Learning a foreign language, quite frankly, a big project.
It’s a little like starting a business.
If you have ever tried to start a business, you know that in the beginning, you start with a blank slate, your hopes and dreams, and then it is all up to you to get it done.
And by ‘all’, you know that means all. You have to hunker down and create the entire thing from scratch. You yourself have to do everything, from ideation and feasibility, to research and prototyping, to fundraising, marketing, structuring, accounting… everything.
It is all you, even when you hope to go from zero to hero.
Learning a language is similar in certain ways.
When you start out, you have basically a blank slate. The native speakers might as well speak gibberish to you because you don’t know a lick of the language they are speaking. You are at utter ground zero.
Yeah, yeah, yeah…. you might know some cognates if you already know a related language. But let’s be honest: you don’t understand a lick of personal conversation. You are a novice, a freshman, and it is painfully obvious.
So then, let’s say you decide to take it upon yourself to do it, to actually learn the language.
If you’re wisely following the better ways to learn the language and avoiding the poorer ones, you start out with some survival phrases and speaking common words. If you’re not in the country that speaks the language, it makes it all the more difficult because you have to practice either remotely via Skype or with native friends you find within you local community.
Regardless, you spend at least a week learning how to say “good morning”, “what’s up”, “where’s the bathroom”, and how to order food (“water”,”chicken”, “check please”).
If you’re in country, this process can proceed faster, but honestly, you’re still going to have to spend a solid 4-5 hours of mental energy a day to make significant progress fast.
But the thing about mental energy is that it is limited. Your mind is not some zero energy machine which can run incessantly. You have a finite amount of mental energy in the day, and you’ve got to decide how to spend it.
That’s why if you’re in the early stages of being an actual entrepreneur, it may not be the best idea to start learning a language. With all of your time and mental energy you need to devote to your startup, it may be a mis-allocation of it to learn a foreign language, unless the foreign language is directly related to your product or target market.
Instead of devoting your precious hours of idea-sythesizing energy into learning a new language, you probably would want to pour them into what the business needs done at the time… whether that is creating your product or service or marketing it, developing strategic plans, making presentations, recruiting investors, seeking out partnerships, or managing team members.
I can’t imagine how anyone would plan out the next year of their life thinking, “I’m going to start a new business and learn Mandarin Chinese” and convince an investor that you have enough skin in the game that he should fund your project… that is, again, unless the language is pivotal for your actual business.
If the language is not related to your business, I’d say your time would be better spent focusing on your business. Once you’re a few years in and have some established cash flows, you’ll have some more flexibility with your time to do what you want.
For example, learning, say, Brazilian Portuguese is not really related to selling gadgets to USA and UK markets.
Learning Portuguese is good, yes. It will help you in Brazil, yes. It will help you if you’re visiting for the World Cup and Olympics, yes. It will help you date Brazilian girls, yes. It will help you if you live in Brazil, yes.
But if you are living in, or starting a business in, areas totally separate from Brazil, I’d say put it on the back-burner.
It’s one of the reasons why I started to re-think South America as a destination for nomadic entrepreneurs. You really have to learn Spanish or Portuguese here.
It just takes time and energy. And that time and energy will be taken from your other endeavors.
Granted, learning those languages is doable, and some people running businesses have learned them, but the fact remains that if you want to learn a language, you’re going to need to pour substantial energy into it… like you are with your business.
What you really need to do is ask yourself whether this is a proper allocation of your time, all things considered.
Of course, if you’re really into Brazilian girls, what are you waiting for, bro? Get on with the Portuguese, cara! 😉