Ignorant Friends: the Secret to Your Success Posted by on Jun 29, 2015 in Archived Posts

Itchy Feet: Blissful Ignorance

Disclaimer: everything that follows is terrible advice.

If you’ve followed the Transparent Language blog for any good amount of time, you’ll know there are lots and lots and lots of articles on how to improve your language-learning, how to get over the fear of speaking new languages, and what it takes to get better. But actual self-improvement is only half the battle. As I’m sure some expert somewhere has said at some point, success is 1% work, 99% image.

That’s why whenever I want to get good at something, I do a little bit of work, and then surround myself with people who are terrible at it. If success is recognition from your peers, you just need peers who are dumb as bricks.

Take exercise. I’m no good at it. I get tired and hungry and can think of a hundred other things I’d prefer to be doing than running or jumping rope or doing push-ups. However, I like feeling healthy, so whenever I go for a jog or play some tennis or ride my bike, I pick as my partner someone more out of shape than I am. That way, even when running at a below-average pace, I can feel like a champion compared to my poor, wheezing mate.

Or how about chess? I’ve always wanted to be good at it, but I almost always lose, and losing is not very successful, is it? That’s why I usually play against small children, who are very easy to beat. Since they’re so new to the game, they also generally don’t notice if you cheat, which is an added bonus. Being a champion against those smaller than you is still being a champion.

And, of course, this applies to language learning. When my friends or family from out of town come to visit me in Berlin, I bask in their admiration when ordering “zwei Biere, bitte” or asking “wo sind die Toilette?” Nothing makes you feel like more of a success than winning the esteem of loved ones who don’t know any better. One problem is that I live in Germany, and am constantly surrounded by experts who remind me that I am not the five-star success champion I want to be. If you’re in a similar situation, I recommend you do what I do: only make friends with expats who refuse or are unable to learn the language. As an American this is surprisingly easy. And if you ever meet a local—do NOT engage them in their language. Instead, pull the emergency lever: start talking at them in your native language, in which you are an actual, bona fide expert, and which they are likely not. Once more, you’ll feel like a champion!

Disclaimer: all of the above is terrible advice. You shouldn’t compare yourself to those worse than you but rather those better. Strive to be the best you can be, shoot for the stars, etc, etc, etc…you know I’m right.

Keep learning a language with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: Malachi Rempen

Malachi Rempen is an American filmmaker, author, photographer, and cartoonist. Born in Switzerland, raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he fled Los Angeles after film school and expatted it in France, Morocco, Italy, and now Berlin, Germany, where he lives with his Italian wife and German cat. "Itchy Feet" is his weekly cartoon chronicle of travel, language learning, and life as an expat.


  1. Mike:

    Unfortunately, your tongue-in-cheek advice is how some people try to succeed in life, not just in language learning.

    One additional comment: I believe the more accepted way to refer to your activity with the jump rope is “jumping rope,” not “jump-roping.” Compare “doing pushups” with “pushuping.” I know because I used jump-roping in a speech competition years ago and was corrected and marked down for it. 🙁

    Thanks for the blog.

    • Malachi Rempen:

      @Mike Uh-oh, now the teacher that marked you down is marking me down, through you! Aghhhhh!

      Actually, thanks. I’ll fix it.

  2. Dash:

    It’s best not to compare yourself to anyone but yourself.

    Compare and despair.

Leave a comment: