In this lifetime, what do you think are your chances of meeting someone who could speak eight languages, play at least three instruments, and cook a repertoire of recipes from different world regions? Slim to none, perhaps.
Better question: Is it possible to be this rare specimen of a human being? The chances aren’t as bad as you think.
I’ve probably grown deluded from consuming self-help materials for the pre-middle-aged man. But I’ve long become fascinated by pushing the limits of human potential and seeing whether or not there is a ceiling.
And it all comes down to how we absorb information.
How do you learn a new skill? What is the method behind your madness? Most importantly, is it working for you? Are you seeing results?
Over the past year, I’ve managed to be decent at speaking two languages and playing an instrument. That’s going from Level 0 to 1.5, I’d say. All my mentors lauded me for my swift progress over a few months.
Here’s what I think I did right, and I will go out on a limb and call it a fool-proof and efficient learning method that will work for everyone.
Learning in concepts
It’s one thing to know the steps to subdue someone with a headlock, and it’s another to be able to put them into practice. The latter requires going beyond the What and digging deeper to find the Whys and Hows.
It’s not enough to be able to throw a two-punch combination. Part of it is knowing when to use it, how it works, and how to set it up. Learning in concepts is going deeper than what’s on the surface.
Every time you try to learn a new skill, go beyond the What immediately. Learn about the Whys and Hows, then string them all together. You’ll see how much easier it is to absorb everything that follows.
Here’s Anthony Bourdain giving the common folk some tips on improving one’s knife skills in the kitchen. Towards the end, he emphasized the importance of practice, practice, practice.
Drill it until it becomes muscle memory. Here’s something you can try: write using your non-dominant hand. It’s an effective practice where only you can see what it looks like to suck at it badly at the start. Your fumbles are only for you to see, so there’s less pressure to improve.
Like anything in life, it only takes so much repetition before you finally see progress. You may have an efficient learning method that works for you, but you will never lose if you keep showing up. That dedication will pay off, I guarantee you.
Putting into practice
To speak a language fluently doesn’t require years of classroom time. A chunk of it happens in conversations with people in the street. And as I’ve found, it is the fastest way to understand how it works locally.
Don’t worry. Proficiency level does not matter. Communicate to the best of your ability. You will commit grammar mistakes, but you will be understood, nonetheless.
There’s nothing like real-world practice to shine a light on your areas of improvement. You become aware of it, make the adjustments, and see those improvements quickly. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the strides you’ve made.
If you happen to be looking for an efficient learning method, this is it. I won’t dare to call myself an expert, but you have to start somewhere, right? Let this, at least, be your ‘somewhere.’
Cheers, and be well.