Learning a language is like…

There are lots of metaphors floating around for language learning. Fortunately most of them accurately stress the need for time, exposure, and deliberate practice. Here are a few them:

“Learning a language is like…”

  • Learning a language is like learning a musical instrument. “Commitment is way more important than natural talent, which simply doesn’t exist for getting the basics and even a pretty good idea of both music and languages. It’s actually just an excuse used by those who both can’t and don’t really want to put real work in.”
  • Learning a language is like losing weight. “You know how to do it, really. There are billions of dollars spent every year on products that claim to make weight loss and language learning fast, easy, and painless. But they’re all variations on the same theme. To lose weight, diet and exercise. To learn a language, study and practice. There aren’t any shortcuts.”
  • Learning a language is like learning to dance. “Yes, learners who do not like to perform (such as in role plays) and are reserved, quiet, and not eager to interact with others are disadvantaged when it comes to language learning.”
  • Learning a language is like learning a sport. “…One of the great lessons of my childhood was that no one has the right to be naturally good at anything. More there’s a particular pleasure that comes from becoming good at something which you kind of naturally sucked at.”
  • Learning a language is like running a marathon. “You don’t wake up one day and think: ‘Dude, I’m totally going to run the marathon of Los Angeles today.’ No, running a marathon or any significant distance requires practice and a healthy lifestyle.”
  • Learning a language is like peeing. “You always pee less than you drank: input and passive vocab will always outstrip output and active vocab. Input precedes and exceeds output. Never expect to drink a liter and pee out a liter.”
  • Learning a language is like playing Soul Calibur. “The same goes for input – that is, blocking against incoming strings of attacks. At first it seemed chaotic, and I didn’t know whether the blows would be high, low, or come from the side. Soon the chaos become patterns; now at the beginning of an attack I know exactly what is coming. I can anticipate the incoming chunk of actions, and only need to consciously react to the minor details – just like French.”

Oh yes, and living in China is like an RPG. Other metaphors are welcome! Leave a comment.

4 Comments to “Learning a language is like…

  1. Learning a language is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, at first all the pieces look complex and disorganized, but once you get a momentum you start to notice subtle differences and patterns that were not apparent before.

  2. Learning a second language is like becoming a child again. This comes with advantages and disadvantages, and can be very frustrating without the right attitude. Of course, I’m not the first one to use this metaphor, but I have written about it in relation to Chinese here, in case anyone is interested:

    Growing up in Chinese

  3. Stavros says:

    Learning Chinese is like falling in love with a dirty whore, who talks back, treats you like garbage and then kicks you out of bed after you’re done.

  4. Paul says:

    Learning a language is like doing sex. The placement of the tongue is key.

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