7 Critical Life Lessons I Learned from Learning a New Language

In the last 9 weeks, I’ve been learning Spanish almost full time, and during this time, I’ve realized how interesting life really is.

At the moment I can understand Spanish very well and write well. The next few weeks I will be focusing almost entirely on improving my speech and becoming as fluent as possible.

What I have realized is that no matter what I do, as long as I do what I enjoy, I grow as a person.

During these last weeks, I’ve immersed myself in Spanish and dipped my toes in a few other languages. It’s been a lot of fun, but it has also opened my eyes in other areas of my life.

For example, I now have more confidence in English. I am more aware of the sounds of the English language, and I’m having a lot more fun speaking any language.

Everything you do has an impact on everything else. Nothing stands alone, and it doesn’t matter what you’re excited about, as long as you do what makes you bliss out.

The interesting part about all this is that it is impossible for me to know where my feelings will lead me, which is what adds just a little bit more spice to my life.

With that said, here are 7 lessons I’ve learned from learning a new language:

1. Creating Your Own Curriculum

To be completely honest, I took an intensive course in Spanish a few years ago, but it didn’t do much. Sure, I learned how to order beer and ask where the toilet is, but in the end, it wasn’t useful, and I ended up not speaking Spanish at all.

I didn’t want to learn Spanish the traditional way, because it simply takes too long and isn’t effective. I started thinking back to how I learned English when my age was in the single-digits.

I learned English through watching cartoons, movies and playing video games. Later I started reading books, chatting online and so on.

This gave me a clue as to how I was going to learn Spanish. At first, I started watching dubbed TV-series. As my vocabulary grew, I slowly started reading books and chatting online.

There are a lot of myths out there when it comes to language learning. It’s hard work to learn a language, but it’s fairly easy if you’re motivated and know what to do.

2. Destroying the Box

Learning a language isn’t just a fun challenge, it also gives you a lot of freedom. I can now move around in Spain and South America without having to rely on English.

Even though my Spanish is nowhere near perfect, I can comprehend and communicate without problems.

If you still believe learning a language is impossible, or that you can’t do it, it is just because no one has showed you how to do it properly.

Just because you failed at school doesn’t mean you’re lost forever. What happens in school has no bearing on what happens in real life.

3. Having Fun / Experimenting

Learning a language should be fun. If it isn’t, you’ll not be motivated enough to keep going when things get tough.

There really is no right way to learn a language. When I did my initial research, I discovered, like in so many other fields, that there were advocates on all sides.

Some said to just listen to the language, while others said to start talking as soon as possible. The right way to learn is the way that is fun for you.

Fun for me means watching TV-series, reading books, chatting online and later speaking. I do what I enjoy doing in English, but I do it in Spanish instead.

4. Being Aware of Your Goals

It’s all too easy for me to get bogged down in the details, which is why I have to be aware of what I’m really trying to accomplish.

When learning Spanish, I got caught in being perfect. I wanted to have a native accent and I wanted to speak flawlessly.

In the end, what really matters to me is being able to read, write and communicate with any Spanish-speaking person. It doesn’t have to be perfect, because it’s impossible to speak with perfection.

Even in my native language I make errors all the time, so why should I expect anything else in another language? I will learn as I go. Reminding myself that I’m human makes me all that much more relaxed.

5. Creating Time

I’m pretty good at eliminating tasks that I don’t want to do. Of course, when it comes to time, it helps that I don’t have a job, but nonetheless, even when working for myself, I’ve found that the hours can easily slip away.

Whenever I become interested in something new, I put it first and ignore everything else. In these last few months as I’ve been learning Spanish, I’ve almost been neglecting my blog and my business.

Luckily, I do still feel motivated to write, so no harm done, and it certainly helps that I have a few passive income streams helping me pay for my rent and food habit.

6. Going Out of Your Comfort Zone

Learning a language certainly is uncomfortable at first, especially if you about it immersion style like I like to do.

At first, you won’t understand much about what’s going on in the TV-series you’re watching, but after some time your brain and ears will start getting used to the new sounds and patterns of the language.

You have to stick it out, and before you know it, you’ll understand things you didn’t understand before.

The same goes for chatting and speaking. At first you might get discouraged, because you can only utter a few words here and there, but it’ll show you where your weaknesses are.

You’ll gain vital experience points after each encounter. The worry of making mistakes will always be there, but if you keep moving forward, you’ll learn more and more.

7. Being in the Now

I’m your classical over-achiever. When I set goals, I like to achieve them. This has both its upsides and its downsides.

I learn things fast and I get stuff done, but I sometimes put unnecessary pressure on myself and can lose track of what I’m doing.

When learning Spanish, I was reminded of the fact that there’s really no rush to get anywhere, as long as I’m doing something I enjoy.

If you’re doing something that makes you blissful, you’re on the right path, no matter what people other people may think.

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  1. Jen Smith says:

    Great to hear how it’s all been going Henri and I’ve got to say I am very inspired! I know a little French from school, but am thinking about learning a new language (or expanding on the French) in the next few years.. as you said it’s a great tool for moving and travelling. I have the tendency to dive into things wholeheartedly too. I used to think it was a bit of a negative but am beginning to realise life’s good when you follow what you enjoy. 🙂

    • Yes! It really doesn’t have to be hard. I know a few good resources for French, so feel free to contact me. You could just start watching TV-series in French for 1-2 hours a day and that’ll take you a long way, and it’s fun!

  2. Greg Lemmon says:

    This post struck a note with me because I am also in the process of learning Spanish, and not the traditional way either. WhileI don’t consider myself the classical over achiever I believe I am the classical “starter” I like to start things and then take my time getting to done. I find this is sometimes a disadvantage unless I’m keenly passionate about the task or undertaking. I am using the Pimsleur product because I find I learn fast by listening to stuff (auditory learner). One of the key things you hit on is “blissing out” it’s like being in the zone when you hit this place everything else disappears. Great Post man!!!

    • Pimsleur is an excellent way of starting in any language. I’m using Pimsleur for Japanese and it’s great.

  3. I also want to learn Spanish, and this post is so inspirational to me. It made me realize that there is so much more to learning a new skill than just the ‘doing’ of it. We get so many fascinating insights and lessons from every step we take in life.

    • Exactly, Jean! You can learn a language however you want. Just enjoy what you do, but in Spanish. Listen, read and have fun!

  4. Thanks for insight on this. I’d love to hear more on your progress in another post. It’s fascinating to me that we can learn multiple languages, but it’s also intimidating. It seems so difficult! I envy people who can fluently converse in their non-native language.

    I love America, but one HUGE flaw we have here is that most people only speak one language and never learn another. Sure, you can elect to learn in high school and college, but you don’t really learn how to converse. I think we should start teaching kids in elementary school so that it’s easier for them when they are older.

    I’m planning to spend a few months in Spain in the spring 2011, and one of the reasons I want to is so I can more easily learn to speak Spanish. It’s been a dream of mine. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • I actually have learned most of my Spanish online and through my computer, so living in Spain is not necessary to learn Spanish. If you start listening and watching some Spanish material right now, you’ll be on your way.

      If you need help finding good material, let me know!

      Oh and yes, I will definitely write a more thorough post on language learning in the future.

  5. And the Japanese? That`s what I was curious about after you mentioned it 😉

    • I’m not spending a lot of time on the Japanese, but I can say that I’m learning with a very unconventional and awesome teacher called Moses. I am also using Pimsleur Japanese. If I get into Japanese more, I will write about it in greater detail.

  6. Very impressive that you are learning a new language – I’ve always said if I could have a super power it would be to be fluent in all languages and dialects. I am heading to bangkok, Thailand next month and very excited about being emersed in a completely new language and sounds.

    Thanks Henri!

    • Ha. Yeah that super power would be pretty interesting, but then again, it might take the fun out of learning a language. Who knows 😉

      Thai is an interesting language. I’ve been looking at it. Definitely something I want to try sometime if I have time. So many languages, so little time!

  7. rob white says:

    Great advice, Henri. Taking on new challenges and creating ourselves anew does not have to be a suffering ordeal. Everyone experiences hard work and struggle. It is one of evolution’s ways to motivate us to reach deeper and learn more about our selves. There is no law that says suffering must accommodate our challenges.

    • Yup! It is usually not the brightest of moments that teach us the most, but the darkest of moments. But then again, the darkest of moments don’t have to be that bad either 😉

      Thanks for stopping by, Rob! Your comments rock!

  8. Congratulations on learning a new language. I do think some people are just better at languages than others. I’ve tried to learn some Portuguese and it was very difficult for me. It is a gift to be able to be a part of another culture. It was interesting what you were saying about hearing your own language better–it’s true.

    • Perhaps everyone has their own set of skills, but I do believe that anyone can learn a language. It may just take longer for some, but if we’re enjoying the ride then all is well.

      Thanks Mary! 🙂

  9. Shelly Rayedeane says:

    This post struck a chord with me too Henry. Thanks for the inspiring posts and emails. You rock!

    Sorry I haven’t been commenting like I used to. I have been busy as of late.

    I always read though.

  10. Really beautiful and inspirational article Henry, thank you for the post!! I learned English from the TV and radio starting the age of four, it came naturally to me, and since French was a pre-requisite in school, i had mastered that as well, but mainly through reading and writing and conversing. Add those to my native Arabic, and i was set as a default speaker in my country! 😀 however, my Spanish experience was pursued as an adult, and after years, and years, of waiting, i ended up taking Spanish courses in Cervantes here in Beirut, and even though i stumbled a lot on the grammar, I immersed myself in the culture, listened to the songs, watched the movies, befriended people online, and reminding myself that i am not good in grammar in any language i speak but still manage to have almost no mistakes at all in it, i threw myself another challenge: backpacking through Spain for 14 days alone, and that was the best completion of the experience, i came back fluent as ever! Spanish, like all other languages, are doorways to the world, and now, i am eying Greek, and why not, thanx to your motivational articles, this will be yet another passion to pursue!

    • I’m not a grammar expert in any language either, yet I seem to speak and get along just fine. I learned English the same way you did.

      Greek sounds interesting, and so does Arabic!

  11. Learning another language is a great thing to do at any time of our lives. I was working on Greek during the winter on my lunch hour, but have stopped doing that. I am now inspired to get back at it. Blessings.

  12. Henri,

    My favorite lesson you mention is that learning something new that you’re passionate about helps you grow as a person. That is my goal in life, to constantly work on becoming the best person (the best me) I can be. I am thinking about writing on education – the various pros and cons of public school (in the U.S.) versus home schooling versus unschooling…I’m helping to raise a teenager now and we essential unschool her, she does what she loves all day long every day…what kind of adults would such a system generate? Scarey and exciting at the same time.


    • When I get kids of my own, I’m definitely going to go something similar to the unschooling route, it just seems much more natural, and I would’ve loved going down that route myself instead of going to school learning stuff I didn’t care about.

  13. About 50 years ago, Gardner and Lambert coined the term “integrative motivation.” It’s a fancy label to describe the motivation to learn a foreign language because you, the learner, want to connect with the speakers who use that language. Now, 50 years ago, a hundred years ago, wanting to make connections and relating to someone else is a powerful motivator to learn and use another language. Immersing yourself in a language is a great way to get lots of real-time feedback as well as input.

    • Definitely a powerful motivator, and being able to talk to someone in their native language is so much more fun.

  14. really cool site you have here. truly inspiring too. im learning Japanese right now and i watch anime and read some supplementary books for guidance. I know its gonna be tough since it wont be a classroom setting. However Im really motivated. Im glad I came across your site. MOre power to you!

  15. Juuso Palander says:

    Hello Henri,

    I’m commenting the first time in your blog so nice to meet you 🙂

    Learning languages have always been kinda tough to me, especially in schools. I learnt English by playing video games, watching movies and surfing the Internet.

    I’m so glad I found this blog post as you made it clear to me that it can still be fun learning a new language. Thanks a lot for that! I’m looking forward to read about your future endeavours.

    Juuso (from Finland)

    • Terve Juuso!

      Most schools don’t really know how to teach languages. Sounds like you learned English much the same way I did!

      I’m glad you found your way here!

  16. Collin Ding says:

    Recently i stumbled on this website. I will go to one spanish company soon. So i plan to make full use of my part time to learn spanish. It’s mainly for my work. It’s so exciting after i saw what you said. Thank you for you sharing your experience with us.
    wish you good luck

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