What's it all about?
Ever since I was a kid, I imagined myself one day being some sort of cosmopolitan citizen of the world.
I've always had a fascination with different people and their cultures, and of course, how they communicate, my whole life I've dreamed of a jet-setting life exploring the world and learning from its people, moving freely from country to country, dealing comfortably with everyone I meet.
Kind of like James Bond when he's between assignments.
Unfortunately, society teaches us that's not realistic. In kindergarten, our teachers tell us we can grow up to be anything we want, but then every year after that, we are beaten down into this mold of the life everyone else wants us to live — work at a steady job, relax in front of a television, vacation once a year, and save for retirement.
But that's not compatible with my dreams! My interests found their way out. In high school, I studied Spanish, German, and French. When most of my classmates couldn't be bothered to make an effort in one foreign language, I was getting good marks in all three. Later, I did the work of reaching Fluency in Spanish on my own, without any class. Instead of listening to music on my iPod, I listened to Italian conversations. Instead of playing techno CDs in my car, I drove around listening to Portuguese lessons.
It's just what I enjoyed.
But I always felt like I had to hide my interest. When guests came to my apartment and saw my bookshelf, they'd ask me "why?" And not that curious "why" that gets you to open up, but that judgmental "why" that makes you feel like you're doing something wrong.
It's not wrong
The life I always wanted was inspired by a world that existed in the '70s and '80s — back when the Soviet Union was closed off, East Germany inaccessible, China was a big scary place... and there was no internet!
But people were doing it then.
Not a lot, but enough. Maybe not James Bond (though there probably were a few!), but world travelers have always existed. Today, thanks to the wonders of satellite television, budget travel, and the world wide web, most of the world is now an open ground.
The scary propaganda can't compete because the truth moves at the speed of light! The world isn't a big scary place any more, it's a collection of very reachable destinations.
Even on a modest income, it is possible to go all over the world and see new things, meet new people, learn about other cultures, and do all those things that I dreamed of as a kid.
The only thing left are excuses.
When you believe that your dreams are impossible, you don't do the work of trying to reach them.
Instead, you fill your life with trivial things to keep your mind off of what you really want. And that's what I did for a long time. But once I woke up to the realization that it is possible, some things had to change. It became important to pay off the debts, both financial and mental, that I had built up.
Travel is cheaper and easier today than it ever has been, but it still costs money, and it's hard to justify doing it when you already have debts.
So I made a plan, set my mind on it, and paid off all of my debts, returned all of the favors I owed, and washed my hands of any obligations to anyone else.
It's also difficult to spend a great deal of time traveling when you have a lot of responsibilities at home. It became important to have a simple, easy-to-maintain home. No more pets. No more collections and trinkets.
No more huge closets full of crap I don't wear. And if I'm going to be spending a lot of time away, I need to have bills I can afford to pay even if I'm working less. This means a smaller apartment and lower utility costs.
It also mean living more simply at home: making fewer impulse purchases, dealing with fewer "gadgets", ending any subscriptions to newspapers or magazines.
Oh, and I got rid of my biggest expense: my car!
Living the dream
The main focus of this web site is, of course, learning languages.
Specifically, I will be learning one new language every year.
But it should always be remembered that language is a means, not an end.
This is all en route to the bigger goal — becoming the citizen of the world... the cosmopolitan traveler I always dreamed of being.
In the first six months since I started this site, I already had several hundred readers, many of them actively commenting. After the first year, my readers numbered into the thousands.
So having successfully created the pressure of an audience, it's time to set some expectations.
All of you — my readers, fans, followers, and friends — all of you will keep me on track as I reach for, and achieve, all those things I always dreamed of doing . No more excuses.
Interesting facts about me
Meanwhile, here are some interesting facts about me:
- After I was audited by the IRS they ended up owing me!
- On a visit to Washington DC, I snuck into the Spy Museum. It seemed fitting.
- When I was in Uzbekistan, I ate horse.
- I have been a member at my fitness club longer than I've been at any job. Or with any girlfriend.
- I believe that people often say "it's the least I could do" when they really mean "I wish I could do more."
- I know what an ibrik is, and I'm not afraid to use it.
- My favorite meal is breakfast.
- I've found the things that grab my attention are rarely the same as those things that hold my attention.
- I once shot out a candle's flame with a rifle from 20 feet away.
- I slapped a prostitute in Barcelona for touching my ass.
- I never use an alarm clock.
- I have been to all 48 of the continental United States.
So what exactly is "yearlyglot"? What is this site about? What do I stand for? Maybe I haven't been entirely clear. I realized that when something I thought was obvious turned out to be a complete surprise to someone. So today, I'm going to take a moment to explain a few things I stand for.
Regarding a year
To start, I know you're all bright readers, so I'm sure you already figured out that "yearlyglot" is a play on the word "polyglot", indicating that I learn one language every year. It's a lot less to type than "FluentEveryYear", and I think it's catchier, too!
And why one year? Because goals need limits. Too often, people set a goal without setting a limit. When there is never any pressure to actually succeed, the goal just drags on and on with frustrating, slow progress.
Languages can be learned much faster than one year, but that usually involves a commitment to heavy study regimes, or even traveling to the country where that language is spoken, in search of deep immersion. However I believe that 95% of language learners don't have the luxury of travel and immersion due to other commitments, and those same commitments also often mean that they don't have time for heavy study.
Therefore, one of the things that I'm always mindful of with the yearlyglot blog is that my advice is for those 95% of people — people who have jobs or school or families or other time-consuming commitments. My advice is intended for people who want to learn a language but don't think they have time.
One of my biggest goals with this blog is to demonstrate that you don't need "time" to learn language. You don't need to block aside huge segments of time in order to learn, and saying you do is just an excuse for the failure you're already planning to have. We all have enough time. I believe anyone can learn a language, fluently, in one year, without any additional need for time.
And I'm doing it. I'm not just writing words, I am actually learning a language in a year, every year, and doing it without spending hours every day studying. When I say that anyone can do what I do, I mean it. I am not special. The only thing that makes me different from anyone else is the fact that I truly believe I will succeed, so I plan accordingly and I behave accordingly.
I'm learning these languages without traveling to the countries where they are spoken. In fact, in spite of how much I love to travel, I will never travel to a country where my target language is spoken during the year that I'm learning it — this way you can always know that I have had no unfair advantages.
Of course I do like to travel to that country after I've learned the language, because that's the whole point of learning a language — using it! I love going to new places and experiencing new things, and even moreso when I have the benefit of the language to help me.
This also gives me a sink-or-swim test to find out just how well I've learned the language. Is it as good as I want? Am I really fluent? I'll share those results with you too. (As you know, I have been in Italy for the past few weeks, using the language I spent the last year learning. I've already given a brief update on that, and I'm looking forward to making a more detailed report on my experiences when I return home.)
I'm not selling a method. I'm not promoting a method. In fact, I don't even have a method. Each language is different, and trying to learn one language based on the rules of another is a silly idea.
I believe the idea of a method is the single most obvious flaw in products like Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, etc. Even more organic products like LiveMocha and Busuu suffer from this major flaw. The moment you try to fit Mandarin into the mold of what worked in Spanish, you have failed.
I do have some things I always do, but I do not have a formula or a schedule, and I approach each language differently. And with this blog, I have taken on the role of guinea pig, allowing myself to be a test subject for any idea — even if it's crazy — so that hopefully my readers can benefit from my experiences. As you have already seen, this year is no exception.
I do not think that learning languages makes a person "cool", or interesting, or makes a person any better than anyone else. In fact, I think it's quite the opposite — if you're a socially awkward geek or nerd, learning another language is only going to make you a bigger geek, who is even more socially awkward.
If you're uninteresting, or irritating, learning another language is only going to make you uninteresting to more people, and give you the ability to irritate more people. In photography, we often say "nice camera, now show me your photos," and in language, I feel the same way. I don't care how many languages you speak, I only care about what interesting things you have to say.
I don't have any interest whatsoever in the "polyglot community" or having any status therein. Aspiring to be a polyglot is stupid. Learn a language to use it, not to show it off. I learn languages because I have a desire to use them, and the moment that I lose the desire to use a new language, my time as the "Yearlyglot" will be done.
If you look around the language blogs, you see several different blogs by several different people with different attitudes toward language and learning, but the ones that rise to the top all have one thing in common: they're people who are using the languages they learn. And that's perhaps the most important thing I have to say: I like your languages... now use them to tell me something interesting.
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