Becoming a Man of the World: How to Learn Another Language

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Imagine being able to blend in undetected in another country.

Imagine exchanging inside jokes at a foreign restaurant in another language.

Imagine being invited to a festival in the countryside on the other side of the planet, eating with a local family and having no need for an interpreter.

Sounds like something out of a Jason Bourne novel, doesn’t it? Fortunately, fiction this is not. Today, you’re going to learn how and why you should start learning a foreign language to become a better man. This information could save your life one day. Or at the very least it could make it way more interesting.

Your education starts now.

Why is that when we think of languages and language learning, we tend to think more of women? I used to be a translator and the vast majority of those in the industry of translation and interpretation are indeed women.

If you think back to school, you may remember the girls having a better knack for languages than the boys. It must be genetic, or have something to do with women’s better ability to communicate, right?

Hogwash! Men are excellent language learners, and there are ways we can use our manly differences to our advantage. The sad truth is that most of us don’t.

Many Famous Language Learners Were Men

The majority of the world’s most famous polyglots (someone who speaks multiple languages) throughout history were actually men. William James Sidis (1898–1944) estimated that he could speak more than forty languages. Harold Williams (1876–1928), a New Zealand journalist is said to have known 58 languages, including several dialects.

More recently, Pope John Paul II (1920–2005) used 9 of the 12 languages he had learned quite extensively during his time in the church, regularly giving Mass in these languages.

If there is a language gene reserved exclusively for ladies, someone forgot to tell these guys!

“Language-Talent” Is Used as an Excuse, Let It Go

I grew up with this same idea that foreign languages are for girls, but in recent years I am glad to say that I’ve learned to ignore such a useless de-motivator. Right now I can speak fluently and socialize actively and regularly in eight languages (and even know some American Sign Language). At the moment I’m learning yet another one and plan on speaking it at a confident conversational level in just two months. Crazy, right?

While you may be tempted to dismiss me and others as savants, irrelevant to your situation as an adult that may just speak one language, it’s important that you know in my case, I actually had to take speech therapy when I was younger for simple issues learning English (my mother tongue; I’m from Ireland). I actually did quite poorly in languages in school.

When I was 21 years old, I still only spoke English. The German level I had reached from years of schooling resulted in barely a pass in my final exams, and I was not able to use the language even when opportunities presented themselves. I later even managed to spend almost six months living in Spain without learning any Spanish.

So what changed?

I stopped making excuses, giving in to self-fulfilling prophecies (“I’m bad at languages, therefore what’s the point in even trying?”) and I started to be a man about this language learning thing. One day in Spain, I just swallowed my pride and started using the very little I knew actively until I had no choice but to improve quickly.

I took control of the situation, knew that I could do it, and was successful because of that.

The advice I want to give you today has nothing to do with studying right, or which books or software you should buy; instead, it’s about embracing your manliness and getting over lazy excuses that are the real reason you haven’t been able to learn a second language.

Speak It from Day One

Yes, from day one. I’m serious.

Stop planning the language into the ground and stop holding off until someday when your level is perfect. There are seven days in a week and someday isn’t one of them! You are ready whenever you decide you are.

Perfectionism will kill your ability to ever use a language. Don’t be afraid of a few mistakes; you really do need to speak it now if you are serious about making rapid progress.

But I only know five words! How can I speak now?

If you know five words then use them! Sprinkle gracias or s’il vous plaît or Buongiorno into your normal conversation. It’s a simple step, but it’s a very important one.

The Thousands of Words You Know Before You Even Start

Actually, you know way more than that, especially in European languages!

Due to centuries of Norman-French rule in England (starting in 1066), English received a huge influx of French vocabulary. This vocabulary also happens to be vastly the same or very similar in many other languages like Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, etc.

You see, in these centuries during the “Dark Ages,” the lower class would maintain their “Germanic” Olde English, while the noblemen and rulers would be speaking in something very related to French. Eventually this led to a single language, leading to modern English, where formal register would require the French-style words, and informal would use the older “original” English ones.

So if someone knocks on your door, you could say “come in,” or if you think about it, the more formal (somewhat pompous on occasion) way would be “enter.” This alternative is actually the way to say “to come in” in Romance languages (entrer, entrar, entrare).

Instead of saying you want to give someone a piece of your mind (a phrase used in informal register), you could think to share your opinion, perspective, or point of view. In French: point de vue, in Portuguese: perspectiva, in Italian: opinione. These cognates actually give you a dramatic boost in the language before you’ve even started!

You start off with literally thousands of words. It’s true that you have to get used to pronouncing them differently and recognizing them, but with some in-the-field practice this really becomes second nature.

If the language you are learning comes from some other language family, then rather than say you will be stumped, keep in mind that nowadays there are no impenetrable barriers, especially in languages. Most words for technology and the Internet, as well as brand names, truly are international. Nearly every language in the world says Internet, Facebook, Pepsi, etc. even if they might do it slightly differently.

Starting from absolute scratch is impossible. Find out the words you already know and then use them!

Next, Learn What You NEED, Not What the Grammar Book Says

So many of us have studied a language before, possibly even for years. The problem is that the academic approach is based on a black-and-white/right-or-wrong attitude. Every mistake is punished, rather than good attempts that get the job done being rewarded as they are in the real world.

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