Urban Language Myths: “You Just Pick It Up!”

“Have you heard? Dave’s moving to Egypt.”
“Does he speak Arabic…?”
“No, but he’s good with languages, he’ll just pick it up!”

I take it we’re all familiar with this conversation.

OK, let me hand it to you straight: A language is not a bunch of keys you’ve just dropped onto the floor or a box of washing powder. Nor is it a venereal disease. You do not “just pick it up” by casually passing through a supermarket or someone’s bodily fluids.

The harsh truth is this: Learning a language is darn hard work. There are days when you just want to hammer your head against a pebbledashed wall.

A widely held – and wildly unhelpful – misconception is that one must possess this magical quality called a “talent for languages” to learn a second language in adulthood.

Let me tell you this: Talent is hugely overrated. To succeed at something, to acquire any kind of advanced skill, what you need is an incentive and a strategy for staying motivated. Unlike passing a driving test, just focusing on the end goal is not enough when it concerns a skill that takes years to attain. The learning process has to be peppered with enough bouts of gratification to see you through the dry stretches.

bunraku

Apparently, playing with dolls is a lot harder than it seems…

Languages do take a long time to master. The same is true for playing musical instruments, lacemaking, professional level sports, etc. I read once that a bunraku (traditional Japanese puppet theatre) puppeteer needs a couple of decades before he can competently operate the puppet’s left leg.

In my observation, the difference between somebody who succeeds at something and someone who doesn’t is down to plain old perseverance and determination. A high aptitude, aka “talent”, might push an individual’s performance above the average, but it’s not a prerequisite, especially where languages are concerned.

I do want to stress this: we all have an innate aptitude for verbal communication, proven by the simple fact that the vast majority of us is able to speak our native language with a fair degree of competence. It’s an inherent human quality,Β  we are social beings and we have to communicate with others in order to survive.

Yes, sure, the world is littered with freaks. Like uncle Fred, who, despite puffing his way through three packs of cigarillos a day, was as fit as a fiddle until he conked it aged 95 after tripping over the dog bowl. Or that gap-toothed kid next door who can take one swift look at a jar filled with beans and know exactly how many of those you’d need for making a string long enough to circle the moons of Jupiter. Mozart started composing aged five. In the language realm, I’m sure we’ve all gawped in mute impotence at YouTube clips of “hyperpolyglots”, reeling off an interminable list of things they like to do in their bedrooms by themselves in 35 languages.

DavidHaving said that, even those who are considered bonafide geniuses didn’t get to the top of their game by watching Prison Break re-runs. There’s a famous quote by Michelangelo: “if people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”

So, it would seem that he didn’t just tumble out of bed one morning, and, after dispersing his hangover with a hearty breakfast of salted oat gruel and mutton fat (or whatever the Mediterranean equivalent is), took the chisel to a block of marble and, by lunchtime, a luminous David emerged in all his titchy-wienered glory.

Now, let’s bring this back to my original point: No pain, no gain. Sure, if you’re actually living in the country where your target language is spoken, certain things, like the appropriate greeting for the time day, as well as handy vocab for daily living, such as “special offer” and “not drinking water”, do sink in without having to strain one’s grey matter all that much. However, being able to discuss the environmental merits of drip irrigation, or why annual badger culls may not be effective in controlling TB in cattle – or any topic that requires the ability to argue a technical point or opinion to a fair degree of sophistication, are not going become part of one’s conversational repertoire by mere osmosis.

Perpetuating the myth that “you’ll just pick it up” does nobody any favours. It makes those, who’ve not managed to get to grips with a language after several years abroad, feel stupid, when there’s really nothing wrong with them, save for lack of dedication, and it belittles the dogged tenacity of others, who have accomplished their fluency goal by constantly pushing themselves further and further out of their comfort zone.

I’m guessing that at least three quarters of the people who stop by my blog regularly have first-hand experience with this, or some sort of an opinion at least, and I would sure love to hear what you have to say. I’m still developing my (half-baked) theories, as you can probably tell. I hereby declare the comments section (indefinitely!) open. Get to it! πŸ™‚

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106 thoughts on “Urban Language Myths: “You Just Pick It Up!”

    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      And it also depends, of course, on how much you already know when you move to the country. I didn’t need any more formal instruction when I moved to the UK, for instance, it was all a matter of practice and reading and listening, but I did still very much need classes when I moved to Spain. Thanks for the reblog πŸ™‚

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  1. TheLastWord

    “The learning process has to be peppered with enough bouts of gratification to see you through the dry stretches.” True of all learning.

    Your point is valid for all learning. If you don’t have the curiosity and the inclination to learn you won’t. You won’t just pick it up. I moved to Calcutta at age 9, studied the local language, Bengali, for 3 years in Grades 5,6,7, but could neither read, write or speak it. Due to various reasons I lived a sheltered life not venturing out much from the house. Once I started in college nearly 10 years later, I learned to recognise the routes on the minibuses. And I did not become a semi-fluent speaker till after I started working. Why did I finally manage to learn it? Simply put, I needed it to operate and I worked at it, observing, listening, playing attention. In short, put in the effort.

    There are people who don’t learn at all because they don’t value it, or are incapable, or have a flawed belief system. I touched upon this in this post.

    http://sloword.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/decided-not-to-decide/

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Economic necessity is definitely a strong motivator. There’s a Dutch guy here in my town who does not speak Spanish, even though he’s been here for over a decade, because his wife does everything for him, including keep him company πŸ˜‰

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      1. TheLastWord

        As it turns out, I’m married into a Bengali-speaking household. At family get-togethers, after all these years (nearly 30) I still don’t get more than 40% of all the chatter around me, despite my innate curiosity.

        So when this guy speaks Spanish it’s all Dutch to the people around? πŸ™‚ She must be a very patient (or devoted) wife!

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  2. bevchen

    Passing through bodily fluids. *Snort*.

    Talking about having a reunion with the people I did my year abroad with… on finding out I stilled lived here, one person remarked “oh, your German must be pretty good now then”. Yes, because obviously the mere act of living here magically makes me German better… As it happens, my German is pretty good, but I had the advantage of having actually studied German. A Scottish friend here speaks just about enough German to order things from a menu. If I hadn’t done a degree in German and didn’t have German friends, who’s to say I wouldn’t be at the same level?

    And now matter how good my German gets, I don’t think I’ll be capable of discussing the environmental merits of drip irrigation any time soon πŸ˜‰

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      I met a Finish girl a little while ago who was studying in Germany, been there for three years, and she spoke German like a German. No accent, no grammar errors. I first assumed that she’d had a bilingual upbringing (German parent), but no. Just school German when she arrived, and then lots of determination. I was working in publishing in the UK five or six years after my arrival.
      Are you serious when you say there’s certain topics you couldn’t discuss in German….? OK, I can’t speak “Legalese” in any language, and each specialised subject has its jargon, which you don’t know unless you work in that field.

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      1. bevchen

        Ugh… legalese! I occasionally translate contracts at work and I can barely figure out what the right words are in English…

        I actually find it’s simple topics that stump me in German… purely because I lack (or have forgotten) the vocabulary! A few years ago, I suddenly realised that I no longer had any idea what the word for “ruler” (the kind for drawing straight lines) was in Germany, because I hadn’t actually needed to use the word since I learned it in year 5! My boyfriend has the same problem in English… we can discuss complicated topics til the cows come home, but he will occasionally ask me what some every day object is in English.

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      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        Aw, I have that as well, ALL THE TIME! I mean, I know the words, but they don’t come when I need them. Sometimes I can’t even spell simple things anymore. I don’t know whether it’s the disturbance/interference caused by the massive influx of Spanish, or whether my age is now becoming a factor in the equation.

        Lineal. It’s still there! Phew πŸ˜‰

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      3. bevchen

        Well I know the word now πŸ˜‰

        I definitely do NOT speak German like a German. Just the other day, my neighbour was teasing me about my pronunciation 😦

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  3. Zyriacus

    A language is a river with a spring and an estuary plus additional tributaries and banks left and right. You would not get to KNOW it by just picking up a few pebbles here and there or dipping your big toe into the water. Nor would you just pick up whats related to it – the surrounding landscape it has formed over the millennia.
    A language is not only vocab and grammar – it also comprises the whole way of living of those who speak and develop it.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Absolutely, and what a lovely image πŸ™‚
      Living in the UK for two decades and moving in different social and professional spheres has certainly helped me amass an enormous amount of vocab/pebbles πŸ˜‰

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  4. tobyo

    of course my initial reaction to your title was “WHAT???” I’ve been learning Spanish since 7th grade and I still don’t feel I’ve mastered it. I do alright but nope, it’s not something one just picks up. Indeed. Interesting post and responses. I like the river analogy up there a couple above me too.

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  5. wannabe polyglot

    I couldn’t agree more! I’m equally annoyed at the notion people have that no matter how much effort you put into a language you can’t learn it unless you live in a native speaking environment. I do think you need it to make the last step from competent speaker to near native, but while it does help to be surrounded by the language, the effort required to learn is almost the same whether you’re at home or in another country.
    I think it’s just an excuse for many. A way to explain why they never bothered to learn a language. You know, the ‘I don’t have the talent and I can’t move abroad, so I decided not to bother’.

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  6. camparigirl

    Getting the hang of a basic can come easier to certain people than to others. But really learning the intricacies of a language require time and effort and constant practice. Having bilingual parents always help….

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  7. gkm2011

    Enjoyed the post and totally agree. Chinese has the extra challenge of those characters – explaining to someone I can talk to them and sound pretty articulate, then admit I can’t read – a whole other ball of worms!

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      That just wouldn’t do for me. I’d be sitting there cramming them in somehow… I could not possibly be illiterate in a country where I was living long-term, forever needing help with filling in forms etc, that would not let me sleep at night. It’s just how I am wired, I guess. I do understand that other people’s priorities are different from mine πŸ˜‰

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      1. gkm2011

        I can read more and more – but when I write it looks like a first grader. I think the difference is that Chinese people don’t expect you to be able to do it, so any competency at all is consistently praised. If you want to try studying characters let me know – I certainly have enough study materials!

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  8. Karolyn Cooper

    That is a great post (see, this time I remembered to compliment you first) with great comments. It’s so easy to get demoralized at every stage of learning a language.

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  9. franhunne4u

    Great post – and right you and some of the commenters are – if you want to master a skill, be it language or singing or sports or even creative writing, you have got to put in effort.
    You have to practice, you have to learn, you have to endure failing – which is the hardest part for me, to admit that I can fail and do fail massively, whenever I start something new. In languages it was so embarassing, too, because it made me appear like an idiot who could not even speak … I have come around that feeling of embarassement, at least partly. But I still do not like to fail and keep my failures in mind for decades 😦

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Oh, I so I hate feeling like an idiot when I can’t express myself…and there’s no way round it… I’m a very reluctant speaker first off, I’d rather say nothing than make tons of mistakes. Which isn’t the attitude, I realise πŸ˜‰
      Thanks for adding your thoughts!

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  10. ourinheritance

    Again, it’s a pleasure reading your thoughts on language.

    The myth in my country: “All you need is confidence”.

    And by confidence they mean just keeping on trying to express yourself with as little vocabulary as you have without working to learn more words. If you can do American accent, talk small talk and throw in some ready-made phrases mostly from the self help and motivational books, that is considered excellent English.

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  11. Rachel

    Oh… this is so familiar! I firmly believe that there’s no innate talent for languages, but people keep trying to convince me that I have it. As far as I’m concerned, anyone can learn a language with time, motivation, and stubbornness (or persistence. I’m not sure). Oh, and a good reason, which I’m sure is the reason why Australians apparently don’t have any “talent” for languages (and those who bother are considered geniuses).

    But how do you say this to someone who is monolingual and convinced you’re a freak and they’d never be able to learn a language, mostly because they did Indonesian or German in primary school and can barely count to ten, without making it sound like you think they’re lazy and not trying hard enough?

    That said, yes, of course, *now* I have some sort of “freakish talent” for languages… maybe… and simply because I’ve stuck at a few and now have the appropriate skills to compartmentalise, relate concepts, and, well… I actually know the difference between a noun and a verb now. (I didn’t, five years ago). Anyone who’s studied four languages, even if they’ve only managed to become anything resemble proficient in one, would be able to do that. It doesn’t mean I have any weird gene, it just means I was really stubborn when I started out.

    As for the environmental merits of drip irrigation… well, I have this awful feeling that I actually *would* be able to discuss that in German. I suppose that’s the downside of learning the language as a native speaker/ bilingual child when I’m not. We spent the lessons having debates and learning how to discuss politics, history, and the relative merits of water conservation techniques… I probably couldn’t manage everyday life, though. I still don’t know how to say “bowl”, “fork”, or “scissors”.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      It occurs to me…I don’t know how to say “Geodreieck” in English πŸ˜‰
      Sometimes you’ve got to call a spade a spade. I’m not going go along with someone’s lamentations that they are “just not good at languages”, if they are trying to push me on the subject. Unless someone’s autistic, or has some other concrete reason that impedes their capacity for language acquisition, they are just not trying hard enough. And that’s totally fine. There are things that I’m crap at, often due to a lack of effort. But don’t complain about it in a way that makes it seem like you’re ‘missing the gene’.
      Thanks for chipping in πŸ™‚

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      1. bevchen

        We had sets with 2 different sized set squares (the triangle part), a protractor (the semi-circle thing – on your picture it’s integrated into the set square) and a compass (the kind for drawing circles, not checking directions).

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  12. Every Day Adventures in Asia

    Gotta be one of your best posts yet! Every single point just went ‘Ping!’ and ‘Batta bing!’ with a few ‘Damn straight’ thrown in for good measure.

    Just a few days ago, I’d been asked to ‘counsel’ a young Canadian woman thinking of moving to India to get into acting. So I asked, “How’s your Hindi? Or another language?” To which I hear the breezy blythe response of “none” with her boyfriend piping in “Oh but she’s good with languages and will pick it up!”

    My jaw dropped… incredulity clearly visibly manifest on my face screaming a silent but loud “She’s gotta to be frigging kidding, right??”

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  13. Pingback: “You Just Pick It Up!” | Rachel's Ramblings

  14. Pingback: Urban Language Myths: “You Just Pick It Up!” | Every day adventures in Asia (mostly)

  15. Anna

    I still remember how easy learning English was. Spanish, too. Then French – HELL AND NIGHTMARES AND TORTURE! Even though I started it before Spanish. I want my brain to switch back to that ‘learning English mode.’ Alas, that’s unlikely, so I am considering enrolling in the advanced Spanish course at the Cervantes institute here in Moscow.

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      1. Anna

        If I come to Toledo, it’s to eat, drink, and bed Spaniards.
        The Cervantes course here is intense – 12 weeks, either 5-hr weekly lessons, or 10 weeks, 3-hr semi-weekly lessons. Not sure that’s how I want to spend my mornings/weekends… but it WOULD make me feel good, plus it’s good for my job, too (we run a Spanish channel out of Moscow).

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  16. linnetmoss

    Sure you can “pick it up”–if you’re three years old. After that, the road just gets steeper and steeper. By the way, thank you for Michelangelo’s David. His Beauty is indescribable. Makes me want to learn Italian!

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      I don’t think you ‘pick it up’ at any age. Parents do a lot of correcting, and it takes kids five years until they can make anything resembling proper conversation. The big advantage they have is that they can learn to produce just about any sound at that age, which is hard (or even impossible) to do later on.
      Join me on Duolingo for Italian! We can be “friends” πŸ˜‰

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      1. linnetmoss

        Oh yes, re learning the sounds–some friends have a daughter whom they took to Italy when she was about 8, and she did struggle with the language, but her accent is amazing!
        I don’t know anything about Duolingo–I’ll have to check it out!

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      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        Its major flaw is the crappy speech synthesiser, but considering that it’s free and that it has many other good points, we can’t really complain.
        If you want to add me as a ‘friend’, my user name is SimoneBa. Just put that into the “search learners” field on the top right.

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      3. linnetmoss

        Ha! I just took the placement test and got several right, but then it said, “You did not test out of any skills.” So I get to start at Basics ; ) Probably for the best…

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      4. linnetmoss

        Thanks for the link. It looks like one of the better programs I’ve seen. Have you used Rosetta Stone? I have heard very little positive feedback about it, in spite of its market dominance.

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      5. ladyofthecakes Post author

        Well, I’ve heard mixed reports… I guess it’s good for giving you a grounding. It’s expensive as these things always are. I’ve never tried that one myself.

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  17. sandradan1

    Before we moved to Spain I did five years of weekly Spanish conversation classes in England, plus 2 hours 1-2-1 a week. We’ve been living here for five years now, and I know I still express myself as a child. We live in a wholly Spanish-speaking area so there’s no alternative [hence the classes], but I have to say everyone is hugely helpful and encouraging. What I have learned is that context is king. I’ve stopped worrying so much about grammar, about getting it ‘perfect’. It is, after all. about daily communication. Not an examination. And I’ve developed a great ‘campo’ accent! SD

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      I’ve no intention of taking any exams either πŸ˜‰
      But I do care about being articulate, about expressing nuances, not just getting a basic idea or desire across. I’m starting to get there now, but I guess that it’ll take me another two or three years until I’m vaguely happy with my level.
      Thanks for chipping in πŸ™‚

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  18. solberg73

    I just love the wit of your post. The points you make are indisputable, but you do it with charm.
    And to my mind, this quality’s mastery marks one of the graduation ceremonies of a language’s acquisition. to be funny. clever, sly, charming and referential.
    There are, of course lists of ‘hard-to-master tongues, ranked in order, for any number of reasons. The problem for Hebrew, where I spend 98% of my daily life, has got to be the absurdly deficient alphabet, with well-nigh indistinguishable characters and NO VOWELS.
    *stops before foaming at mouth*
    Israel did kinda lead in to adoption of drip irrigation, now that you mention it. Of course it was a product of observing that the grass always grows around joints in cheap second-rate hoses… and the rest is history. We call it ‘hash’ki’yah be’teef-toof’, by the way. ‘teef-toof’ for ‘drip’. So many of our words sound childish
    Once again bravo on your post, and your entertaining style.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      ‘Teef-toof’ – that is my favourite language factoid of the day! Of the year, probably πŸ˜‰
      A vowelless (is that a word?) script is a problem, I can totally see that. I think Arabic is dogged with that as well.
      ‘Hard to master’ tongues lists are a bit hit and miss. It very much depends what one’s native language happens to be, I’m sure you agree.
      Thanks for contributing to the discussion, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

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  19. britpref

    Personally, i think there are more factors involved such as Native language and age. The “Just pick it up” theory may be fine and dandy for a child before adolescence, if they are fully immersed in the culture. Although, even then, it will require work and effort to strive to catch up to peers and in the area of the target language literacy.

    Languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian are very similar, full of cognates. The “pick it up” theory may be more applicable for vocabulary and perhaps some basic grammatical structures. The same could apply for Belusian and Russian since their languages are very similar. I do agree, although these factors could make it easier to grasp and learn a language, hard work and effort is still needed to advance beyond a basic, everyday level.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      ‘sactly πŸ˜‰
      But it’s a strenuous learning process for a young child, too. Parents correct them constantly. As do teachers. And for closely related languages, you get a lot of interference. When I try to speak Portuguese, Spanish comes out half the time… although it’s nice to look at a text in Portuguese and almost understand all of it, despite being, technically, a “beginner”.

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  20. TBM

    Why is the left leg of the puppet so difficult? Personally, I struggle with my right leg. It’s always complaining–maybe because I’ve broken its kneecap, torn some cartilage, popped the bursa, and torn the meniscus. Personally, I think it’s being a baby and should just cooperate.

    As for learning a new language, I do believe it’s possible to pick up certain phrases, usually the ones you don’t learn in school. While these might be useful in certain situations, they could also get you in trouble. This reminds me that I need to listen to my lessons. Because the simple truth is, you are right (it pains me to write this). It takes work and dedication.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      You have work and dedication for other things (you’ve written at least two books, as far as I know!). I guess we spend our dedication energy on the things that matter to us most.

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  21. barbedwords

    Yep, definitely agree with everything you’ve said. I’ve tried the ‘just pick it up’ method and I’ve tried the 1-2-1 lessons method and I know which one works best! Sadly, my Italian language skills are still pretty lame but I can order a cappuccino like a local πŸ˜‰

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  22. expatlingo

    I just skimmed this post because I’m dedicated to getting in the 10,000 hours of Chinese study necessary to master it (or to master any skill according to Malcom Gladwell). But whoa, did I understand correctly that I can simply learn Chinese by passing through someone’s bodily fluids?

    Actually I read the whole post through. You are so right.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      LOL, I love Malcom Gladwell πŸ˜‰ Not sure he quite thought this through… Chinese in just 10,000 hours, now wouldn’t that be grand!

      I tried the bodily fluids shortcut. Quite useful. I can now ask for thrush cream in the pharmacy.

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      1. expatlingo

        Snort. I just had this very conversation with a lovely female pharmacist here in Hong Kong.

        Using Gladwell’s rule, and assuming I’ve gotten in a generous average of 10 hours/week of dedicated study for 4 out of the 8 years I’ve been living abroad, it will only take me 11.23 more years to master Chinese.

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      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        I see you’ve done your numbers πŸ™‚ Well, doesn’t sound wildly unrealistic that you might be able to achieve a pretty good level by then…

        “Fluent in 3 Months” vs. “Learn Mandarin in 15.23 years” – I wonder what’ll sell better…

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  23. restlessjo

    Ok, I admit it! I wimped out of “Portudog” or whatever it was called? I might go back to it someday, but till I’m nearer to being a resident I don’t have the time. More crucially I don’t have the dogged determination, which is what it takes. I’m just a happy camper πŸ™‚

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  25. The Wanderlust Gene

    It’s all so interesting. When I started reading, I thought yeah, people say that, and others believe it because they ‘picked’ up enough words to order food or a room or a bus ticket when they were on holiday. Then I thought of my own efforts at trying to ‘pick’ up Sinhala, when I first went to live in Sri Lanka. I can say that that experiment corroborates your thesis, full stop.

    Fluency is interesting in itself. One day a friend, telling me about going to do battle with the tax office, I think it was, mentioned that she took xxx along with her. When I questioned her choice of companion she said it was one thing speaking Sinhala all her life – running a business in the language – and quite another to be master of the nuances necessary to conduct arguments that could potentially affect her business or life in a material way. For her, Sinhala was her second language. She learned it alongside English, Malay and Tamil, in the home, but it was English in which she was educated, and though she ‘took’ Sinhala at school, she never became ‘fluent’ at reading it and still wrote ‘like a child’. And that’s interesting too: when I had learned enough Sinhala akaru to be able to read words, and write them, my pronunciation and facility improved exponentially – it was amazing.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Legal and technical terminology can pose a hurdle, even to native speakers. Best to get help from someone who has specialist expertise, I quite agree. I was able to do all the tax stuff in the UK by myself, but I have an accountant here in Spain.

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  26. Nick

    Wow! This blog post is absolutely on point – incredibly well written and poignant. The line about “Prison Break re-runs” also really had me laughing hard! And I enjoyed the pictures of Japanese puppets, they looked kinda cool too πŸ™‚

    On a more relevant note about language learning myths, it frustrates me to no end that people mistakenly assume that living in a country automatically means you will be able to magically speak the local language.

    If you think about how we acquire our native language, there is no rigid schedule on what we should be able to say and when. Even the famous “first word” we speak is not ubiquitous, it is entirely dependent on your unique circumstances. Isn’t it crazy that people think that this should change as we develop our voice within a foreign language?

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  28. babelclaire

    So true. I’ve noticed over my years of teaching languages that dedication is the single most important determiner of how someone does as a whole. I have one student with an amazing natural accent (and a foundation in French – which is helpful for learning Spanish) but she has never got very far because, despite great intentions and constant “new leaves”, she has never really worked at it – over years. It’s frustrating for everyone – I can only lead her to the water – the rest is up to her. Others might not have such obvious “talent” but with hard work they get there – faster than she has. Maybe a tortoise/hare scenario…

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Aw, an amazing natural talent would be nice… I’m finding it harder and harder to retain things, even after hearing them repeatedly. My Portuguese teacher despairs πŸ˜‰
      Thanks for chipping in!

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  29. adamf2011

    I think that you can “pick up” language from normal, everyday situations if you already understand quite a bit — you need to have some level of understanding to get your foot in the door. Also, having a “sympathetic” native to speak with helps — i.e., someone who will go out of their way to help you understand what they’re saying by explaining, rephrasing, or using simpler language or nonverbal communication, when they see that you’re not understanding what they’re saying.

    But if you’re a complete beginner or have a fairly low level of understanding, I think it can be very hard to just “pick up” the language from things like watching TV, listening to native speakers converse amongst themselves, or speaking with someone who makes no concessions to your linguistic deficiencies and instead treats you as a fully fluent native speaker.

    Well, that’s my experience (and my quarter-baked theory) so far.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      I agree, this is why I recruited dozens of language exchange partners when I first moved to Spain, in addition to proper lessons. It’s just that trained teachers are better at explaining the concepts, coz that’s what they do for a living.

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