Is There Any 'Magic' To It?

Is there a magic to language learning? Yes, and no. There’s absolutely NO magic in the sense that we have to consciously choose to learn. We have to expose ourselves to the language, We have to practice reading/listening/speaking/writing/thinking. We have to continue to push forward after we’ve attained milestones along the way. All of these things are non-magical.

But then there’s an element of how the brain works behind the scenes which feels like magic! In addition to seeing, tasting, hearing, etc, the brain has the capability to learn languages. Like other functions of the brain, it’s not something you need to tell it to do. And like a new smell or sound, the brain will surprise you with the foreign words/phrases it remembers and uses. It’s that feeling of “Wow, I’m getting it!”

I am fairly new in my journey to fluency (my definition of which is my own), but this is how I’m approaching things now based on what I’ve accomplished so far. The closest thing I’ve had to experiencing this magic would be a time, many years ago, that I spent in New Zealand as a university student. I was there for a couple of months and picked up the accent. I remember the moment when it clicked and I was able to reproduce thoughts that sounded like a true kiwi.

For those of you who have achieved your language learning goals, what was it like?


I am trying to break free from my uni-lingual shackles right now and am attempting to learn French. I am early in the journey right now, but am already excited by the amount I have already been able to take in. In my limited experience it seems that language learning takes a lot of intentional work, while at the same time allowing your brain to almost reprogram in a way.

As I am trying to increase my vocabulary and in my understanding as I read, I guess the one thing I am wrestling with is at what point will my brain simply understand the meaning of a word without having to first translate it in my mind through my English filter. I have heard that you need to try and associate the words in the language you are learning with real life objects rather than trying to focus on the vocabulary translation. But, that seems to go against the emphasis that LingQ places on reading and listening. I guess this is just me kind of casting the net looking for answers to my wrestling with my new experience of language learning and not fully understanding how to…for lack of a better way to put it…make my brain do what I want haha. I am guessing it is simply a matter of time and exposure to the language but I wasn’t sure if there is something I should be doing (Or should not be doing) as I read and process.

Well, like you, I’m not at a fluent level, probably nowhere close if I’m honest, but the few breakthroughs I have had, have come from seemingly nowhere.

I agree there is some kind of strangeness going on in the brain that we’re unaware of. I’d almost liken it to “being in the zone” in sport where for reasons unknown to the player they suddenly can’t do anything wrong, they see a tennis ball like a football, golfers who feel like they could hit fairway after fairway with their eyes closed, or the runner who just can’t stop making new PBs etc.

On the other hand, it’s not quite like that, in that being in the zone doesn’t usually last, lol, but it seems to appear like magic.

I’m not one of these people who believe that we only use 10% of the brain or whatever nonsense they say, in fact the brain uses so much energy that it’d be impossible to get it to do much more than it currently does, but I do think there are natural processes, at an unconscious level, that sorts out language learning for us.

Steve has said before that when he comes back to a language, after a break, he’s often better than he was when he left it. I’ve found the same thing (at my very rudimentary level), something behind the scenes is definitely going on if you ask me.

If you look at everyone around the world - almost without exception - we learn our native language at close to identical rates, some will lag a few months, some will be early speakers, but by the age of around 5-6 we are all very tuned into our language and can even speak it with decent grammar, if we have a healthy brain, and we’re exposed for this period, you probably couldn’t find a single child (from a sample size of billions) at that age who didn’t understand and speak the language.

I don’t believe this ability deserts us when we reach adulthood, what deserts us is that perfect environment of 24/7 immersion, with at least one (often 2) native tutors (parents), as well as siblings, other family members, not to mention zero interference from years of another language imprinted on our brain, add in the fierce survival instinct we have at that age (motivation). We never get that environment again in our lives. You can try to create something similar, but i don’t think it will come close to what we had before. Furthermore, not a single person alive remembers how they did it!

I wonder how good one would become if you took a 40 year old out of their current language environment, put him into a new one, and repeated the exact same process again in that new language, I wonder how long it would take that person to equal his native ability, or even surpass it? Another 40 years? 100 years? 200 years? Would they acquire a native accent in such a time? Would they totally forget their original language? After 200 years, would there be any trace left of their native tongue? Perhaps they would never lose their accent? I do think they would use the 2nd language at least equally as well as their 1st though.


<<I wonder how good one would become if you took a 40 year old out of their current language environment, put him into a new one, and repeated the exact same process again in that new language, I wonder how long it would take that person to equal his native ability, or even surpass it? .>>

According to every Rosetta Stone commercial I’ve seen, it happens after two months and two hundred dollars.



After 100 years. “X in French means Y in English and English is what I understand.”

Eventually, after a long time, and a lot of words, you’ll skip over a lot of this. I still do it often, but it happens more with output. If an otherwise articulate person is pausing and uh, umming, etc. in a foreign language, that’s what is happening.

I learned the English language without paying any particular attention to it. One day I just woke up and realised I was fluent, maybe B2 level back then. I didn’t really experience any great feelings of achievement with that language.

With Swedish my biggest achievement has probably been to learn to think in the language. My inner conversation is becoming richer and richer all the time, and my communication is more intuitive every time I take a shot at it. I had actually studied Swedish for over a decade before I had my first talk with a native speaker in Swedish, haha.

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