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The Three Laws of Language Acquisition, version 4.5

0. Zeroth Law: Compare yourself only to yourself. And to newborn babies.

1. The Prime Directive: Have fun.

2. The Promise: Show up.

3. The Triple Path:

  • Don’t learn: get used to.
  • Don’t improve: suck less.
  • Don’t binge: nibble often.

  11 comments for “The Three Laws of Language Acquisition, version 4.5

  1. April 22, 2012 at 08:17

    I find the zeroth law quite important…
    I am learning the guitar, and whenever i watch videos of virtuosos, i think to myself
    “why the hell am i even bothering?”, because I would be comparing my ability to theirs.
    Then when I hadn’t seen or heard any guitar to awhile, i would slip into enjoying playing around
    with notes on the thing without self-judgement, but only as an unconscious mistake…
    As soon as I remembered the infinite multitude of people who are better than me, my spirit
    dwindled and I hated playing the guitar again.
    Because I’m not good now, I didn’t want to play it.
    In short, when I was playing it because it was fun, it was easy and I played for long periods.
    When I was playing it to “improve my guitar ability” to the level of other people, it was a drag. It sucked.

    This is such an important thing to realize about skill acquisition..
    You must become a hermit in regards to what you are gaining.
    Don’t surround yourself with people who are better than you!
    That will kill your motivation…
    Just enjoy doing the stupid little things you do, and one day it’ll hit you: “Woah, I can do it like they can! Even better!”
    Khathz knows what he’s motherfekkin talking about.

      April 22, 2012 at 15:12

      Listen to this man.

    • Luis
      April 24, 2012 at 02:56

      “This is such an important thing to realize about skill acquisition..
      You must become a hermit in regards to what you are gaining.
      Don’t surround yourself with people who are better than you!
      That will kill your motivation…”
      I agree with what you posted, but…. If Lennon and McCartney weren’t competing with each other, they would have written like Harrison. If Harrison didn’t surround himself with people who were better than him( Lennon & McCartney), he wouldn’t have written as well as he did. Sometimes you need to be pushed. Playing in rock bands improved my guitar playing while also being a great deal of fun.

      • Ragdim
        April 25, 2012 at 10:42

        I’d say it’s important to have a mix up honestly. This goes back to the cliche saying “all things in moderation” — too much focus on how good other people are versus how sucky you are is detrimental, but on the other hand it is highly beneficial to study others to see what methods/mistakes they’ve made so that you aren’t “reinventing the wheel”.

        • Michael
          October 28, 2013 at 06:48

          I’d say that, as far as being pushed is concerned, you should be surrounded with people on your level or slightly better for competition. Otherwise you’ll get disheartened or bored.

      • Zeriel
        April 30, 2016 at 10:16

        I think what you’re saying only applies to people with similar ability because even if they are better than you, you know you can catch up and even surpass them if you push harder, but if you try this with someone that will destroy you and make you look like shit then that will make you want to give up because your lack of ability makes you feel the futility of trying to catch up to them

    • April 25, 2012 at 13:02

      I’d say that you’re completely right, except one thing. I think that if you actually meet people in real life, and speak with them on their level, subconsciously it will become a must to play guitar or speak Japanese as well as they do. But I think you are 100% right, there’s no use spending hours watching other virtuoso’s play (unless you’re learning from them) when you should be spending time, hermiting your abilities into the sky.

    • Sagetobe
      May 14, 2012 at 22:46

      I think it’s important to distinguish comparing yourself to others from observing and learning from others. Comparing yourself to others, like the Beatles example you mentioned, can be a double-edged sword. It can make you want to strive harder to reach the level of that other person, or it can make you despair in the belief that you could never catch up to them. Either way, as I see it, the comparison is motivational in nature.
      On the other hand, you can learn from anyone, whether they’re “better” or “worse” than you are. It’s pretty obvious why you can learn from someone better, but the other case is why you can actually learn by teaching. It makes you really think about what you’re doing and ask yourself “why do I do [thing that I’ve been doing without considering other options]?”
      That said, you have to find your own balance between the two. Maybe you’re extremely competitive in nature, and you’re better off finding that next room of Japanese schoolchildren whom you could win a debate with. Or maybe you’re better off keeping to yourself, seeking a pointer from Khatz every once in a while, and generally just doing your own thing.

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