You Can’t Fail to Learn a Language If You View Everything as an Experiment
How to adopt the mindset of an experimenter to learn any language you want
I’m no scientist.
But I mastered English, my second language, and ended up teaching it professionally in New Zealand, Spain, Ireland, and Italy — my native country.
I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this if I hadn’t adopted an experimenter’s mindset in language learning.
An experimenter is a person who carries out scientific tests in order to study what happens and gain new knowledge.
Experimenters cannot fail. They have nothing to lose, only new things to discover.
View everything as an experiment when learning a language and you’ll always be moving forward.
Here’s how you can do it.
Adopt a “let’s see what happens if…” approach
Experimenters try out things — many things.
And I tried out many things too when I was learning English. I carried out several experiments.
For example, I wanted to improve my grammar and learn more about it, so I thought, Let’s see what happens if I buy a grammar book, study the rules, and do grammar exercises.
I did that and started understanding how English worked. I discovered things I didn’t know before.
I learned the difference between “each” and “every”. I learned why it’s incorrect to say, “I’ve had pizza yesterday.” I was amazed to discover that “I’ll go out for a run even though it’s raining” and “I’ll go out for a run even if it’s raining” have two different meanings.
Deliberately studying the rules and doing grammar exercises helped me get clarity and speak better.
The experiment worked.
I then wanted to learn English phrasal verbs (find out, give up, look up to, etc.) so I thought, Let’s see what happens if I copy every entry of the Cambridge Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs onto my notebook.
I did that for two weeks and realized it was boring and useless. I was not learning much.
The experiment failed.
The experiment — not me. I didn’t fail. I had only found a way to learn phrasal verbs that didn’t work.
I’d encourage you to adopt this approach when learning a language and see where it takes you.
Let’s see what happens if you take a language course.
Let’s see what happens if you turn off the subtitles.
Let’s see what happens if you practice speaking by telling yourself stories while driving.
Have zero expectations that the experiment will bring good results. Keep experimenting and you’ll never fail.
You’ll only discover what works for you and what doesn’t.
Do more of what works
Experimenters try out things and then, if the experiment is successful, they do more of what worked to gain further knowledge.
After I completed my beloved grammar book, I thought, Wow! This was so useful! I need to do more of this!
So I bought a similar book to expand and refine my vocabulary. Explanations and examples on one page, exercises on the opposite page.
I learned many new words and reviewed other expressions I already knew. I then noticed I could express myself with more precision because of the words I had studied in the book.
So, after each experiment you do, spend 1 minute reflecting and noticing if what you try out helps you learn or not.
If it does, then do more of that.
Don’t worry if people online say you’re doing the wrong thing. Some language teachers and coaches wouldn’t recommend buying grammar and vocabulary books. Yet I found them immensely useful.
Does translating texts help you? Go for it. Forget what the language learning expert says on YouTube about avoiding translation.
Do language apps help you learn? Keep using them then.
Did you discover that highlighting unknown words in a text help you learn them? Do that every time you’re reading.
There’s no right or wrong.
Only “this helps me, that doesn’t”.
Keep looking for a way that works
Experimenters try out things and then, if the experiment fails, they keep testing new things until they get what they want.
When I discovered that transferring phrasal verbs from a dictionary to a notebook wasn’t helpful, I didn’t give up on learning phrasal verbs.
Instead, I understood I had to find a better way to learn them.
Do you know what I did?
I did this.
Phrasal verbs on one side with texts and examples, exercises on the opposite side.
I’m not saying you should buy grammar and vocabulary books to learn a language. I’m just telling you not to give up if you haven’t found the right way to get where you want to get.
You may think you’re failing. Maybe you think you’re not good at learning languages.
Delete this thought.
You can’t fail if you’re an experimenter. You just haven’t searched enough. So keep looking for a way that works.
That’s what an experimenter would do.
You’re lucky because today you can find language learning advice everywhere. There are polyglots who speak 57 languages on YouTube. How do they do that? Listen to what tips they give and try everything out.
You have the best technology available: apps, translators, programs, grammar checkers, AI chatbots. Try it all and see if and how these tools can help you achieve your language goals.
Language teachers and coaches are a click away. Hire one and see if that’s what you need.
Remember: it’s all a big test.
Wilbur and Orville Wright spent four years of research to create the first successful powered airplane.
It took years of experiments before Marie Curie discovered radium.
Thomas Edison tested thousands and thousands of materials before he found one to use for the filament in his light bulb. He then famously said,
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work.”
Had these people given up on their goals, today we probably wouldn’t have light bulbs, planes, and radiation therapy.
And if you gave up learning today, the world wouldn’t hear your beautiful voice speaking a foreign language.
We would miss that.
So please keep being an experimenter. Only stop when you’re happy with the way you speak the language you’re learning.
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