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Spanish Doesn’t Come Naturally, That’s For Sure

Learning a new language is not natural.

In the category of *language*, I would include HTML, Spanish, business language, and geometry.

This is about my efforts at learning the language of Spanish.

I was super frustrated in Spanish class this past Wednesday. It felt like high school pre-calculus all over again.

I just don’t get Spanish yet…

Carrie and I have just completed our second week of official Spanish classes here in Ecuador.

Prior to these two weeks (say in the last 2 months), I have been talking with many people about going to Spanish classes.

Nearly everyone I have talked with knows that Carrie and I also speak German.

As a result, I usually hear something like this in response:

“Oh, you won’t have a problem with that. Language comes so naturally to you.”

That message, and the feeling I had in class on Wednesday, are so completely incongruent.

I’m not saying I’m good at Spanish yet. But it seems to me to be almost the equivalent of telling the Olympic athlete that they are a “natural” at their sport.

It’s like telling the pro athlete who’s spent 10 years of their life in the gym and on the playing field that they just had a “natural” talent for playing sports.

It’s like telling the concert pianist that they must just have a “natural” ability for knowing where to put their fingers (after they’ve spent years developing and honing their craft).

Sure, there’s some aspect of “nature” to the things people choose to get good at.

In my nature, I am patient. That’s always been part of who I am and want to be.

In my nature, I am persistent. That’s always been part of who I am and want to be.

But I tell myself “I am patient” and “I am persistent” every day. Those are affirmations that I repeat to myself all the time. I told myself those things before I even understood affirmations.

Patience and persistence are in my nature.

I probably got those qualities from my mom’s patience and my dad’s persistence.

But beyond the most basic “nature” level of things, what does it really take to learn a language, or to become a “natural” at anything?

People often ask how we make money online. When I start to explain it, many say, “Oh, that really comes naturally to you. I could never do something like that. I usually break stuff on my computer (or) I’m not good at computer stuff.”

People NOW think I’m really good at computer stuff.

But that’s because they’re seeing the end result, which is us traveling around the planet while working using the Internet.

At age 18, I was afraid of computers.

That was 12 years ago.

Quite literally, I was afraid to even push the power button, for fear I would break something.
Then I went to college, where I had high speed Internet access.

In 1999, I worked at a radio station where I wanted to contribute to the overall mission of the radio station, so I learned Adobe Flash in order to create Flash presentations.

Let me be clear… it was mentally VERY hard for me.

I HATED the process of learning Flash.

I learned it on my own, because I didn’t know there was a tutorial. Even so, when I viewed the tutorial (later), it wasn’t very good.

And, it’s not like there was a YouTube (or even a Google) to type in the phrase “How to use Macromedia (now Adobe) Flash.”

But I did it so I could build a cool presentation. (The first version of the presentation actually crashed people’s computers.)

I’m not good at Flash anymore, because I haven’t done anything with it since 1999.

It’s advanced, and I’m not (yet, and may never be at Flash).

It’s also advanced, and I haven’t (advanced my skills).

And here’s a surprise for some people. I’m not actually all that good at computer stuff.

People close to me will be the first to tell you that I often do things the hard way when it comes to learning something new or even doing basic things with computers and the Internet.

The reason I got good at reading HTML code is because I heard I could make money online, had an idea, and learned how to build thousands of web pages, many of them still online, which look mediocre and don’t work 100% correctly. But they provide good information and help people nonetheless, so I make some money from them still today.

That process took 2+ years of 1-2 hours/day, with the bulk of time being spent over 4 months.

At the end of that 4 months, Carrie taught me something that would have shortened the time from 4 months to 4 weeks – had I asked her for help, and explained what I was doing, at any time during the project.

Lessons learned?
1. How to build web pages.
2. Ask for help from someone knowledgeable. Your wife (or someone else) might know better than you do.

Anything that anyone has gotten good at has only happened because they have spent hundreds or thousands of hours, (and likely hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars,) getting good at it.

Think about what you’re good at. I guarantee you that you have spent lots of time and money on it.

And I can also guarantee that along the way, you have had help from people more experienced than you.

These people are known as mentors and teachers.

If you’re lucky, they also become your friends.

For me…

  • Computer stuff: The short list includes Ned Gillardino, Carrie, my dad, my brother Adam, my brother Brian, my mom (in teaching, I’ve learned a lot), and my sister Deanna.
  • Internet marketing: Kevin Gianni, Dave Taylor, Joel Comm, Mark Widawer, Shawn Collins, Jim Edwards, John Reese, and more than 50 others. Some of these people are now very good friends of mine.
  • Sales and marketing and personal development/goal setting: Patrick Shaw, Kevin Fanter, Michael Wright, Brian Tracy, Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn, Robert Kiyosaki, Napoleon Hill (deceased), Tim Ferriss, Mind Power News, and more than 100 others whom I’ve read books by, become personally acquainted with, and/or become friends with and been mentored by.
  • Now, in studying Spanish, I’m very much on my journey. My mentors here have been my sister-in-law Laura, Robert at the turtle project, Pimsleur Spanish, (some other weird dude I listened to in the car (multiple times) 2 years ago,) and Maribel (our teacher here in Ecuador).

So far, I’ve spent over $800, and more hours than I can easily count, on my Spanish education and development.

There’s a joke that goes like this:

What are the three ways you can get to Carnegie Hall?

  1. Practice
  2. Practice
  3. Practice

I don’t know any other way to develop a talent, or to have something come “naturally” to you, than through patience, persistence, and practice, practice, practice.

The funny thing is that most often, the things that come “naturally” are the things we’ve worked the hardest at and spent the most time on.

I don’t get Spanish yet.

But I’m going to work at it until I do.

And for those of you who read this post at a time (hopefully in the near future) when it seems that I speak Spanish *naturally*, you should know that I speak Spanish as a result of:

  • thousands of hours and thousands of dollars spent
  • working through frustrations
  • being patient and persistent
  • practice, practice, practice

And in about another 15 years, I’ll also be an *overnight* success.

But that’s another topic for another post.

4 thoughts on “Spanish Doesn’t Come Naturally, That’s For Sure

  1. Kevin gianni

    Last August I saw Howard Lyman speak. He was amazing… Funny, well spoken, serious… All in one talk. Afterwards, I went up to him and asked him how he got so good. He said this… “practice, practice, practice, practice…” about 10 times.

  2. Roberto

    Hey Jonathan! I’m glad to know you are learning Spanish… but come on man!!! It’s not that difficult compared to German!!! 😉

    Si nos vemos el próximo año en Alemania para celebrar los 10 años de nuestra estancia en Oldenburgo, espero escucharte hablando español ^_^

  3. Sue Zamora

    Okay, this is funny because:
    Just last Fri. I had this discussion w/ someone (actually our new assoc. Heather) who was very frustrated using computer software to manipulate/create picture memories, etc. I told her I think different people just have and concentrate abilities in different areas. And I said to her, “That’s okay, you have these incredible artistic ablities, you are one of the most creative people I know” (she makes beautiful things out of all kinds mediums, for example she just made eight custom minature teapots for her daughters b-day party) Anyway, then I started talking to her about my friend (that would be you) who instinctively seems to know how to solve computer/internet problems. I was telling her, “For example, I call Jonathan and ask him how to do attachments w/ a server he doesn’t usually even use and he just walks me through it”. Then I told her, I think he and his two brothers are so good with computers because their father taught them and had them work with/on computers since they were young. (Source of this info: your dad)
    Anyway, when I have a question about computers, esp. how to do something online, I usually try to get a hold of you first or second. (there are a few other people I ask too, depending on who is available)

  4. Adam

    I don’t know if anything comes “natural” for anyone…but I suppose you could be predisposed to some things…either physically (like being 6’8″ for basketball…etc) or through interest. It is far more difficult to learn something you have no real interest in than something you do…if you’ve never tried, it is literally feels like trying to bust through a brick wall with just your hands and head.

    I’m interested in computers and in creating things with computers…but the reason I know so much about them is not because I am interested…it is because I have broken more computers…or spent hours and hours fixing computers that others have broken…than most people. I think this is true for everyone in their own fields of expertise.

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