What makes a guy decide to travel the world for a year to learn three languages? Doesn’t everyone know that you can’t learn even a single language in a year?! Three is impossible! And you’ll be completely alone because you can’t make friends until you’re fluent. And your career! You’ll get passed over for promotions and probably never recover all that earning potential. It’s madness, I tell you! Madness!
Maybe all of my friends thought that way. At least they were kind enough to substitute something ambiguous like “it will be the trip of a lifetime” (which could be good or bad). When they said I had to do it while I could, I don’t know if they meant it was actually a good idea, or just something they knew I had to get out of my system.
Today I’m going to give credit (or blame) to some writers on the interwebs who inspired and educated me for this trip:
- Benny Lewis “The Irish Polyglot” at Fluent in 3 Months
- Chris Guillebeau at the Art of Non-Conformity
- Dr. Nerdlove at Dr. Nerdlove
- Leo Babauta at Zenhabits
How weird is it that I’ve never met any of them? Or maybe it’s weird that I actually emailed with a couple of them. (I even wrote a guest post for one of them a long time ago.)
Benny the Irish Polyglot
Benny is a language hacker. He went to live in Spain, and…spoke English. Crossing the border didn’t magically unleash a torrent of fluent conversational Spanish. How frustrating!
That frustration led him to hack his way into Spanish. Hacking means he went out and spoke in whatever Spanish he could cobble together. Then he went home and studied how to say it more clearly and accurately.
This resonated with me because I also took four years of Spanish in high school and I also struggle to speak it. On the other hand, I learned French by speaking it every day in Africa – and can have a conversation at the drop of a chapeau. (Preferably a beret)
Once Benny tasted success with Spanish, he couldn’t stop. He proceeded to embark on three-month missions to learn French, German, Chinese, Arabic, and of course, Klingon.
Benny convinced me that it’s possible to make major progress in three months. He also taught me to speak Italian every day. Even if I don’t want to. Even if I know I’ll make a grammar mistake. It’s better to sound like a five-year old today and grow from there, than to never speak at all.
By the way, Irish Polyglots would be a good name for a band.
Where do I find these blogs? Somehow I stumbled upon a manifesto entitled A Brief Guide to World Domination. Which sounded fun. It’s at the easily-spelled chrisguillebeau.com, so you can only find it if you click on a link. You can never actually enter his URL correctly. I think that’s how he makes his audience feel like a secret society. Calling it a manifesto doesn’t hurt either.
Chris is an advocate of self-employment, personal quests, and travel hacking. His personal quest was to visit all 197 countries over the course of ten years. (Or maybe it was all ten countries over the course of 197 years – the specifics aren’t important.) His articles about non-traditional career options encouraged me to pursue my dreams even though they weren’t what most people would consider normal. (Somehow I’ve turned “not normal” into a badge of distinction.)
Chris also writes about travel hacking. This includes earning miles through promotions and shortcuts on gaining airline status. Through his advice, I socked away 400,000 miles for use on this trip.
Surprisingly, Dr. Nerdlove is not a real doctor. But he is a real nerd. And he writes dating advice geared toward nerds, geeks, etc. It’s basically the opposite of a “for dummies” book.
How does this apply to my language mission? Well, it turns out that speaking with people is the best way to learn to speak. (So counterintuitive!) If I’m going to talk to someone everyday, I’m going to have to make new friends. The fastest way to do that is to just start talking to people around me, and then be interesting.
Where does the dating advice come in? He often writes about the troubles and stress of going up to someone new and talking to them. Of course, everyone out here is new to me. So, having some tips and encouragement is huge. Ultimately, I’ve learned that everyone goes around being bored all day, and can’t wait for someone to be new and interesting to enliven their day. My job is to be that person.
Leo Babauta writes about forming habits and finding personal peace in this crazy world. Mostly I’ve done exactly the opposite of everything he recommends for building habits. I’m always moving someplace new so I’m never forming routines or triggers. By traveling alone, I don’t have anyone to encourage me to be consistent. And instead of focusing on one habit at a time, I wanted to start several habits at once: studying vocabulary, tracking my expenses, running, and writing this blog. Of course I only turned one of them into anything like a habit.
The advice that has been the most helpful has been to cultivate awareness. I notice when I’m not being disciplined and look for the root cause. Usually it’s that I’m trying to do too much sightseeing or socializing and not enough sleeping. Then I either take a rest-day or plow forward knowing it’s no good for my habits.
Along with awareness, I’m focusing on self-acceptance. Some people I know would have accomplished more on this trip. They would have studied harder, seen more sights, made more friends. Or if someone says “you didn’t go to [fill in the blank]? You should have”, well that’s what’s important to them, not necessarily me. That would have been their trip. It’s comforting to let myself have my own trip.
I don’t know if I’ll ever become a full-time writer or blogger. But if I do, these will be among my role models. In the meantime, maybe they’ll enjoy my flickr album.