I’ve been studying Vietnamese for over 3 years. I’m far from fluent. But I am conversant – mainly with cute girls, obviously.
Learning a new language was not easy . In fact, after French, Spanish, German, and Russian, this is my 5th attempt at learning a language. It’s not something I’m naturally good at.
It’s strange to say, but my educational background didn’t help me learn Vietnamese at all.
In university, I studied history and philosophy. In English, I was accustomed to utilizing million dollar words to explicate ideas in unnecessary detail. In short, part of my identity was built around sounding smart (far past the point of pretension).
In order to seriously study Vietnamese, that had to come to an end. Trying to sound intelligent was an impossible and unhelpful goal. I had to learn to be comfortable sounding stupid.
Of course, I also had to be willing to fail. I had to allow myself to make mistakes, and sometimes quite embarrassing ones.
This hit home today.
I was listening to some students practicing English. They were in 7th grade, or 13 years old. They were getting to the age when the start to care a lot more what their peers think. They are, in effect, beginning to give a lot more fucks about social acceptance. It’s one of the great but necessary tragedies of growing up.
Compared to a native English speaker of the same age, all of these kids sounded retarded: messed up pronunciation, wrong grammar, you name it. Some of the kids were hopeless and will never learn English. Imo, that’s ok. Expecting that every child learn a foreign language isn’t realistic (or even practical).
But in the context of English as a foreign language, some other students were actually quite proficient. In fact for 7th graders, a few had skills which were remarkable.
So while conversing with them all, I asked myself what beyond the obvious separated the students of into divergent levels of language acquisition. How did they approach speaking English differently?
As I listened, one thing stood out.
The students who excelled in English we’re not only more willing to make mistakes, they were willing to bullshit. They would try something and just see if it worked. They were less likely to say “I don’t know,” but they would try to say something just to see if they might be right. They would try to explain even if they didn’t have all the words. Often, they would even speak confidently, while slyly checking my expressions for clues as to how well they were doing.
So take it for what it is. Learning often comes down to a willingness to make mistakes and a certain creativity in doing so. This is true of learning to speak a foreign language and most other challenging skills.
Be willing to bullshit on occasion, to fake it till you make it, and to act the part of the man you want to be. Also take the feedback that the world is constantly offering you.
Whatever you do, don’t fail to fail.