*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Learn languages young, because people are boring.

Learn languages young, because people are too fucking boring to bear once you have any judgment: advice I never got.

Learning languages to be able to communicate with a people is the province of naive youth.  Most people suck, in your own language and in others'.  Once you have the judgment of adulthood, if you do, you narrow who you spend time with, because everyone else is a waste of time for you.  Categorize your friends right now.  How many are not: your class, your gender, your race, are interested in your hobbies, do the same work as you.  Sure, few friends match all of these, but I bet they all match three of the five.  You could add more categories (politics, religion...) but the point is that your friends match the majority.

Remember youth when you could spend hours talking shit with anyone who'd listen to you; when, in fact, that is all you did with your time in high school and in college?  That was the time to talk in a second language to build your vocabulary and fluency.  It's too late now.  Sure, the mind is more elastic when you are younger, especially with language, but my guess is that the more relevant factor is the sheer amount of language input and output that young people do.  After all, which ESL students have you seen progress most quickly?  The ones who won't shut up, not the wall-flowers; the Brazilians, not the Japanese; the women, not the men...

It's the ten-thousand hours of practice meme (despise Gladwell, but it's a useful meme): whatever latent abilities you do, or do not, have, the more practice you get the better you will become, and more quickly.  There is just about no way you can recreate the amount of free time yourself, much less from others your adult age, that you had when you were much younger; nor can you recreate the oral/aurally intense environment of schooling and socializing.  You need to work, and will only be paid anything decent when working in your own language, and adults do not go out of their way looking for friendships with people they cannot communicate with so you can practice their language with them.  However, you're an English speaker reading a text-rich blog: good luck finding educated, interesting people who do not speak English better than you speak their language.  It happens, but not often.  You'll be speaking in English, or you'll be speaking with uninteresting people most often.

You still want to learn fluent conversational Japanese, or whatever language?  Three words:

       fuck - romantic relationship(s) in only the target language
      drink - your alcohol loosened tongue and their alcohol lubricated patience with your ineptitude
      play - a shared interest or hobby with target language speakers so there is some reason for them
       to tolerate the tediousness of communicating with you

All of these are much less available if you are married, have children, and/or are recovering from addiction or bad relationships.  Sounds like adulthood to me.

You can learn to read and write without social interactions, if you want to know the language like the Japanese know English...


  1. At my local station, across the tracks from the platform, I once saw a poster advertising a 話し方教室. I guess it would be best called a 'communication school' in English. Anyway, I liked the idea of a place that teaches Japanese people to communicate better in their own language. Plenty of people where I'm from could use such a school. And, if more of the English students I taught back then had actually attended a Japanese communication school, they'd have probably been a lot more successful with English.

    1. Hadn't even considered that. Good point.

      Many Japanese have no clue how to interact like a human even in their own tongue, probably because they were pressured to do nothing but study during their socially formative years, or had been the subject of intense bullying, or made a choice of their own to become 'otaku' (glad I am taking my kids out of here in a year!). Reinforces the experience had by those of us who've taught ESL that more schooling has nothing to do with more English competence: often the contrary.

  2. Some of the most fascinating stories I've heard have come out at the most unexpected times. One of them I just recalled I'd intended to write on my blog before letting the fat lady do her thing.

    There are people who are good to talk with and there are people who are good to do things with. I've found that a number of the folks who I've learned the most from through conversation are royal c--ts to work with. Balance and a lot of wide open space helps.

    Father-in-law is great to talk to, so wise and caring, but sit down for a game of Mahjong and you'll be looking for a window or a blunt object. His presence at the table is a last resort when the tiles come out 'cause he loves to rub it in everyone's face. "Hurry up. Oh, you idiot!" and "Bet you wanted this!" are some of the more polite phrases he enjoys using. Guess that's family for you.

  3. Your teenage years must have been way different to mine. I never talked to anyone, except maybe 2-3 friends. Have you ever seen Daria? That was me. I'd have never learnt a second language then - actually I used to hide in the toilets to avoid French class.

    1. I was far from popular too (don't think those kids keep blogs...); however, all I did with my few friends was talk, talk, talk.

  4. I speak one language and I teach it in another country and it has never ever been a problem. I got a Self sponsored Visa because of a large bank account and a good lawyer and that is after having a Visa revoked once. If I had a dollar for every kanji studying/get to know the Japanese way and it'll help you____..who would kill to switch their Visa which slaves them to a Employer they loathe...or a wife....they loathe...I'd be rich(er).

    Come to another country and water down your greatest asset...buncha geniuses deserve every fucking moment of misery they get.

  5. I know this " the Brazilians, not the Japanese" for a fact! I have hosted both exchange students. And I kid you not before the Brazilian packed his bags and went back to Uberlandia, he had a pretty good grap on local colloquialisms and could even crack some pretty good jokes. As for my Japanese students (I have hosted 3; 2 female and 1 male.) It was not the same... perhaps the age difference? Nah, the one from Brazil was not so much a Chatty Cathy as much as he had a voice. If he wanted to do something he asked. If he didn't like something, he said so. That was not the case with my Japanese kids, it was like pulling teeth sometimes to find out what they wanted to do for fun. :/

    As for learning other languages, I am lucky my sister has as much interest in languages as I do. We both practiced our conversations in German before leaving (both sober and not; states of learning and all that jazz).

    I never did understand how kids could spend 2 hours on the phone after spending a day at school with the same person they are gabbing with. Probably why I didn't have too many friends; cut conversations off before they wasted too much time. Man, I musta come of as a total bitch.

    1. Ha. I have had a smartphone for about four months, and only last week figured out how to accept a call. I have had fewer than two calls a week I'd pick up, and I hadn't got around to reading the manual: have to drag the green icon rather than tap it, on a Galaxy III, FFS.

      Who talks on the phone, as an adult?