Why Good Advice Is So Hard To Follow

avatarMille Larsen
4 mins read

When I was young and wanted to know how to get a girl's attention, people always told me "just be yourself". I remember how frustrated I was with this line! I used to complain, "obviously being myself' doesn't work, because I am myself and it's not working!" Later on, though, Eventually, I realized I was so focused on getting a girl's attention that I had become "the guy who wants attention from girls", and once I stopped trying so hard and started just doing the things that I liked — when I stopped trying to be something for other people, and started just being myself — I ended up getting all the attention from girls I could ever want.

So often, the best advice is also the most frustrating. What you're hearing sounds wrong because it's so different from the way you think. Sometimes the you can't learn something new unless you first un-learn something you already know... or think you know. Sometimes you have to change your beliefs in order to move forward.

One common theme that I repeat a lot on this blog, and indeed in all of my advice to language learners is that the best way to learn a language is to "just use it". I say it a lot, and I know it to be true because I've used this in my own efforts to learn languages. When I've used a language, I've done well learning it. When I haven't used it, I've had very poor results.

But when I give this advice, I often get arguments in response. When you tell someone the best way to learn is to use the language, you're usually meet immediately with a response such as "How the hell can I use a language I haven't learned yet?", or, "You have to learn it to use it, but you're saying I have to use it to learn it... that's circular logic!"

Indeed, on the surface, those look like very logical arguments. But they're still arguments. The first thing to remember is that any time you're arguing, you're not learning. Arguments are, by their very nature, the forceful rejection of an idea rather than welcoming it. (I can't wait to see how many "arguments" I end up with in the comments section after this!)

When I say "use the language", I mean it! There will always be time for you to study a book, or to write practice sentences, but those are activities with no personal investment. But if you print the directions to your next doctor appointment in another language, you have a very real investment in using the language, because if you don't use it, you won't make it to the doctor's office!

When you decide to USE the language, your deficiencies become immediately apparent. If you're making a grocery list, you won't have any doubts about which words you need to learn. If you change your language settings on Google, there will be no question about which words you need to understand in order to continue using the web site.

This blog is littered with posts with advice for how to use a language in order to learn it. I've linked to a few of them in this post. It's the best advice I know for learning foreign languages... but you might just have to change the way you think.