So far it has been a great book. So far being the first two chapters.
In chapter two though he discusses the 10,000 hour rule. Research into those who are at the top of their selected fields, the best of the best, were not found to be somehow more naturally gifted than everyone else. The findings showed rather that they had just put in more time practicing.
And 10,000 hours seems to be the magic number. So in his example from the violin academy, the difference between those destined to stardom and those who were just good came down to the amount of time they had put into practicing the violin.
There were no examples of stars who had not put in the time and none that had put in the time but didn’t become stars. One thing and one thing only seemed to mark the best of the best – they put in more time. It carried across all professions.
And Gladwell did the math – that’s 20 hours a week for ten years!
As a language learner then I look at this and would identify the best of the best as those who can interpret the language both ways effortlessly and could write professionally in the second language.
The guys and gals at the United Nations who simultaneously interpret speeches about a super wide assortment of topics for example.
Did they put in 10,000 hours in the second language?
Is the difference between those hired at the UN and those passed over as “not up to the task” just a difference in the hours put in to language learning?
Language could be different – it seems more highly nuanced and complicated and broad – while on the other hand it is also innate. Playing an instrument is not something every person on earth does by the time they are five years old.
Quality of input also has to play a large role in how well we do.
In my observations though, putting in the time is one of the distinguishing points between those who have and are doing well at learning another language and those who are struggling to progress.
In looking at my own journey with languages, I put in the required hour of class three days a week studying German at university and little more.
Spanish followed and as I was planning a move to Mexico, my Spanish grew and quickly surpassed my German and at the end a semester of studying completely on my own, my Spanish was light years ahead of my now forgotten German.
But motivated by an upcoming move, I put in perhaps four or five times as many hours in Spanish on my own as I did in my German class. My Spanish continued to slowly improve, but it was in fits and busts as I kept coming back to it over the next ten years.
And then I moved to Turkey.
My Turkish surpassed my command of Spanish in about six months. Again, at twenty to twenty five dedicated hours of Turkish study per week, the amount of hours I had put into Spanish and into Turkish was probably similar.
The density of the hours was different, but the total amount I bet was pretty similar.
But what is the caveat for the everyday language learner who just really wants to be able to function at a high level in the language? I think there are a few things that I take away from the 10,000 hour rule.
- Consistency will grow your hours far faster than the binge method of hitting it hard every once in a while. People get to the 10,000 hour mark by creating a personal culture/ethic of putting in the time everyday.
- I will grant that some of us have a sort of “gift” in language learning. I have seen it in my own kids. But I think it is probably used more than anything else as an excuse for those of us who have not done as well. Some may have a gift, but none of us are somehow handicapped so that we can’t learn language.
- Success breeds success. A little early success will do much to create the culture that will allow you to put in the time. This is one of the foundational principles I have tried to work into the Ten Week Journey to help beginning and struggling intermediate learners find success as language learners.
- The only magic bullet for language learners is time. You have to put the time in. Some methods are better than others. Some programs are more effective or efficient. Motivation and commitment are important. But no matter what, you have to put in the time.
I would love to hear what you think about the topic. What has your experience been?
[Outliers is a fascinating book. One of the best I've ever read. My links to it in this post are affiliate links. The price doesn't change for you but I get a small percentage of the sale price.]
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