How to Learn a Language:The Right Attitude

What makes the difference between finally learning a language, versus abandoning it? Why do some people succeed in language learning,while others fail?

Why did I succeed in learning English as a second language, but have yet to achieve fluency in a 3rd language?

And how many people actually achieve fluency while not setting foot on the language’s country of origin?

I believe the right attitude is everything. It makes the impossible possible and the challenging bearable.

Fluency is Relative, but Learning is Forever

I’m fluent in Mandarin and English. I can speak,read,write and think in them. But I’m learning new things about both these languages all the time. Being a previous ESL learner, I’ve observed that the people who actually succeed in learning the language…know that the benefits are for life.

When you know that you will be using this specific language and know it forever, you approach it differently. I’ve heard people ask “How long will it take for me to learn English?” And I myself have asked that question too, but the answer won’t do you any good, because the answers to the questions are infinite and vague.

Eventually, when you have a solid foundation, you will be able to gauge how long it takes YOU to learn it. You might be faster, slower, etc, but if you really want to learn the just dive in. The better question to ask do I get started? How did other successful people do it? What are the best methods to this approach?

Purpose is everything when it comes to learning a language. I’ve moved around China and the US a lot as a kid, I don’t think I ever stayed in one place longer than 5 years until I was 15, but I think always knowing I just HAD to learn the language for necessity really helped accelerate my learning.

I wanted to learn Spanish after I learned English, but without a concrete purpose, I never learned Spanish (which I plan to one day). I spoke to my Mexican friends in English anyway, and I wasn’t planning on traveling to Mexico or Latin America so I never had the motivation I had in learning English.

Why Purpose is Everything

Purpose is so important in everything, and somehow I keep having to relearn that in completely different parts of my life. Now that I have a plane ticket booked for Thailand in May, I am really making a lot more headway in learning Thai.

I’ve also decided to lead a lifestyle of world travel, and I’m going to start my TESOL (teaching English for Students of Other Languages) certification class in February, so language learning is again in my life, but this time I want to break it down, and teach others to do the same.

I’ve heard of stories where perfectly capable Chinese engineers who couldn’t get jobs because their English wasn’t fluent. And lord knows I know what it’s like to be in America and not know English.


My uncle used to tell my cousin and I the Revolution story. Revolution was a nickname for a neighborhood friend that he had. Revolution would wake up at 5 o’ clock in the morning with an English book, chanting “revolution,revolution,revolution” in attempts to memorize the word(keep in mind this was late 70s-early 80s in China, revolutionaries were regarded in a glorious light) every single day.

Everyone made fun of him and the nickname stuck, but Revolution kept going. Eventually, Revolution became a university professor teaching English. One of the best examples of hard work paying off.

What if you stopped asking when you would learn the language..and just went ahead and did it? What if you believed that you could, and the rest were just mechanics? What if all that’s the right attitude?