough to make me angry. So we had arguments in French. Probably the quickest way to get me to use a language (even if at first they involved a lot of sign language and dictionary breaks)

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