How to Make Your Life Miserable Learning Languages

Student with books

Today I am graciously presenting you with 7 ways through which you can make your life miserable learning languages. The best thing is that you don’t need to follow all 7 pieces of advice to begin hating learning languages, usually only 1 or 2 will suffice.

1. Look up every single word in the dictionary

Dictionary look upLook up every single word you don’t know (or are unsure of) in the dictionary, and never try to understand or guess the meaning of words from context. Don’t bother just looking up words that are crucial to the general understanding of a particular text; rather, look for every definition you possibly can and make sure reading one page of a book takes at least half an hour.

2. Memorize verbatim hundreds of dialogues and long lists of words

Everybody knows that rote learning is the way to go. You should memorize word-for-word every single dialogue included in textbooks you get your hands on, because this will invariably make you sound natural and fluent when you’ll be finally faced with native speakers to talk with.

Also make sure to have long lists of decontextualized and useless vocabulary to memorize every day. If you’re learning English, for example, you should have lists including words such as tendentious, propitious, jocose, coruscating, and antediluvian. Plugging those in when conversing with native speakers will leave them in awe.

3. Wait until you make absolutely no mistakes before speaking

Never meet any native speakers until you’re absolutely sure that you won’t make any mistakes when speaking their language, otherwise you’re sure to die in embarrassment. It’s common knowledge that natives will laugh at you in unison for every mistake you make. Therefore you should bury yourself in books in isolation because that’s the only way you’ll ever reach fluency.

4. Remind yourself of how hard and boring learning a language is

Movies? Blogs? Music? Forget about it. Everybody knows learning a language—I mean studying a language—has to be a painfully dreadful process. Forget about interesting stuff like movies or music, or learning about the culture of the people that speak your target language. Learning a language has to be boring and hard, so you should never stray away from 1950s-style textbooks telling you that the dative is used to mark the indirect object of a sentence.

5. Make sure to learn every single grammatical rule there is out there

By now you should’ve guessed that buying the thickest grammar book out there and spending months studying through its content is the only possible way of mastering a language. Do not bother learning rules inductively and do not use your reasoning power or common sense to draw inferences by listening to how real people speak.

6. Only study to pass exams

Examination roomDon’t bother learning a language for its own sake, or even for things such as traveling or making friends. Learn a language to pass exams, because they are the only meaningful benchmark of a person’s fluency in a language, and people will be really impressed upon hearing you got JLPT N2 in Japanese. Plus, language exams usually test you on your grammar knowledge, and as we have seen above, learning every single grammatical rule in a language is a sure win.

7. Never try different ways of learning

You’re stuck in a rut and feel like you’re not making any progress because you’ve been using the same old method for the past 3 years? Do not, under any circumstances, try a different way of learning. Rather, keep studying the same way, just harder and longer. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is by far the superior way to go.

Any further advice?

I hope these short and sweet pieces of advice will prove to be useful to the attainment of your goals, yet somehow I’m sure I’ve missed a few. Could you help fellow language learners by pointing out additional ways they can make their life miserable learning languages? Don’t hesitate to share your own stories 🙂

Waiting to hear from you!

23 thoughts on “How to Make Your Life Miserable Learning Languages”

  1. And #8, but not least…refuse to use your native language in an intelligent manner to facilitate your acquisition. Insist on total immersion, regardless of whether or not you have any clue what’s going on, feel panicked, uncomfortable or ill at ease.

    1. I do think immersion is a good method to learn languages, and it can make for interesting experiments (Scott Young has a pretty awesome project entitled “The Year Without English”).

      But I definitely agree that using your native language in an intelligent manner to facilitate L2 acquisition will make your life much, much easier. As with most things in life though, it’s all about striking the right balance!

        1. Definitely! I think too many people naively think that moving to a foreign country and being “immersed” in the target language will somehow magically turn you into a language wizard. It’s amazing the number of people who move to a foreign country and, rather than getting immersed and picking up the language quickly, do the exact opposite and meet expats who speak the same language as they do. Ultimately, hard work, passion, and curiosity are necessary prerequisites if you want to become fluent in a foreign language.

  2. The advice reminds me of the way teachers want us to learn languages at the university. Endless lists of words most native speakers don’t even know, 6 hours of grammar lessons per week and a selection of the most boring books.

    1. Definitely. Personally I’ve had some pretty good language teachers back when I was an undergrad but they had to work with that they had (i.e. boring textbooks focused mostly on grammar and endless drills). I love your site by the way!

      1. You are lucky :). This kind of teachers are awesome though, they remind us that there are still people who realize how flawed the system is and make the best they can with that they have.

        I am glad you like my blog :).

  3. I actually like memorizing vocabulary, especially unique items that do not appear in usual conversation. When you remember it and throw it out in a conversation, you can kid around with other people about the weird meaning and stuff.
    Naturally, this is not the way to make your language learning progress fast, but rather interesting and amusing.

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  5. You mentioned uni classes in another comment, but man, definitely a way to make your life miserable in my experience. My least favorite method by far to learning languages.

    Naturally there are some good teachers but the ‘perfect everything before moving on’ mindset in most classes really slows you down and makes things too tedious to be enjoyable.

    Nice post, good to lighten things up!

  6. Spot on as usual. Liked the part about the JLPT2. 😉 My friend who scored a 93% on the JLPT N1 said, “If you can read Japanese like a middle schooler, you’ll pass. If not, you won’t, and you shouldn’t.”

    Tests are badges for your resume so people will take you seriously when you say you speak XYZ. If you want to be a translator you better be able to pass the JLPT N1, but by the time you get there it will be easy for you. Why learn a language for a test? A badge that says, “I can do X” is worthless and even damaging to your career if you can’t really do it. Some people struggle and pass N1 with a bare minimum score of like 60%. Good for them if they are job hunting and need the badge, but who is impressed?

  7. Hi Sam

    I am an ESL tutor. I think, as you say, a lot of people don’t like making mistakes. I think it is a confidence issue. Practicing as early as possible and ideally with native speakers helps get over that fear. One of the first and best phrases to learn in any language is:”how do I say…”. Thanks for an insightful article.


  8. My biggest mistake during the first part of my year abroad was refraining from speaking out of fear of making mistakes. If I could redo it I would be much more laid back – making mistakes is the only way to learn.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree, making mistakes is the only way to learn. As Greg Thomson has once said, “The only normal way to begin speaking in a new language is to begin speaking badly.” 🙂

  9. Arkady Zilberman

    How to Make Your Life Miserable Learning Languages?

    If you will learn a foreign language by traditional methods using seven steps you have described in your post, your chance of becoming miserable is 95%. That is the failure rate that some experts quote.

    To become 100% sure that you will be miserable add flashcards to your tools and watch videos.

    The conventional methods of learning EFL are passive. In a language class of twenty students, each student participates in active conversation of no more than one or two minutes per session. The remaining time is passive listening to the teacher’s explanations or other students’ conversations. This explains the low retention rate and high level of misery.

    Avoid acquisition or training of foreign language skills by all means to ensure misery in learning languages!

    1. Hi Arkady. While I agree that use of flashcards can, in some situations, add to the misery, I would not want my article to be interpreted as discouraging people from acquiring foreign language skills, very much the opposite! By ensuring that you learn a foreign language in a more sustainable (and fun!) manner, learning can become much more effective and pleasant.

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