The Number One Rule For Learning A Foreign Language

Here at Return of Kings, the topic of learning a language has been a component of many interesting stories, as well as the focus of numerous articles. In particular, the direct benefits to men of learning a foreign language and how it affects their game should at least get you thinking about taking on a second (or third) language.

You’ll also find specific entries on how to master the process of self-study: here, here, and here.

I have found these articles to be helpful and personally motivating in my own quest to add to my “notch count” of languages learned. The information is both thorough and accurate, so far as I can tell.

Yet there is one thing that I believe deserves mention, a problem among language learners that needs to be addressed.

Over 6,000 languages on this planet.  What's your excuse for knowing only one?

Over 6,000 languages on this planet. What’s your excuse for knowing only one?

The Problem

About a decade ago, I started my own language tutoring business in college in order to help my lost classmates, and I’m about to finish my fourth year as an actual language teacher.

I’ve seen all levels of interest and different types of work ethic over the years, and the number one obstacle I’ve noticed in my students and clients is that they allow their own fears and weaknesses to undermine the learning process.

My favorite client (I’m allowed to have one) was a guy who sought me out during his second semester of beginner’s Spanish and utilized my services to the point where he was writing an essay for a junior-level Spanish about his recent trip to Buenos Aires.

He was one of my best learners, because he chose to follow a simple rule for successful language learning. It’s the same rule I adopted for myself when I started learning Spanish and the one I currently follow in my pursuit of Russian.

If you want to be successful at learning a second language, I recommend you absorb this rule into your psyche and live by it:

Don’t be a pussy.

Leave weak minds alone!

Leave weak minds alone!

The Solution

Seriously, stop complaining about it being too hard or too complicated. Stop acting shy and hesitant when talking to native speakers. Stop sitting on your ass awaiting the perfect opportunity when you could be creating your own opportunity.

Don’t use translator services as a crutch. (and the app) has its place every now and then. Other than that, if you use online translators you are a fucking fraud.

Avoid English (or your native language) at all costs in the learning environment. If you have to speak your own language in the context of a new language, then you aren’t serious about learning. Don’t poison the well for others.

Talk to real people who speak the language as much as you can, and listen to them. As stated above, don’t be shy about it. If people laugh, and you feel embarrassed, well there you go being a pussy again. Don’t.

Find a restaurant frequented by people who speak what you’re learning, and become a regular there.

Find a store or any kind of business where you can immerse yourself in the culture.

Volunteer for the community of people who speak the language.

Seek out and attend events. If you have real cojones and any amount of organizational skills, then host your own event and give the proceeds to the community of native speakers. Easier said than done, I know, but hey–don’t be a pussy.

In case you didn’t get the common thread of the five previous points, allow me to summarize:

Learn some social skills.

Hire a tutor. It’s money well spent. For cost of a night out at the bar you could be getting a full hour of individual attention from a native speaker. I have my own weekly tutor.

She’s honest with me about my pronunciation, and she teaches me tailor-made sentences that have already helped me meet native speakers in my city. Obviously, canned phrases will only get you so far, but knowing how to say something specific about yourself builds confidence.

There can be only one

You have to be your own motivator if you actually want to learn a foreign language. High school instruction isn’t going to do it for you, but it’s a start. A college education isn’t going to do it for you, but it certainly helps. Tutors won’t do it for you, but they’re worth the investment. Even traveling or studying abroad won’t do it for you, but if you approach it with the right attitude you’ll come back a different person.

Learning a language is not easy, but neither is anything worth doing in life.

Use your creative mind, and find a solution that works for you. Seek out or create your own opportunities to immerse yourself in a new culture. If you take this on, it is going to require EFFORT, and it is going to involve FAILURE, two things young people these days are too quick to avoid.

If you suffer from being a pussy in general and not just in regards to learning something that adds value to your life, here are not one, not two, but three motivational pieces you might find beneficial.

Read More: Learning A Language Is The Ultimate Act Of Self-Improvement

32 thoughts on “The Number One Rule For Learning A Foreign Language”

  1. “Don’t be a pussy”
    I like that one. If you want to learn a foreign language, complaining about how hard the language is, isn’t going to work. There is always a difficult feature in every single language. Giving up on one and moving on to another is useless because later you’ll find out and say the language is hard to learn because of x, y, and z. If you’re passionate about a language, stick to that language. Of course, some languages are harder to learn than other languages depending on your native tongue but it still is not impossible to learn it. I know people whose native tongue is Chinese and for them, English is not an easy language for them to learn. But it didn’t stop from learning it. It also helps to practice the language and watch movies where the characters in it speak the language you’re trying to learn.

  2. I just changed my major to Spanish translation after wasting two years in college taking pointless classes. Unlike the other classes I’ve taken, I’ve found that it’s definitely something that I enjoy learning, and having a knack for grammar helps tenfold. It’s a skill, and the last thing I want is to be one out of the hundreds of thousands of students getting a pointless communications degree. According to what I’ve researched, there are jobs out there, and if all else fails, I can always resort to teaching Spanish. If I stay on track then I should graduate in two years (when I’m 25). Oh, and I’m also taking personal finance classes, since high school teaches you everything about the pythagorean theorem but leaves out important things that you’ll actually use, like how to build credit, buy a house, get a job, etc…

  3. Learning a foreign language is a key skill that is valuable in not only pulling women, but also in the labor market.
    As an individual who can speak multiple languages, I cannot emphasise on how much this has helped me to gain an edge in the employment market. It is a useful skill that can help you to become a better candidate (especially in this competitive job market) and more importantly, it is a skill that one can proudly acknowledge as a true accomplishment. When people can see you can speak a foreign language, it helps to display you as individual with a broader mindset and someone who is not culturally ignorant, but rather, as an individual who is willing to learn something outside their comfort zone.
    With the internet, library, audiotapes and textbooks at your disposal, learning a foreign language is something that should be pursued with great intent. We are now living in a day and age where in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and London, learning and being able to speak a foreign language, is an essential skill and can prove to be fruitful for a time when you need it.

  4. One benefit to learning a foreign language (in my case it is Polish), and you live in an area where no one speaks/understands it, is that you can put a smile on your face and say anything to anyone. Anything… (evil laugh). Not only can it increase your market value, it usually gets ’em wondering/thinking what you just said to them.

  5. Great advice. I’ve learned three languages in my lifetime, two of them were a given. I have a total of five (may be seven for Python and R? lol) languages under my belt. I am in the process of learning a new one for my new position.
    “If you take this on, it is going to require EFFORT, and it is going to involve FAILURE, two things young people these days are too quick to avoid.”
    Effort and failure are key in improving in any language. You can immerse yourself as much as you want by listening to music, watching movies in that language; however, when you start to express yourself, people might chuckle at you. Nevertheless, perseverance would be another word to add. If you let those smears detract you from your efforts, failure is already assured.

  6. Many good points.
    “If people laugh, and you feel embarrassed, well there you go being a pussy again.” This, I have long believed, is a major reason why people so often fail at learning languages in classrooms, particularly among the young. If you pronounce it right, you sound weird and your peers make fun of you. If you pronounce it wrong, the teacher says so and everybody knows that you’ve failed. Catch-22.
    Also, most programs lead you through a learning curve that is just too slow. Our brain, and tolerance for boredom, just cannot learn the basics of a language through dozens of lessons scattered across half a dozen years at intervals of a couple of days a week.
    It is very important to realize that a language is not just a cheat sheet of words – there is a whole culture, a history and a worldview that go with it. Ignoring those actually makes the process of learning the language unbearably tasteless. A lot of people start learning a language and a decade later they still feel that all those impossible-to-remember unpronounceable words are something that only weird foreigners say. It never occurs to them to embraced it, to become part of that culture, and to integrate that into their real lives.

    1. The best philosophy to have is knowing that YOU WILL sound like an idiot initially. But most people love idiots as long as they are friendly. As long as your tonality, body language, and intention are all positive most people will receive you well. Even if not, DGAF always prevails.

    2. (It is very important to realize that a language is not just a cheat sheet of words – there is a whole culture, a history and a worldview that go with it. Ignoring those actually makes the process of learning the language unbearably tasteless. A lot of people start learning a language and a decade later they still feel that all those impossible-to-remember unpronounceable words are something that only weird foreigners say. It never occurs to them to embraced it, to become part of that culture, and to integrate that into their real lives )
      ^^This. The part about getting with the culture. You nailed it.
      Learning Mandarin years ago helped me empathize with why a monolingual Mandarin speaker would have trouble using our English word order when asking questions in English.
      Learning Spanish a while ago helped me notice the similarities in adjective-noun order used in Borneo Malay which i learnt as a kid.
      I have some Dutch ancestry but unfortunately don’t speak a single word of that, though 😮

  7. Time is short so it matters. Learning a language for the sake of knowing another language is a waste of time. It would mean something valid if this article was in German, or Chinese or Portuguese, because it would benefit people who speak only those languages to learn English The Language of Business.
    It’s better to learn your own English language at a higher academic level then know additional languages, otherwise you are lost in linguistic mediocrity.
    If you must learn a second language for any reason, then submersion is the best approach.

    1. What exactly do you mean by learning English “at a higher academic level”?
      Learning vocabulary and grammar that no one ever really uses?

      1. Not talk in text-speak or idiotic internet vernacular (“Welp”, “Derp”, “Yiss”, or anything else these millennial morons that will hand our asses to The Chinese and Russians down the road spew forth) and sound like an actual person who is well read and versed in the universe. Doesn’t take much, and with information flowing so freely everywhere you can become this way by simply screensucking Wikipedia for articles you find interesting.

  8. In terms of employability in North America, which languages do you guys think are the most useful to learn?
    What about in piquing the intrigue of cute girls?

    1. Most likely Spanish. There’s the proper Spanish and there is the Spanish spoken here in S. California.
      Forget about trying to impress some dumb cunt with your foreign language. Learn it to make YOU a better man. Dumb bitches will be impressed when you’re not trying to impress them.

    2. Spanish and Russian. Although I am limited in both, a word here and there can make a native speaking woman smile and blush. After that one can usually switch to English, but an understanding and conversational level can open many doors in the world.

    3. I have a friend who did Mandarin. The Chinese are highly impressed with Americans who speak mandarin. And the women throw themselves at you harder than ever.

      1. That sounds like a good bet actually.
        Can set you apart and let you hit a less tapped market.
        Thanks for the anecdote.

        1. My friend at university learned basic conversational Mandarin through roommates and is over in China on an internship with a financial services company. In just over a month, he’s had numerous full-time job offers, dates with models, gets cold approached in public all the time because they love the fact he can speak a little of their language.

        2. Mandarin would be a great choice. Easier than English in some ways actually once you delve a bit deeper into the grammatical structure. There’s a weird beautiful logic about it, especially with number formations, naming the days of the week & the months & asking & answering questions.

        3. Make sure you learn traditional characters and not simplified characters. I use a combination of pimsleur, rosetta stone and chinese girls. Get them to take you to a chinese store and teach you some recipes, well worth it! If there’s a Falun Gong meditation class in your city you should go, it’s free and they’re friendly, they sometimes have lion dance and drumming groups.

  9. I’m tooting my own horn here. 2 years ago I did a 4 week intensive audio course in french before going to Paris. There I met an American masters degree in french student. I hung out with her during my stay. She helped wing me. One night she said that she knows people who have studied french for many years, and that I was the most fearless person she ever met in terms of speaking French to French people. It’s an awesome thing to comport yourself in a way that communicates that you belong. it’s how I got my flags in south america. “You are like a Brazilian!”

  10. a lot of people think you have to be smart to learn a foreign language. it’s a lot more about persistence and discipline. more like getting in shape than, say, being able to understand higher mathematics or be a great programmer. i know those things take a lot of work too, but some people probably just lack the intelligence to learn them well. anyone can learn a foreign language if they are willing to do the work.

  11. Foreign language is not taught reasonably in high school or college. Your goal should be able to communicate maximally in a minimum of time, so common phrases, a list of the 500 most used words are key. Learn to speak first, its more natural(as you did when you were a child) than learning to write.

  12. Classrooms are not enough. You are NOT serıous about learnıng a language ıf you have not 1) Spent a mınımum of 5 weeks a year vacationing/traveling/working or volunteering in a country where this language is spoken; 2) Actively pursued both platonic and romantic relationships wıth native speakers of this language 3) Occasionally purchased newspapers and books wrıtten in the language, watched and purchased/downloaded films & documentaries,and most importantly MUSIC sung in that language – and basically kept abreast of the economıc/political/cultural news of the regıons where the language is spoken. Personally, I have been doing my best maintain all of the above for French, Spanish, Arabic and Turkish for 15 years. If these thıngs I have lısted ıs “too much” for you, honestly, you are just screwıng around.

  13. I think the best rule is to go to the country of the language you want to learn: only there you can pick up the language faster than any other method. Audiotapes, language programs, grammar books, lessons are cheap methods just to introduce to the language, to get aware of certain grammar structures and rules, but they do not make you fluent in that language. Some say it takes 10000 hours of practice to become proficient in a certain skill: as for the language acquisition, I think one needs to live at least 10000 hours in that country to become realistically able to speak well (it depends also on the language).

  14. Who cares if they laugh at your attempt to speak “their” language? They came to this country and I guarantee you anybody assholish to do that speaks English in a manner that you say is “funny” right back to their face. I do this when they laugh at my attempts to speak my native language with them, since I’m not completely fluent in it but can speak it extremely proficient.
    I can’t think of any language off of the top of my head that has the “Th” sound in it other than English, Arabic and Greek (not Latin languages, not Slavic languages, not Iranian languages or Turkic languages…), so hearing most immigrants substitute a “D” or “T” for it is often comical. “Vat de fuck?”

  15. Find a martial arts club, boxing usually has the best environment. Alot of times people sit around and talk shit/train all day long. It’s a great way to get into shape and learn a language at the same time. Chances are you’ll be exposed to more than one language too.

  16. Stay tuned for next week’s astonishing, groundbreaking ROK article, entitled: “The Number One Rule For Learning About a Foreign Culture – Travel to the country!”

  17. True. I am on year two of using a personal trainer and attending foreign language dinners. I’m no pussy. I rock at a second language. And I’m over 40.

Comments are closed.