musings

How to Not Learn a Language

Are you interested in learning a language? If you'd like to be successful then I'm going to teach you how to not learn a language. I know, I know. This sounds counterintuitive but please indulge me and read on. What are my qualifications? Well, I have years and years of experience in failing at learning languages. In high school, I had two years of skipping French classes. Later on, I taught myself Spanish, Korean, and Japanese and failed miserably. I also learned Slovak and quit after 6 months. I took two months of Dutch classes where half the time I was absent. And over the last four years, I've been learning German. Maybe I have little bit of success here but I'm telling you, I'm having a snail-like progress. So here are the five things that you can do to help you not learn a language.

1. Have ridiculous expectations. If your aim in 3 months is to be able to converse without any grammatical errors, then you're on your way to not learning. Frustration will come and before you know it, you'll be a quitter like me. But hey, you gotta have high standards, no?

2. If you don't have ridiculous expectations, then at least have zero goals. Because whatever, right? Que sera sera. C'est la vie. Who cares about language learning goals? As long as you know how to order a beer or bier is enough. Right? Then you can always revert to smiling, using broken English, making gestures, or sending telepathic messages.

3. If you think what you're going to say is peppered with mistakes, just shut up. You don't want to embarrass yourself. You don't want the locals to cringe at you for butchering their language. So don't open your mouth if you're just going to make mistakes. Making mistakes is for losers.

4.  To practice is to waste one's time. Practice makes perfect? Hell no. Ain't nobody got time for that! The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages recommends 600 hours of learning if say you want to attend a prep school in Germany (not even college!). Seriously, where are you going to get these 600 hours? That's a lot of missed telenovelas and trolling on Facebook.

5. And finally, have zero motivation. The fastest way to fail at this is to not have a reason for wanting to learn a language. For example, I wanted to learn German so I'd understand what the hell my boyfriend says when he sleep talks. But we broke up. So I guess I don't have to learn German anymore, no?

Now, if you cannot relate to any of this, then you might have a good chance at learning a second or third (or heck your nth) language. Have fun and good luck! :)

5 Things Nobody Told Me About Living Abroad

So you've decided to take a job or study abroad. You packed your bags, looked forward to what could be the biggest adventure of your life, and hoped that nothing will go wrong. Before you left and even after you've landed, people compliment you for being such a brave soul. But I wish somebody told me about these things...

  1. Learning the local language will make your life 10 or even 100 times easier. You're somehow lucky if you live in Amsterdam where English is widely spoken. But if you end up in Eastern Europe or pretty much anywhere in Western Europe, you have to brace yourself and get used to being ignored by the locals if you don't speak the local language. Forget that English is a widely-spoken language. I've experienced no matter how many people can speak and understand English, some will really just refuse to switch to English to accommodate foreigners. You're in their country, you should adjust. It's not easy but you'll appreciate learning a language when you start being able to express yourself and be understood despite your grammatical mistakes. Plus, it makes locals want to help you more because you are making an effort to connect with them in their native language.
  2. Racism is not a myth. It's cold and it's real. You will not know how real racism is until you experience it first-hand. I was on a bus in Hamburg and was sitting next to the window. Next to me is a homeless guy, reeking of alcohol and talking loudly to his friend who's standing right next to the door. As I got a few seconds closer to my stop, I politely excused myself. (Entschuldigen Sie bitte. Ich muss aussteigen.) The guy was annoyed that he had to stand so I can get out of my seat and started screaming expletives. He then spoke in English and said, "go back to China, you little princess!" It was so embarrassing but I was also very scared that he would hit me.
  3. You have to take care of your health at all costs. Believe me, when you're in a foreign country, there's a huge tendency that you will try to endure those little health issues. But you should not at all. Make sure that you have a first aid kit at home for those minor booboos (cuts, burns) and not so major illnesses (flu, headache, etc.). And if in doubt, go to a doctor. Screw language barrier. Get yourself checked by a specialist. You will be thankful every time you avoid a prolonged trip to the hospital.
  4. Alone does not mean lonely. During my college years, I was a complete extrovert and easily defined being alone as being lonely. But after four years of living solo in foreign countries, I realized that that is not true at all! Turns out, one can be content and happy even if you're not surrounded by people. Of course it can get lonely sometimes especially if you're sick. But it does feel good to have some quiet time to enjoy yourself.
  5. Living abroad will be one of the best decisions I'll ever make. It's scary to get out of your comfort zone and live alone in a country where you don't speak the language and you don't know anyone. But I have zero regrets and will do it again because it has been quite a learning experience. I've learned about people, cultures, traditions, beyond books (or the internet for that matter). It has changed me so much. Living abroad taught me how to be self-reliant, open-minded and be more understanding of others.