how to learn a language and sound like an idiot

How to Learn a New Language and Sound Like an Idiot

You read that right. You WILL sound like an idiot.

You’ve heard what they say: learning a second language, especially early in life, has all kinds of benefits. It makes us smarter, can help stave off dementia, and is great for showing off in bars.

The New York Times recently published an article about the “superior social skills of bilinguals.” In a nutshell, researchers showed that bilingual children as young as 14 months demonstrated more empathy and awareness of others than their monolingual peers.

But what about people who weren’t exposed to another language as children? Is it too late for them? Are they doomed to low intelligence and poor social skills?

Not at all. It just depends on your approach. Here are 5 tips to help you learn a new language without worrying about the fact that you’re going to sound like an idiot.

1. Forget about perfection.

First things first: If you’re learning a language as an adult, you are probably never going to speak it perfectly. You will always have an accent. You will always make grammatical mistakes. You will probably do as I do, and make embarrassingly hilarious vocabulary mix-ups (like the time I mixed up “arbusto” and “buitre” in Spanish. Look those words up.)

Just accept that and move on. It will take the pressure out of learning a new language.

2. Fluency is about perception.

A friend once asked me if I was fluent in Spanish. I said I definitely wasn’t. Then he asked if I could be dropped onto a street in Spain and ask someone the way to the train station. I said, “Yes, of course I could!” “Well, then,” he said. “You’re fluent.”

My perception then of fluency was speaking fluidly, without making any grammatical mistakes or searching for words. But actually, my friend was right.

Language is about communication. If you are able to communicate what you need, and make yourself understood, and understand with relative ease, then you have achieved fluency.

3. You won’t learn a new language until you’re forced to.

If we’re honest, most of us are too lazy to work on learning a language until we’re in a situation where we’ll be forced to use it.

Despite being born in Switzerland, I didn’t really learn French until I was thrown in at the deep end and started in public school at age nine. Same with Spanish. I didn’t really improve until I lived in Spain for a month, and I wouldn’t have said I was fluent until a few months after meeting Chico.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t study language in a course setting, work on vocab, or anything like that. You definitely should.

But you will probably find that you won’t be able to do much with it until you’re thrown from the frying pan into the fire, and you’ve got to find your way to the train station in a foreign city.

4. Train your brain to think in the new language.

People say I have a gift for languages. The one thing that might be considered a gift, though, is the ability to think in the language in which I’m speaking. Even if I don’t really speak the language.

It wasn’t until I started an intensive German course in January, that I realized just how valuable this is. Even though I stumbled through sentences, and searched for my words, I found that I was actually thinking in limited German in my head.

Thinking in the language you’re studying will help you to practice using the vocabulary you know. It will also help you to speak without worrying about producing perfect, complete sentences. And that leads me to:

5. Just go for it.

Seriously, don’t try and come up with the perfect sentence in your head before speaking. By the time you’re ready, the conversation will have totally changed course, and you’ll be that awkward dude harping back on a topic that’s been over for ten minutes.

Yes, you are going to sound like an idiot sometimes.

No, no one cares.

Have a sense of humor about it, and be ready to laugh at yourself as heartily as the next guy. If you are timid and hold back from throwing yourself into a conversation, you’ll never get far.


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Photo source: Wikipedia

What Living Out of Suitcases for 4 Months Taught Me

It’s been a while.

As I wrote earlier in the fall, Chico, our Bug, and I packed up house and home and left Montreal. Since then, we have traveled to 6 different countries, and lived out of suitcases for 4 months (in fact, Chico is *still* living out of a suitcase).

These last few months have been full of ups and downs, excitement and adventure, and I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share with you.

You’ve Packed Too Much

We planned to go between northern and southern hemispheres in our travels, and since we didn’t know how long we’d be living out of suitcases, I wanted to be prepared. I packed one enormous suitcase, half full of summer clothes and half full of winter clothes for the Bug, and a smaller one for me.

Lesson learned: children outgrow clothes far quicker than you think. And: you’ll never wear all those clothes (especially if they’re from two summers ago, before you were pregnant).

Also, one can purchase inexpensive clothing new or second hand pretty much anywhere. There is no need to schlepp all those clothes around, simply because you have them.

So yeah, you can probably get by with a carry-on.

Reach Out to People Whenever Possible

Traveling with a baby is nothing like traveling on your own. You have to go at your little one’s pace, and you’re much more limited in how quickly and often you can get out and about, and when!

That’s where the internet comes in handy. (Oh, that’s another tip: always get a phone. Unlock your phone and buy pre-paid SIM cards. My friends joke I am the woman of a million telephone numbers.)

I used both Facebook and to get together with other stay-at-home parents in Brazil, and in Germany. You’d be surprised by the number of people who are in a similar situation and who are dying to get out of the house with their kid and meet you.

I met some great people in Rio, and in the short time we were there, ended up invited to two social events, and sang in a Christmas carol concert with a choir on a beach. All because I reached out.

Take Some Time to Plan

While you’re lounging on a beach, or sipping a brew in a Bavarian beer garden, watching your toddler trying to kill himself on a jungle gym, take some time to think things through.

If you’re moving around like this, it’s probably because you’re a trailing spouse. If that is the case, you may want to take some time to think about how you want to approach the life of a trailing spouse.

Does your partner’s job support your family sufficiently so that you don’t feel the need to work? Or do you ache to get back into the work force somewhere? In either case (or in any case, for that matter), you’ll want to think about what your priorities are within the choices you’ve made as a family.

Having this wandering time has taught me that while I love my child, I do not want to spend all day, every day with him. I think it’s healthiest for both him and me if he gets into day care, and I find work. That’s easier said than done, but making that decision has allowed me to plan for what to do now that we’re settled in one place.

But, with that being said…

Take Life One Day at a Time

Planning is all well and good, but while you’re living out of a suitcase, uncertain of where you’ll go next, you’ve got to take one day at a time.

This is also easier said than done, especially for a planner/organizer like me. But once I embraced the traveling lifestyle, I was able to let go to some extent and take each day as it came. Some days were better than others, but choosing to enjoy each and every day helped to take the sting out of some of the uncertainty of those four months.

It helped that I had a rough idea of when our nomadic wanderings would end. But if you don’t have that, the best thing to do is wake up every day and face it as it comes. Don’t project, don’t procrastinate. Get things done today.

It really feels good.

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Avery’s Petite Lisette Dress

Since I’m so bored with social media, it’s time I shared a knitting update with you all!

This delightful little pattern caught my eye on Instagram (yes, my feed is populated by my relatives, their babies, and yarn): Petite Lisette, by Lili Comme Tout.

It’s billed as a dress, but the finished product is much more like a tunic than a dress:

Petite Lisette dress, the front

Main Body

The dress is worked bottom-up in the round, first on 4mm needles, then on 3.5mm. I found the broken ribbing at the hem a little strange-looking at first, but now it’s grown on me. I did add a couple of centimeters in length, but it still seems too short to be a dress.

Next came the box pleats: The pattern includes some very helpful instructions, and I didn’t find it necessary to make my usual how-to search on YouTube. You might need to, though, if you’re more of a visual learner.

They are a bit finicky, and I found myself not breathing for several seconds at a time while I was working them. The fear of dropping any stitches had me holding my breath and sticking out my tongue in concentration.

Petite Lisette dress from the back

Bodice & Neckline

To work the bodice, you knit up to a certain point, then put some stitches on hold while you work up either side of the neckline. This is done both at the back and the front.

It’s hard to measure well when all your jersey knit is curling, and I think I might have made it a bit lop-sided. It probably doesn’t help that I was knitting in moving vehicles, airplanes, and other such uncomfortable places that make laying a piece out and measuring it difficult.

The cast-off around the neckline is an i-cord bind off (link to an instructional video). It’s a pretty bind off, but it’s slow, and the pattern calls for making an extra length at either end for tying. I think if I make this dress again, I will skip the extra lengths, do an i-cord bind off and then fashion a little button loop and sew on a button for the closure.


Picking up and knitting for the sleeves is always tricky, and I get this horrible gap between my main work and the picked-up stitches. I have no idea how to avoid this, so if anyone has any tips, I’d appreciate it!

My solution has been to sew them closer once I’ve finished the sleeves. Not ideal, but it works.

You can choose to make the dress with short, capped sleeves, or with longer sleeves. I did a three-quarter length. There is a box pleat at the end of each sleeve, which is a bit tricky, but looks very cute once it’s done.

The i-cord bind off on the sleeves posed another problem: How to graft the end of the bind off to the beginning so that it looks nice. I had some help doing the first sleeve, and that one ended up looking pretty nice.

But for the second sleeve, I was just winging it. Since I didn’t have internet access at the time, I couldn’t fall back to a YouTube video search. I have since found this video on grafting the i-cord bind off, which I hope others will find helpful.

Yarn & Notions

The yarn I used is Sweet Georgia “Tough Love” sock yarn in orchid. It’s a great fingering weight yarn, and it’s nice and soft for a little baby to wear. It’s also machine washable, a definite plus.

I used my Addi Click circular needles for the body, and some knitpick double-pointed needles for the sleeves and box pleats. I’m a huge fan of my Addi Click needles (I have them in metal).

And that is all she wrote! It is currently with little Avery, ready for her to grow into it this winter.

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