Fluency

They say the best way to learn a foreign language is immersion. Don’t download an app or sit in a class – move to the country. Spend three months in France and you’ll speak French better than you ever would from another method.

Most people have heard this advice; it’s both relatively common and mostly intuitive so we understand it fairly easily.

And yet, many people think this applies only to language.

“Language” can have a pretty broad meaning here – it doesn’t just have to mean Italian or Farsi. Go hang out with a bunch of skaters and tell me they aren’t speaking their own language. How about any random computer lab at MIT?

That “language barrier” can feel daunting. But the way to overcome it is to embrace it.

When I first developed an interest in economics, I picked up a few books and cracked them open based on a few casual recommendations I’d heard. The first few pages seemed like they were in ancient Greek. Not only did I not know what half the words meant, I didn’t even know which half, since a lot of economics terms are actually just regular words used in totally different ways. (For example, normal people think the word “real” means “actually existing,” but economists use that word to mean “adjusted for inflation!” Quite the trip for the self-taught economist hitting that for the first time.)

So I didn’t even know which words I needed to look up, and I was confused as heck. But I was still interested, so I kept on. Soon my ignorance didn’t decrease, but it at least started to take shape. That meant it had solid edges I could chip away at; words I could now define, concepts I could understand, contexts I could apply to what I read. Before I knew it I could blast through one of those textbooks in a few days and grasp everything I read.

The trick to learning something quickly is to be very, very comfortable with being extremely uncomfortable. You have to just dive in and be confused. You have to have some confidence that the confusion will fade quickly.

Go find people talking about the thing you want to learn and just read or listen to all of it. Don’t worry if you don’t understand most of it; in fact, don’t try at first. It’s more important to observe. To gather familiarity around you.

Fluency will come.

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