“You become rich when you aren’t paying attention”
– Kevin O’Leary, aka Mr. Wonderful, from the TV show Shark Tank
I saw a few short talks online given by the cash-loving panel member of the hit show Shark Tank and the phrase above made an impression on me. I’ve made the most money in my life when I was too busy to spend it, and reached fluency in Portuguese when I was paying the least amount of attention to attaining the goal.
After a new focus is created in my personal or professional life, the maintenance of it can become so normal that I can forget about the daunting, insurmountable task it once seemed to be. While cliched, the line “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is really quite true, no matter if you go the traditional route or “hack” your way through it.
My “secret” to success in becoming fluent in Brazilian Portuguese was “cracking the books” once a day, todo santo dia. No matter if it was raining outside or sunny, if I was super-excited to learn something new or tired from other activities. I also tried to think in Portuguese when deciding what to eat or where to go on any particular day, and I incorporated the language and culture of Brazil into my leisure time.
When I went out with friends, they were mostly Brazilian, or Brazilophiles like me. When I went online, I’d spend half my time on Brazilian sites trying to understand what it was that I was reading. When I listened to music or wanted to watch a film, I looked for a way to do it in Portuguese (the best method was asking Brazilians I met to write down their personal recommendations). Another thing I used to do is simply be curious (an article topic in itself), meaning if I was about to ask a question in English to someone, for example, I wondered in my head how I might say the same thing in Portuguese.
If you’re on your own in your linguistic journey, you’ll likely realize there’s no one method, but there are better methods and worse methods, and “to each, their own”. In my process I was partial to mixing things up, such as listening to some Pimseleur, then trying to translate a newspaper article, then reading from the 501 verbs book, then looking for new music to listen to, etc, etc.
If you’re not on your own, then the obvious route is finding a teacher in order to have a living, cultural and lingusitic resource at your finger tips. About 10 years ago, I had a single, one-hour private lesson and it was definitely worth the money I paid, especially since I took notes and therefore had something to go over afterwards. No matter how helpful, I got it in my head that I wanted the challenge of learning on my own, so that’s what I did.
Getting back to the two quotes in this article, if you’re too busy taking those single steps, you’ll likely be too busy to look back on how far you’ve come until you can no longer see the starting line, meaning you’ll be well on your way to fluency!
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