The best trick for learning a foreign language

On my last post, Geoff posted a wonderful comment. Here’s a snippet from it:

And frankly, the personal notes about the more mundane aspects of language learning and dealing with its frustrations often provide more benefit, for the comfort they offer, than somebody’s neat new trick that’s a little too much like something from the omniscient language learning site.

This remark about “neat new tricks” really struck me. Why? Because for a long time, a large part of my language learning time was taken up (wasted, truthfully) looking for “tips and tricks” on how to learn a language, instead of actually working on learning the language itself. What was the best way to learn grammar? Vocabularly? Are there any tricks for doing it faster? Should I use flashcards or another method? Where should I get content to study? How may words do I need to know? So on and so forth.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with asking these questions, and even seeking out some answers for them. But one needs to realize quickly that you should ask these questions, get a decent idea of how to learn a language, and then get down to learning it. Because ultimately, there is no super trick, other than this: time. To learn a foreign language well, you have to put in time with it, and a lot of time.

Learning a foreign language can be likened to losing weight by exercising. You can know all of the concepts about a number of really great exercises – sit ups, push-ups, chin lifts – but when you get down to it, knowing about the exercises won’t make you lose weight. You have to spend time doing them to get the effects you want. Language is the same way; to learn one, you have to put your time in. Knowing all of the tricks in the world won’t help if you don’t spend time with your target language.

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