In many ways, languages are like singing. People think you have to be born a singer. And people think you have to be born a linguist.
(To prove how BS this is, check out Ed Sheeran at the start of his career.)
How come I don’t have the language learning gene?
After years of language class at school, this was my thought exactly. My head filled with envy whenever I heard stories of kids who could speak more than one language.
Stupid language genes…
Then, I thought I was too old. I wasn’t a 10 year old, so I figured I must be past my prime.
The result? I thought I was destined to spend the rest of my life speaking in English.
Then I got inspired. By my Dad. The go-to linguist in our family. Seeing him having fun talking broken Spanish on holiday? It was amazing.
If he could do it, I could do it.
My sister and I were always encouraged to try. And seeing my parents do it… It transformed what language meant to me.
What was once boring verb tables, dry vocab lists and politically correct textbooks became… alive. Language wasn’t about exam results. It was about human connection. It was about adventure in foreign lands. It was life!
So, in my final year of high school, I put years of futile French behind me, and signed up for Spanish. Not the useless-noun Spanish of the easier classes… I wanted to speak it. I chose the challenging class right off the bat.
That year, something dawned on me… I had an incredible advantage over almost everyone else.. I had a WHY. I wasn’t motivated by the fancy certificate that drives my dog beserk when it gets delivered each summer. I wanted to use Spanish in the real world. Like my Dad did.
So while everyone else was giving half-ass attempts at the reading exercises, I was going all-out with my quasi-Spanish accent. At home, I listened to spanish podcasts. I worked out listening to Spanish radio. I translated Spanish news articles.
Exams rolled around, and my efforts paid off. I almost laughed in the listening exam, because the speech was so slow compared to the spanish radio I’d been listening to. The year was a success.
But in other ways, I’d failed. My goal was to speak Spanish, and I’d not had a single conversation in Spanish. Despite my “A”, I was uncomfortable. Deep down, I knew that I still couldn’t speak Spanish.
Four years later, and I’ve forgotten everything. Deep in the trenches of university physics, Spanish is the last thing on my mind. Then, one morning, I meet an entrepreuner in the gym. I start listening to his podcast, and I hear the following…
“You can take a millionaire and drop them in any city in the world, with no money, no connections, and no language. Within a year, they’ll make it all back again. Why? Because the value of a millionaire isn’t in the million bucks in the bank. Their true value is within – in the character virtues they’ve developed and in the lessons they’ve learned on their journey.”
I was knocked for six. I HAD to test this out. But where?
Four months later, I landed in Madrid. No money, no job, nowhere to live, and no connections. Learn to fly on the way down, baby!
I approached the ticket office, and tried to buy a ticket to the centre of Madrid. My worst fears were confirmed. Not only could I not string two words together, I couldn’t understand a word this guy was saying. This wasn’t Kantian philosophy or Hegelian logic. It was “1 ticket to the centre, please” Licking my wounds, I bought a ticket from the machine instead.
Half an hour later, I emerged into the throbbing heart of Madrid. Walking out into the sun-baked plaza, surrounded by foreign sounds and smells… I felt like a gladiator walking into the Colloseum for the first time.
I eventually found the youth hostel I’d booked myself into. Then I set about on my mission – to find somewhere to live and get a job.
Many hand-wavy conversations later, I found an amazing flat in a stylish area of Madrid. Number of flatmates? Eight. For learning Spanish, it was perfect.
Over the next month, I worked my ass off. Studying Spanish all day in the library, sticking up posters around town looking for work, and talking as much as I could. And a month later, half an hour into a conversation with a flatmate, it hit me… I’m speaking Spanish!! And I wasn’t even thinking about it.
That was what I imagined it would be like to have a “language learning gene”.
That week, I found a job in one of the coolest parts of Madrid. Instead of physics, it was journalism. A journalism internship.
It was the coolest job I’ve ever had (drumkit in the kitchen says it all), and the fact that you are reading this now is purely because of my three months writing in Madrid.
The summer was the most incredible of my life. If someone had told me I would be doing that when I was back in high school, I would’ve told them that they were crazy. Speak Spanish? Ehh, not me.
Eating posh pastries with posh ladies, being semi-adopted by my Peruvian landlady’s family, relaxed dinners with beer, food and friends on the terrace looking at the city below… It was incredible.
This is how the Spanish language has profoundly changed my life. That, for me, is what language is all about.
So when I hear you say… I’m not a language person. I haven’t got language learning genes… I’m too old..
I’m here to tell you that I was in exactly the same boat. And if I can do it, you can do it too.
Now, granted, you might not have the luxury of a long university summer to throw yourself into Madrid. But I don’t think that’s important. What is important is the confidence that you can learn a language and throw yourself into any situation.
It’s said, “The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both usually right.”
All too often, when you think you can’t do something, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
So, I’m gonna throw down the gauntlet. If you think you can’t learn a language, but would LOVE to learn Spanish, then let me share with you what I’ve learned on my journey.
The only three things you actually need to learn a language.
- A WHY.
- A HOW.
- A WHAT.
Lemme quickly explain.
First, Why. The stronger your why, the greater your chances of success. When the going gets tough, your why is gonna see you through.
Second, How. Schools emphasise perfection. Yet the point of language isn’t perfection, it’s communication. So from the very start, you’re method needs to emphasise guessing and the confidence to get things wrong. Because the more you get things wrong, the more you get things right.
You also need an efficient system that’s simple to stick with. A system that builds small wins over time into a massive win. Round these parts, we know these as 30 Day Challenges.
Third, What. Always start with the most useful things first. This means no pets, no colours, no days of the weeks, no classroom objects, no weather, and no BS. When you start with the most important things first, you learn quicker, you develop more confidence because you don’t need a phrasebook, and it’s more enjoyable because you can use it.
If you teach someone 1000 nouns, they can’t construct a single sentence. But if you learn a handful of core verbs, then with every noun, you can build hundreds of sentences for any situation. This is where confidence comes from. This also means that language teachers are only as good as their materials.
So just for you, I’ve combined these three things into a 30 Day Challenge. A 30 Day Spanish Challenge.
I’ve put everything I’ve used to throw myself into Madrid and Mexico to come out on top. It’s a Spanish crash course designed to give you the tools and confidence you need to live or thrive in any Spanish situation.
It’s filled with the stuff I wish I knew when I was starting out. And it’s filled with pointers – what you should focus on, what you shouldn’t focus on, and what actually works. This isn’t Ivory Tower spanish. It’s street Spanish. Stuff that I use everyday, in every single conversation.
Why do I know this is going to help you?
Because I know exactly how frustrating it is when you think you’re not a language person. I know how frustrating it is when you feel like you’re making no progress. And I know how confusing and complicated language seems from the outside.
If you want to learn Spanish, let me take you by the hand, one video at a time, and share with you what you need to know.
At this point, I have to tell you something.
The 30 Day Challenge costs money.
That’s right. I’m asking you to invest your hard-earned dolla’s in yourself. A pound a day.
Because you want to succeed. You want to commit to yourself. You want to make yourself follow through.
And paying for something (or better, investing) is the easiest way to do it.
We all know what happens when you get given something versus having to work for it yourself.
I know the crazy power of paying to learn from doing the 67 Steps. Not only was it an incredible learning experience, but it also taught me the value of investing in yourself. How, suddenly, when you put your money where your mouth is, the perceived value sky rockets.
Another way to think of it:
Whose advice would you take more? Someone who gave it to you for free? Or a consultant who charged you £10,000 for an hour of their time?
The price is also a dividing line. You’re busy. You’ve got a life to live, 30 Day Challenges to do, projects to go get after, people to date, friends and family to laugh with… You don’t want to waste your time or energy. Neither do I.
If you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is, then you’re commiting to yourself. If you’re not, it’s not going to be the right program for you anyway. I don’t want you to go through it half-hearted.
I’d rather a few people willing to invest versus thousands who only do it half-assed. I’ll take the 300 Spartans who are committed till the end.
So, if you want to embark on your Spanish learning journey, you can check out the intro page here.
If not, I invite you to explore languages anyway. There’s tonnes of free resources out there, and you never know… learning a language might just change your life.
Dream Big Start Small!