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“Welcome to the human condition. We tend to do that which is easiest, often to the neglect of that which is best.” –Thomas Oppong
The path of least resistance may be shorter, or simpler, or more fun. For the casual learning picking up a few phrases for a vacation, that’s probably good enough. But when it comes to learning a language in a more meaningful sense, promises of “fast, easy, and fun” should set off a warning bell. Acquiring a language doesn’t need to be an impossible, miserable marathon, of course, but it’s worth investing more time, more effort, and more serious commitment to achieve a higher level of proficiency.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Doing hard things helps us improve—from running sprints to lifting weights to having conversations with native speakers. Learning a language is all about putting yourself out there, stumbling over tricky pronunciations, talking in circles around words you can’t remember, and making other embarrassing mistakes. The path of least resistance might be to ask if someone speaks English, simply point to a menu item, or rely on Google Translate. But the more productive path would be to ignore those options and fumble your way through a conversation or food order until it gets easier the next time.
Stop looking for shortcuts.
You can’t learn a language in 10 days, or 30 days, or in any measurable amount of time. We are biologically wired to look for the easiest way to get something done, but a language isn’t something that can be “done.” Instead of looking for the easiest way, look for the most efficient way. In a formal classroom situation, we believe that’s DABL. For self-study, develop a solid routine of study, application, and review. Invest the time, be consistent, and take breaks when you need them, but don’t waste time looking for a magic bean solution.
Don’t play games.
We don’t literally mean games—playing games releases dopamine which can help you stay motivated when learning. That’s always a good thing in our book. But don’t always fall for what’s “fun.” Learning ridiculous phrases like “the bears have bicycles” is amusing, but it’s the easy way out. Logging in to an entertaining app every day doesn’t necessarily equate to meaningful progress. If you want to be able to use the language when you need it, learn the things that matter: correct pronunciation, tones, irregular verbs, medical vocabulary, whatever it may be that your field requires.
Take the words of Albert Einstein: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Stick with language learning for the long run and watch as you distance yourself from those who took the shorter, easier path.