language mentor

You have been learning a foreign language for some time now, but you feel like you are not progressing too fast. What do you really need to finally achieve your intended goal?

When I first picked up Zygmunt Broniarczyk‘s book “How I Learned Eight Foreign Languages” as a teenager, my world completely changed.

Have you ever had such a moment when suddenly everything seemed clear? When those randomly scattered dots of events in your life, as mentioned in Steve Jobs‘ speech at Stanford University, were suddenly connected?

I devoured the book in one day and realized that I wanted to become a polyglot. From that moment on, my life was meant to revolve around languages. But, how should I learn them? This question kept bothering me.

Reading about other polyglots

I decided to delve into the biographies of great polyglots and learn about their methods of learning.

How did Heinrich Schliemann learn, who, thanks to his knowledge of many languages, could fulfill his childhood dream and discover the mythical Troy?

What method did Emil Krebs, a polyglot born in Świebodzice, use, whose brain was preserved after death and served researchers in understanding human memory?

Yes, like most of us, I had images from many Hollywood productions in my mind: Master Yoda showing Luke Skywalker how to use “the Force” in “Star Wars”; young Daniel learning the secrets of karate from the unassuming old man from Japan, Mr. Miyagi, in the movie “Karate Kid”; or “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” Dave, initially an average boy, being introduced to the secrets of magic by Balthazar Blake… Every student must have their mentor… So who should become my language mentor?

It seemed to me that learning languages, or any other skill for that matter, only required finding someone more experienced who could show us the path to success.

However, that is not entirely true.

You don’t need one language mentor

Actually, you don’t need just one language mentor. In reality, you need three of them. You must include three types of people in your learning system, who will help you overcome difficulties and improve what you have learned.

MMA master and martial arts expert, Frank Shamrock, mentioned this in his training system, which is based on three pillars. He named them: “plus“, “minus“, and “equals.”

To acquire the skills we desire, we must find a teacher, someone who already possesses the knowledge of how to achieve our chosen goal. They are more experienced than us, so Frank Shamrock refers to them as the “plus” in his training equation. This person can show us the way to victory. Working with a mentor is essential as it allows us to discover how to surpass our limits and recognize broader possibilities.

However, a mentor alone is not enough. We also need people at the same level as us with whom we can test our skills. Frank Shamrock needed sparring partners with similar abilities. Thanks to them, he could assess his progress and eliminate imperfections. In his equation, individuals at the same level are represented by the “equals” sign.

To become a master, we need one more element – represented by the “minus” sign – which involves people who are less skilled than us. We must become teachers to them and show them how to follow the path we have already taken, even if that path is not yet very long.

Becoming a master is not achieved through achieving perfection but through passing on our knowledge to others. When we become teachers for someone, we can analyze what we know and identify gaps in our knowledge. Albert Einstein once said wise words:

If you can’t explain something in a simple way, it means you don’t understand it well enough.”

Until we test ourselves as teachers, we won’t fully realize how well we know something.

How to apply this to learning foreign languages?

Your “plus” can be your teacher, language coach, or simply a friend, a native speaker, who can help you delve deeper and get to know the language better. It also involves exposing yourself to the language used by people in everyday life, such as watching movies, listening to music or podcasts, reading articles, and books. Engaging with the living language allows you to see how much lies ahead of you, but also how much progress you have already made. Every small success brings great motivation for further learning.

Equals” are your classmates from language classes with whom you can compare yourself while collaborating and supporting each other. It also includes all the materials that are not too difficult for you, such as dialogues from textbooks or books written in simplified language. You can use them to test your knowledge and practice familiar words and structures in new contexts.

Minuses” refer to helping others in their language learning journey. Even if you don’t know the language very well yet, you will learn the most by teaching it to someone else. I remember when I started learning Spanish, I decided to teach my younger sister as well. Those short lessons allowed me to see what I still couldn’t do and consolidate my existing knowledge better. Always remember the beautiful words of William Shakespeare: 

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.

So, who is your language mentor?

Who do you learn from?

With whom do you practice your skills? Who is your learning partner?

And who is your student? Whom do you plan to share your skills with, and perhaps even change their life for the better?

Article originally published at in Polish. You can find it here.

Konrad Jerzak vel Dobosz

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