Stop being such a crybaby

My life is so unfair – forget the starving children in Africa, or people with terminal illnesses; they have no idea what I have to put up with. I have seperable verbs and conjugations to deal with. Oh, woe is me!!

For example, German has strange word orders, prepositions at the end of sentences that completely change its meaning, three (yes count them, one two THREE) genders randomly assigned to words, and at least ten million other problems that make it almost impossible to learn. I don’t think anyone in the world is suffering as much as me right now.

And don’t get me started on other languages! Czech goes overboard with seven cases and unpronounceable strings of consonants, Thai has the same pronunciation with different tones for completely different words, and doesn’t even have the common decency to use the same writing system as us – I mean honestly, I think they put that all those differences in for no reason other than to annoy me.

Portuguese has nasal sounds, Irish has a weird writing system, Spanish has pages of tables of conjugations to learn – it’s like the cruel tribesmen that invented these languages were thinking of nothing more than ways to torture me thousands of years later.

Why can’t they just all be like English?

[Childish whining mode off]

Oh come on, don’t be such a crybaby!!

The above introduction is clearly written ironically, but you know what? I have actually heard these arguments from frustrated language learners. If you found yourself nodding in agreement to anything I said above, it’s time to be frank – stop being such a crybaby!

No matter which language I take on, and no matter where I go, I’ll always run into these people. As you know, I call those who have a mission, a great mentality, and an efficient learning strategy, language hackers.

Well, they have counterparts! Replace the ‘h’ with an ‘l’ and add an s, in the Italian sense of making a negative, and you have their polar opposites: language slackers.

Language slackers

A language slacker is someone who focuses on the negative, sees nothing but the vast amount of work in learning a language, endlessly complains about how hard it is, and of course, will even give up and say that the task is impossible.

They are not necessarily stupid people, but they will lazily categorise language hackers as geniuses or people magically blessed with other fortunes, like vast riches for travelling, or more opportunities to speak than them. Rather than try to focus on what they can do to achieve their language goals, language slackers will be closed minded, and create nothing but excuses for why it’s too hard for them.

But there is hope – all that language slackers need to do is be a little bit flexible and try to change their mentality. A few minor changes in how to look at things and how they are learning their language could be as easy as changing that s & l to an h.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

I don’t care what your excuse is, if you are clever enough you will find a way around it.

Don’t have time to study? Make time. Getting bogged down with all that grammar? Speak anyway – I promise the world won’t come to an end if someone else hears you make a mistake.

What’s that you say? You have other excuses? You have children, or live in a village in the desert, or sucked at languages in school? Well, boo-hoo. There are people with similar stories to yours but way less resources, opportunities and intelligence than you, who have managed to achieve what you say is ‘impossible’. Rather than wait for the universe to offer them a chance, they took it upon themselves and found a way to make it work.

At the end of the day, complaining about how hard a language is does earn you the title of crybaby. The whole point of taking on another language is because it’s different and includes challenges. If it was the same as English (or your mother tongue), and if you could speak it really easy in your home town, then it wouldn’t be a foreign language. If there were no cases, genders, tones, irregularities etc. then it wouldn’t be the language you claim to want to speak so much.

Rather than complain about all of these differences, you have to start to appreciate them, and see how can you work with these difficulties to find a solution. When you look at them with a positive attitude, everything changes.

Try to see how great these differences are

The language’s complications are what give it that extra vavavoom. They flower it up, add spice to it and make it all the more interesting. Yes, you do have to work hard to get your head around these differences, but there is a finite amount of work before you can master any particular issue. And when you do master it, you will start to wonder how other languages work without that interesting difference.

I genuinely feel like English is missing out when I say something, which would otherwise have an accusative applied to it, adjective case to tell you more about the noun, and other idiosyncrasies that make other languages all that more interesting.

Am I crazy for thinking English should be ‘harder’? Perhaps – there is no right or wrong for which way is better, and there is no superior way of expressing yourself. With a genitive is in no way inherently ‘better’ than without, or vice-versa. But I do have complete control over how I view it, and a positive attitude is by far one of the best things possible for making the language easier to learn.

By applying this attitude of being positive despite difficulties, it is so much easier to become a language hacker :)

Of course, the concepts described in this post can be applied to anything. Not just language learning. The reason I see so many people not achieving their dreams is precisely because of their inefficient way of looking at it. People who do achieve their lifelong goals of learning languages, travelling the world, finding their ideal job etc. do not necessarily have better means than you (yes… some do) – they just continued on their path steadily and didn’t stop and give out about how unfair things are.

By far, one of the best possible ways of solving any problem you may have is to stop complaining about it and to do something about it. Once you look at it in another light, everything else starts to look brighter.

So which are you? A language slacker, or a language hacker? It’s an easy choice – don’t tell me how hard your task is, tell me how easy it is :)

If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to leave a comment, and share it with your friends!



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  • Oscar

    Good post, you can make so much more progress when you're willing to take personal responsibility for your learning.

  • Rachel

    The biggest excuse I hear from our student is to blame their slackiness on the teacher or textbook. They honestly believe they failed because the book was not good enough or the teacher. One guy, married to a Chinese woman, quit and said we ruined his chance to learn Mandarin because his teacher got switched twice (each time a fantastic teacher). He was the consummate whiner. Meanwhile the other students in the class went on and did great, becoming conversational in the basics.

  • lyzazel

    Well, as somebody who speaks it as a second language I could say that English is not a candy either. Among other things, it has irregular verb-noun (to order – order but to nominate – nomination but to pronounce – pronunciation but to depend – dependency; where is the consistency?) as well as noun-adjective (change – changeable, glacier – glacial, naruralist – naturalistic, ice – icy, intensity – intensive; huh?) formation, many irregular past tense verbs (do – did, think – thought, understand – understood and learn – learned) and some complicated constructions (I would have bought it if I had known that you would have been there – that's three verbs at once twice with). Most of all, even if we disregard all of that, it has a very irregular pronunciation which you practically have to learn for every word. The word “one” is pronounced like you know it is… why not “oh-ne”?

  • Hugo S.

    I just loved it!

  • Randy

    Agree. Agree. Agree. Agree. Agree. Agree. Agree. Agree. Agree. Agree. Agree. Agree.

    I agree with all of it.

    For instance, I am deeply involved in a love affair with the Russian language. To me it's everything a language should be. But I would have never found that if I hadn't found a way to get through all those difficult parts. Ironically, it is now precisely those difficult parts that make me love it so much.

    Regarding excuses like “but I just don't have your talent for it”, you might find this discussion interesting.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Well said!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Totally agree – English is messed up and far from a good standard to point to for something easy or ideal. I just refer to it this way in the article since it is something a lot of English speakers seem to think.

    BTW the answer to that Why question is connected to the history of the printing press in England, which stuck to old spelling even though the language continued to evolve. French/Spanish etc. were constantly updating their spelling based on actually pronunciation. So “one” would indeed have sounded a lot more like “oh-ne” (or something like that) in Shakespeare's time.

    Then again, that is far from comforting :P :P

  • singlewithluggage

    I think I just might love you! And, I'm getting off me arse with Spanish once and for all. (amongst several other things) And, I'm breaking my rule about not subscribing to anymore blogs. Your post ROCKS!

  • Josh

    I consider myself a language hacker. This was another wonderful post by an intersting guy! Thanks Benny for saying what others of us have always wanted to!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Single girl says she loves me = awesome :D
    Glad I've enticed you to break some rules! Hope to see more of you later

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Cheers Randy!

  • Adrienn

    I agree that you definitely need a certain openness towards differences/difficulties of a foreign language and I like how you suggest appreciation as a solution.

    I´ve found though, that when I come across something frustrating it´s hard to immediately assume a positive attitude like that… So my strategy to tackle difficulty, since I derive a perverted pleasure from studying the grammar of a language, has been to delve deeply into the problem, ask questions, collect more examples for it, draw conclusions, or disassemble everything to try to understand how “the strange stuff” works.

    In the process I usually find the appreciation you´re talking about… or at least discover how even irregularities can make sense (how wonderfully you can group the irregular verbs of English, for example).

  • ER

    Hey Benny, I definitely agree with you. I like your point that language slackers aren't necessarily unintelligent, but they are closed-minded. Very frustrating to be around, and I try to avoid them at all costs. Just like everything else in life, negative energy will do nothing productive for you and is life-cancelling, not life-affirming.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Great way to gain the positive attitude Adrienn!

  • Eugenia

    I like your posts a lot! I'm a Spanish-speaking translator (I translate English into Spanish, or Spanish into English when necessary). I also study Italian. People may think that if you speak Spanish, then Italian is very easy for you but it's not so. For instance, I have problems with verbs in Italian, which is kind of weird, as my mother tongue is Spanish and we strive with verbs since we start speaking!!!! Instead, I LOVE English when it comes to verbs! It's sooooo easy!!!
    Anyway, I keep trying. I won't be defeated by Italian verbs!!!! hahahaha
    Have you already “hacked” Italian? I found your blog a few days ago and I didn't have time to go through it thoroughly.
    Keep up the good work!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Hi Eugenia ;) As mentioned above in another comment, don't dismiss English as easy so quickly!
    Keep up the good work with Italian verbs – I have indeed “hacked” Italian, and you can see a funny video I made about it here. I also have a website for displaying videos I've made just in Italian – you can see that by clicking the Italian flag on the right (I have videos in Spanish too :P )
    Glad to see that you are enjoying my posts!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Idiots tend to find fault in everything but themselves ;)

  • Erin

    This is so true and something I really need to keep in mind as I get confused with the subjunctive and imperative in Spanish this week! I´ll try to focus on the positives, promise!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Great job Erin! Don't worry so much about the subjunctive & imperative etc. Seriously. I passed my C2 level exam in Spanish because I just spoke these things *wrong* in the early stages, and came back to work on them when I was confidently speaking – when you study the grammar as your Spanish is flowing better, it'll be so much more fun, and logical :)
    Hope BsAs is treating you well! How's Maria Jose?? I'd love to hear how everything is going in your classes with her. She's awesome

  • Robby Kukurs

    Hi Benny and others!

    I have a theory why such languages slackers are out there.

    Those are simply people who've started studying a foreign language for the wrong reason and therefore they're not motivated enough to embrace the new language learning with joy.

    A vivid example of the above would be learning a foreign language at school when you're a teenager and you don't care at all about the subject. The motivation is close to 0, you're getting around the basics but it all is forgotten in a few months after you leave the secondary school…

    Of course I'm not saying everyone's like that at school :-) but many are – and the same stories go on later in life.

    Those language slackers give out about language difficulties because they're not really motivated. Well, they might think they are, but deep inside they're just trying to come up with excuses not to learn the language!

    For instance, in Rachel's comment about the guy who married the Chinese woman – to me it just looks that he didn't really want to learn the language. I assume his wife spoke English (how else would they communicate? :-) so he was probably forced to attend the classes by his wife… Or he was kind of telling himself – yeah, I want to learn Mandarin.. but it wasn't a GENUINE desire! You know what I mean?

    So I believe that ultimately the whole point is not about language learners who have to change their attitude. It's about language learners who should open their eyes and ask themselves – do I really WANT to learn the language or I'm just trying to prove something to myself of others?

    By the way – there was a great post about a similar topic on Randy's blog –



  • Alec

    This doesn't bother me, but it might bother some other people. While you haven't been blessed with wealth, you are “wealthy” in terms of flexibility. You're very fortunate to have a job that lets you live wherever. Some people might point out that your job is an anomaly in that you can travel and still work.
    That being said, I agree with your post wholeheartedly. I'm sure many language slackers, if presented with an opportunity like yours that allowed them to be immersed for enough time to “bulk up” in the target language, would probably complain anyway or get there and conclude the language is still too hard or find some other excuse.
    I think many slackers are trained to believe that languages are not only hard, but painful. They think of tiresome exercises, frustrating drills, and other unrewarding language study methods and lose their motivation.
    There's a Russian proverb that summarizes your post well: Кто хочет, ищет возможности, а кто не хочет — причины “Those who truly want something look for opportunities, and those who don't truly want it look for excuses.” Really, that's the difference between the slackers and hackers. The one group discourages themselves and comes up with excuses. The other group thinks about how they enjoy learning and how they can overcome their language's obstacles.
    Anyway, sorry for being so wordy. Nice post!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for your positive comment Alec, but I have to say that the start has “lazy excuses” written all over it, precisely in the light I was dicussing in this post!

    Why do I have this job? Because the toothfairy delivered fortune to me late? Because I inherited it from my great grandfather? NO – because I worked over years in extremely badly paid and stressful jobs so that I could reach this point. Having a job with such flexibility was something I worked towards in order to give me this freedom, it isn't the reason I can be so free, and it's very easy to dismiss that if you ignore people's story and just look at the end-product. That's getting cause and effect mixed up, and it's the same thing language slackers do when they see someone speak a language confidently. Oh, he's just “naturally talented”.

    Anyone else with enough resolve and commitment could make themselves just as flexible. If they give me ten thousand reasons why they can't bother trying, then they either don't want it enough (which is fine) or they are lazy and too scared to take important risks. I've heard stories of amazing setbacks being overcome (huge debts, no qualifications, no language skills, children, you name it, people have overcome it) for people to have similar work situations to mine.

    I agree with the rest of your comment and it shows you totally understand what I'm talking about, but use that Russian proverb to reflect on what you said at the start ;)

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks Robby, I also enjoyed Randy's post!
    Genuine desire is extremely important and it's why people don't understand why they aren't learning a language despite years of investment. Just trying to prove something is focusing too much on the details of a language and not seeing the end-purpose of enjoying conversing with natives.
    Thanks for the comment

  • alysiaraine

    Amazing post Benny! I used to be quite the 'language slacker' and I used to just endlessly complain about how difficult German was and how I'd never learn enough vocabulary and how the three noun genders (der, die, das) were a royal pain in the ass…etc. etc. etc.

    Luckily for me though, I've completely changed my attitude towards learning languages and I find it more fun now than ever before. Plus now I know more than 1,300 German nouns in both their singular and plural forms and I couldn't be more happy and confident :)

  • Camila2

    Benny, I stumbled upon your website yesterday and since then I just can´t stop reading…
    I was feeling a bit homesick and it was really, really nice to read the lovely words about my country and my language!
    And if Frankfurt is in your plans, I´d love to help.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    That's great!! Thanks for sharing :D

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks Camila! Glad to see you are enjoying what I write! Do you mean the posts I wrote about Brazil? I get “homesick” for Brazil all the time, just 9 months of my life there and it feels like it's a part of me!
    I'm not sure if I'll make it to Frankfurt, but you can let me know if you make it to Berlin!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    That's precisely the attitude I had when I started learning Thai – sure there are tones and a different writing system, but I preferred to focus on the positive ;) That attitude will help me a lot when I take on a non-European language properly

  • chris(mandarin_student)

    I would take passion over positivity any day.

  • alec_b

    In reading your comment and re-reading my own, I have to say that I didn't really think about the effort you put in to get to where you are now. I thank you for explaining your efforts to get to the job you have now politely.

    I want to re-iterate that I appreciate your advice to have a positive attitude. I've want to study ancient Greek (which is slightly out of the scope of your blog but relates to your “be positive” message here) and I think this advice will be a great help. It would be easy for me to be discouraged in my goal of learning the language. There are hundreds of endings for both nouns and verbs, a different alphabet, new cases, new moods, and new tenses.It can take years to read texts fluently (although I'll be trying my hardest to learn faster than that).

    But your post helped me realize that being positive and enjoying the journey will make me much more likely to succeed. I look forward to when I've gotten to a level of ancient Greek where I can focus on a living language and try your promising immersion method. In the short-term, however, I look forward to tackling some Greek.

  • CuriousPasserby

    Hello Benny,

    In German, I think the “prepositions at the end of sentences”, should be viewed as prefixes of verbs. Those are the prefixes (like: aus, auf, zu, ein, an, …) of separable verbs, and happen to be exactly the same as prepositons. There are verbs which have prefixes (like: ent, er, ge, ver, …) which are not separable. Interestingly, there are verbs which have prefixes (like: um, über, unter, …), that depending on the context, may or may not be separated. I think viewing them as “prepositions at the end of sentences” is tricky compared to the rules of using separable verbs. This is important when one speaks longer sentences with subordinate clauses (like: um <…> zu <…>), it may appear that there is a handful of prepositions stacked up at the end of clauses.

    Just thought of sharing my opinion, as I have been learning german too, although not yet embarked on a mission like you. I may not be totally correct, so an expert on the forum may feel free to correct my observations. Hope it helps with your german mission.

    Viel Erfolg :-)

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for the explanation, but that part of the post was actually written ironically, using any excuse to complain – although I can see how it might convey that I'd be unsure about how the language works. I'll go into great detail on how I view the German language later in the mission, but separable and insepearable verbs are not causing me much difficulty – in the spirit of this post I'm finding them quite logical and they speed up the learning process by following interesting patterns.

  • Placemix

    Great blog and great way to approach learning an new language! I will be starting to teach Spanish to friends and you are giving me good ideas to share. Thanks!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    I got a pingback on your post. Thanks for keeping the negativity off this site ;)

  • Akila

    It's interesting that people always complain about learning other languages but then they forget how amazing it is to connect with people even when we just learn a few words or phrases. I can't say that I am fluent in other languages but I try to get a good handle on them before I go traveling. The trouble of learning the language is worth the experience of getting an insight into the people's culture and life.

  • Frohlein

    Hi Benny!
    I would just like to tell you that I like you and your approach very much (though you sometimes look like an idiot in the pictures;))!!! I heard you speak Czech in your video and you did fantastic! I'm sorry that you gave up on this language eventually but I understand your reasons.
    I really love the way you write and give advice and think you're right in most things although I couldn't apply many aspects of your approach to myself since I have a different learning style (I LOVE grammar) and also different objectives in learning languages (actually I'm more interested in the languages themselves than in using them for communication – I want to become a linguist in the “scientist” meaning). Still, I'm very interested in your point of view and it certainly helps a lot of people.
    Talking about learning styles, that is a very important aspect which I have realised only recently and I am worried about the fact that its importance or even existence isn't as commonly recognised as it should be (leading to fatal mistakes in schools, courses, etc.). I don't know if there is any quality information about it in the internet, though, but I can recommend you an article, if it would be of interest to you.
    I wish you good luck with your German mission – I love German, it is a language I chose to learn for pleasure, learned mostly by myself and thanks to it a whole new world opened up to me in which I now happily live! And I wish you of course good luck with anything you do in the future.
    Liebe Grüße

  • azarethroy

    Hey Benny,

    I stumbled across your blog via couchsurfing. Brilliant mate – I think I just spent the last 2 hours reading your posts LOL.

    I admit that I'm a language slacker! I lived in Prague for a year and only learnt how to order beer. Shame. You've inspired me to apply myself. I have 5 months to learn some Polish before I attend a mate's wedding over there ;)

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for the comment! Glad you've been enjoying my posts :)
    Now get busy on that Polish!! As I keep saying, changing from a language slacker to a language hacker depends on attitude, not genetics or other excuses!
    I'm sure you'll be well ready for your mate's wedding!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Hi Frohlein!
    Glad you like my approach and my silly photos :D Thanks for the good luck wishes :)
    Sure, recommend the article – I'm always curious to read more about these things!

  • Marjorie

    Bravo Benny, c’est si vrai ! L’anglais n’a pas de difficultés de conjugaison contrairement à beaucoup de langues, mais j’aime ses richesses de constructions de verbes dont le sens change avec un petit mot. Par exemple to look for qui n’a rien à voir avec to look after ;-)
    Chaque langue a ses richesses, ses difficultés (pour moi, l’anglais est très difficile à prononcer, et j’essaie de m’améliorer chaque jour).
    Au plaisir

    Smal translation, my english is not so good, but I know it is not a probleme for you. I do not help myself with Google, lOl, no, really not. This post is so true! English language is not so difficult with its verbs, what is not the case of plenty of other languages, but I like its secret beauties with special little words after one same verb. For example : to look for is absolutely not the same than to look after ;-)
    Each language is rich, complicate (for me, English is very hard to prononce correctly and I try as soon as I can.
    All the best
    Marjorie (French)

  • montmorency

    In terms of making English more interesting, perhaps we should go back to Anglo-Saxon – all the cases and genders you’d ever want. But keep in the interesting imports from French, Latin, and everything else.
    Bis später,

  • Miiockm

    Wow is that picture ever in bad taste. Unbelievable lack of empathy.

    • Thomas Leopold Roberts

      I was just about to point this out. Like dude, that’s a message for people who are about to commit suicide! totally uncool