But that’s just me.
Maybe for any other average joe out there, three months is more than enough time to master perhaps anything. I’m just lazy I guess. Or, could it be that we’re only now realizing that across the board, people of all walks of life who look differently, act differently, speak differently, do in fact, learn differently?
In institutionalized learning, this difference isn’t celebrated. I think that’s where it went all wrong for me. But regardless, here I am, decades removed from learning Spanish in high school, which I remember none of, and still wishing I paid closer attention to Mrs. Sebastio.
I also took Italian 1 & 2 in college, and I don’t remember shit. (Although I do vividly recall walking into my final exam for Italian and saying Hola to my teacher. The look on her face… I barely passed.)
Most recently I hopped on the Duolingo bandwagon, paid for the full caboose, and was doing 10–20 minutes a day for four months. Still nothing. It would seem I’m Teflon to foreign languages.
Is it an age thing? Am I too old to learn, am I past my prime? Am I considered “high-risk” because of my age (like I was when I was 35 and pregnant. Talk about feeling old — those docs have the market cornered on making you feel old.)
Looking for a new approach.
I’ve researched best practices on how to learn a new language and I believe things have changed in the last three decades when it comes to teaching, thank god.
For example, while flipping through Tim Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour Chef — which, by the way, is filled with insane amounts of random know-hows that are quite fascinating… want to know how to build the perfect fire, or want to know which eye is your dominant eye when it comes to shooting a basket? Just weird shit you didn’t see coming in a cookbook — I found advice on learning a new language. Random. But why not after reading about 24 skills you can master in 48 hours. (This book is worth a look through.)
Anyway, he suggests that to learn a new language, begin by learning the most common written and spoken words in your language of choice. He gives a list of the top 100 words for both because they’re different (who knew?). What an interesting starting point.
He also gives a short list of key phrases to help you understand how verbs conjugate, and to see if it’s worth the effort to proceed further. The more complicated, the more likely you’re going to throw your head into a wall. Pull it right off and slam it into a wall.
It’s also good to know if your desired language uses the same structure as your native language, i.e. English is subject, verb, object (SVO) whereas others are SOV. (Mind you, this thinking alone is nothing my brain or I have ever considered before.)
This way of approaching the language leans on the 80/20 philosophy of focusing on the powerful few that will reap the biggest rewards… or so the next time you order Cacio e Pepe it’ll just roll off the tongue. (If you're trying to learn Italian that is.)
This approach is the best shot I got at learning a language in three months. The only thing missing would be practicing with a fluent speaker which I believe is the one thing that can rocket launch you to success. Maybe I’ll start listening to an Italian radio station instead.
All in all, this gives me hope that not all is lost on me. At the very least I’m confident in three months' time I’ll be able to stroll into Casa Della Mozzarella on Arthur Ave and place my order with a little Italian flair. Because why not, life’s too short and it’s taken me long enough to learn a new language!
If you enjoyed this post, that’s awesome! My name is AM Costanzo and I write about how to improve your health and mental wellbeing through fitness… with the occasional life piece here and there. This is one of those!