I could have been the G.O.A.T by now. I’ve been kidding myself and honestly, I feel like I’ve let you down. Not just you. Lots of people. (Me, mostly.)
Why? Because I’m OK at speaking Polish.
Just OK. I’m not remarkable. No one ever screams at me “OH MY GOSH, YOUR POLISH IS FREAKIN’ INCREDIBLE!”
Some people say that I speak better than them or better than any other foreigner that they’ve heard, but that’s about it. From now on I’m aiming for better – and you should too.
Are you aiming for the best that you can do or the best that it’s been done?
My goal was to reach a conversational level of Polish. I wanted to be able to chat to Poles about anything and everything that came to my mind. It wasn’t important that I didn’t know all of the words or the grammar. What was important to me was that I was understood. If I broke down the language barrier and could express myself in a simple and effective way, I’d be happy. Or so I thought.
I aimed way, way, way too low.
Once I reached my goal, I lost all motivation. My Polish was OK. I reached a point where I no longer needed a translator, not even to get married in Polish. But, I was just OK. Nothing spectacular. I was considered very impressive for a foreigner, even more so for a foreigner who had never lived in Poland. Add to that the fact that I’d never taken a lesson nor studied a lick of grammar and I look like a freaking genius.
But I aimed too low.
I’d reached the OK plateau and for a long time, I stayed there. That’s the reason why even though we type all of the time, we don’t continue to improve our speed or typing technique. Once we’re good enough, we stop improving. That’s also why there are so many foreign taxi drivers, restaurant owners and hairdressers in English speaking countries who don’t speak good English. They learned enough to do what they need to do and then all progress stopped.
It makes sense. If I asked you to write a children’s book and said I’d pay you $1,000, you’d probably write something reasonably decent. If I offered you $10,000 to write the book, you’d take the project seriously, do your research and write something spectacular. But if I offered you $100,000 dollars to write the book, you’d probably stop whatever you are doing right now, make creating this book your sole focus and write the best book that you’ve ever written in your life.
You were always capable of writing the $100,000 book, but the bigger reward prompted bigger actions.
That’s the logic of multi-millionaire Grant Cardone anyway. So, thanks to Grant’s advice, I’m going to 10X my goals. I’m going to think of what I’d like to be, do and have and think even bigger. Now I want to be the best speaking non-native Polish speaker – ever. There aren’t many of us anyway, so why wouldn’t I aim to be the very best?
That’s right – you and I are now competition. And I’m going to beat you.
To become the G.O.A.T, remember the Purple Cow
From now on I need to think, work and act like an elite performer. I want to speak to Poles so articulately that their jaws drop. Maybe I’ll correct them on their grammar. I might even end up on Polish TV. However, I’d be a fool if I thought I’d get to those heights doing what I do now. No – what I have done so far has got me to “OK”.
Being OK is not OK.
Maybe you think I’m being a little hard on myself considering what I’ve overcome to become this good, but I’m hardly inspirational and I really could be. And since I could be someone’s inspiration to learn this beautiful language, I feel a moral obligation to be not only the best that I can be, but the best there ever was.
However, when Anna, the only person on the planet who loves me enough to pledge to be bound to me legally and spiritually for their entire life thinks that I’m only “very good”, alarm bells start to go off. Hence, I – and you – need to aim higher.
Seth Godin said it best in his book Purple Cow: You need to be remarkable.
Usain Bolt didn’t not wake up Usain Bolt
It takes more than being tall to become a basketball player. Sure, it helps, but you have to put the work in. I’ve been lazy. Super lazy. So lazy that my language exchange partners have said that it defies logic and science that I speak Polish as well as I do. It’s freaky and they don’t like it.
I never would have been able to speak Polish as well as I do without my language partners. I owe them my life as it is today. What an incredible gift they have given me – a voice. A voice that I never had the first time I went to Babcia’s house as she stuffed me to the brim with pierogi. With the voice that they gave me, I could say thank you; promise that I would take care of her granddaughter; and finally say goodbye.
Without Babcia and each and every one of my language partners, I would not have achieved the level of Polish which I have today. It’s like Usain Bolt. He was really fast. Like, really fast. But he was only that fast because of the team, the structure, the research, the nutrition, the massages, the…everything. His environment and the people in it were instrumental to his success. Such fine tuning only shaved milliseconds off of his time, but it was that expertise that clinched the gold – and sometimes a world record in the process.
After years of practice, it took just 9.58 seconds for him to be crowned the fastest man in the world. The Greatest of All Time. The G.O.A.T.
I want to be the Polish G.O.A.T. Because, why not?
Why after more than 245 language exchanges, I’m finally having my first lesson
You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating…
What got you here won’t get you there.
If you’re looking for the “one way” to get from scratch to speaking confident Polish, you can do some of the things that I talk about on this site. They worked for me and they might just work for you too. But if you want to be the greatest of all time, you’re going to need to do a bit more. Put in a few more hours. Work a bit harder. To be in the top 1%, you have to do what the 99% aren’t willing to do.
By the way, if you didn’t know already, that “one way” you’re looking for doesn’t exist. Your way will be different from my way. That’s a good thing. It means that we can compare notes and tell the newbies what works and what doesn’t. The problem is though, if we don’t try things, we will never know what does and what doesn’t work – or even what works better than others.
To paraphrase Gary Vaynerchuk, “You could be the world’s best cook, but you’ll never know until you try.” I could be the world’s best non-native Polish speaker, if only I gave myself the permission and the resources to do so.
Like a fool I’ve let my ego get in the way of my goal. I was so proud of what I’d achieved “without expensive books, lessons or immersion”. It’s like I handicapped myself to make my progress seem even more impressive. The problem was, by digging my heels in and saying that I’m not going to try those things, I could be missing out on something that could bring my Polish to the next level. By not trying what was out there and seeing how useful it was, I couldn’t recommend it to you. Not only was this egotistical attitude detrimental to my Polish, but to yours too.
So, from the bottom of my heart, I apologise to you. From now on I promise to be a good lab rat, trying out different methods and techniques to find the most effective ways to learn Polish and passing what I learn onto you. I want your Polish to be so good that you force me to keep improving to stay ahead. If this website can create a legacy of confident Polish speakers – defiant warriors who saw the grim reality of Polish grammar and kept on fighting anyway – I will be a very happy man.
So, after more than 245 completely free language exchanges, I am now taking lessons on italki. I’m hoping to find affordable informal tutors and teachers that I can speak to regularly on Skype and make my Polish even better than it is today. Just speaking Polish isn’t enough for me. I want Poles to ask me which part of Poland I was born in.
Don’t get me wrong, even though I use them less and less as time goes on, flashcards still work and I highly recommend that you either make some or buy some and study them every day. They can be boring, but they work. I suffered through it and got results. You can too.
Will they make you the greatest of all time? No. But maybe the second greatest.
To be the greatest, you’re going to have to beat me.
What’s worked for you?
I’ve tried out a couple of things which have worked for me:
- Anki flashcards – spaced repetition is awesome!
- Twitter searches – great source of native sentences
- Extensive reading – an easy way to learn new words without looking anything up
- Language exchange partners – practice with natives in a safe environment
- Watching (Polish or English) TV or films with Polish subtitles – you either learn what words mean or how to pronounce them and get a list of new vocabulary that you can look up after watching
…and a few things that haven’t:
- Course books – boring
- Speaking to my partner – mixing romance and language learning is not a stress I need in my life
- Listening to radio that I couldn’t understand – spending almost a year listening to political talk shows did NOTHING for my Polish and anyone who tells you that it helps you “get used to the sounds” should be beaten to within an inch of their life with a wet fish
- Monolingual dictionary definitions – why would I need an obscure definition of the word “książka” when a translation of “book” is shorter, quicker and links into concepts that I already know?
So, what’s worked for you and what hasn’t worked for you? Leave me a comment below and we can compare notes.