Rant on Language Learning

John Kuhn
3 min readApr 25, 2023
“Photo realistic tower of babel” by DALL-E

While I’m nothing even close to being considered a robust language learner, I achieved a conversational speaking ability in Swedish while living in Sweden, and I am fluent in Spanish. My Spanish speaking ability is usually rated as an 8/10 by native speakers.

I’m certainly no smarter than anyone else when it comes to language learning. What sets me apart is my unabashed willingness to reject conventional advice.

Second languages aren’t hard

This is my hot take. As humans we’re actually quite gifted when it comes to language learning, and many folks in Europe speak multiple languages at ease. The chief challenge when it comes to language learning is sourcing material in the target language you enjoy. Funny enough this is why I’ve forgotten Swedish now living out of the country. There exists little Swedish content because of the Swedes’ proficiency in English.

Language learning is almost all input. A-ha moments can occur almost subconsciously if surrounded by enough content. This is assuming you have the volition for learning of course.

American’s usually only speak English because we dominate the world in content. This is often why you hear this crazy notion that you “have to live in another country to really learn the language”.

We default to assuming difficulty

I’m suspicious that since we’re usually not surrounded by bilinguists we as Americans have a tendency to infer difficulty. It’s as if we map infrequency to difficulty. Few NBA players exist, therefore it’s hard to play in the NBA. Few multi-linguists exist, therefore it’s hard to speak multiple languages. But of course this previous sentence doesn’t logically follow.

All advice is bad

I’ve noticed a weird trend. I’m now learning Mandarin and everyone wants me to go through the same pain they did. I’ve gone through the ringer enough to know what I need to do to actually learn a language (can make a separate post if folks are interested), but everyone insists on their objectively bad strategy.

For instance, most are impressed that I can string together simple phrases after 4 weeks of practice, and people are wowed by my pronunciation; however, they are immediately made upset when they find out I’m not learning the characters or writing system.

I don’t care about grammar. I don’t care about rules. I just wanna talk and listen.

They are simultaneously impressed with my progress and have a strong opinion that what I’m doing is wrong.

Second languages are a metaphor

Truth is in all aspects of life, everyone has an opinion on how you should be doing something, and they are invariably wrong in 99% of cases. Fact is, everyone is different and no one has the context you do on your situation, learning style, preferences, and experiences.

Most things are achievable if you believe they are. Sorry to end on such a Tony Robbins note, but it’s true.

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