What exactly is the Olly Richards school of cooking?
And what on Earth does that have to do with language learning?
Well you’re about to find out…
Because, you see, I have a love-hate relationship with cooking.
Love, because, well… it's a beautiful thing to spend an evening…
- Throwing together random ingredients…
- Creating your masterpiece…
- Working your way slowly but steadily through a bottle of wine.
Hate, because… well, it takes too bloody long.
Not only do you have to decide what to make, you've then got to go and buy the food, chop stuff up, cook it, stress out about whether it's any good or not, and then wash everything up at the end – and that's your whole evening gone.
In my case, there's another problem:
I suck at cooking.
And the reason I suck at cooking, is basically because I never do it.
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Why Cooking Is A Lot Like Language Learning
I spend every day dreaming up ways of avoiding going anywhere near a frying pan. And then every 6 months or so, inspiration strikes and I head into the kitchen to create my masterpiece.
And when I do try a bit of cooking… that's when I remember exactly why cooking is a lot like language learning.
Here's what happens.
When I decide that it's time to make something good, then I'm very serious about it.
I follow the instructions in that recipe to a tee. I'll:
- weigh it out…
- chop it up…
- tenderise that meat…
If the recipe says it – I'll do it.
But there's a problem.
One very big problem which means, no matter how hard I try, I'm very unlikely to get it right – or at the very least, why the timings go out the window, that 30 minutes prep time takes 4.5 hours, I get stressed out of my tree, and the kitchen ends up looking like a bomb site.
The problem is simply this: I never cook.
And because I cook so rarely, it doesn't matter how hard I try…
It doesn't matter how closely I follow that recipe…
I just don't have the skills to pull it off.
Regular Cooks VS Part-Timers
Now think how different the picture looks if it's a regular cook making that recipe instead of me.
This regular cook is so used to prepping food, measuring things out, having 4 pans on the go at the same time, that they don't even have to look at the recipe as they cook – they just use it as a guide.
If you tell me to measure out half a cup – I can’t just measure half a cup.
I've got to turn the kitchen upside down to find the cup measurer. Takes me half an hour…
The regular cook, on the other hand, doesn't even need that measurer – they can do it by sight in a few seconds.
If you tell me to blitz something in the blender, I've got to go and remember how to put the bloody thing together before I can even think about blitzing something…
The regular cook can do this in their sleep.
If you tell me to wait until the chicken is done, I'm cooking that thing for half an hour more than I should just to make sure I don't undercook it and give everybody food poisoning…
While the regular cook not only knows exactly when the chicken is done. And will actually ignore the cooking instructions and just cook it the way they like it.
And we’re not talking about Michelin starred chefs here…
They're just regular people … who cook.
No genius required.
You just have to show up every day, do your best, and you hone your skills gradually, day after day, until you’re really solid and really confident.
Part-timers like me, however, never get any better, because we only ever cook when inspiration strikes.
And then whatever skills we might learn quickly get forgotten because we never practise and build on them.
How To Become A Good Cook Or Language Learner
If I really wanted to turn into a good cook – not necessarily a pro, but someone who could just cook great stuff every day in no time at all – what would I have to do?
Would I have to attend an expensive cooking school?
I'd just have to start cooking – a little bit every day.
At first, it would be a mess.
But after 6 months of daily cooking, I’d be able to cook up something decent and not get completely stressed out about it.
And it strikes me that that's pretty much what most of us want from our languages.
You don't care about being master linguists or professional translators…
You just want the linguistic equivalent of a nice, tasty home-cooked dinner that we can rustle up in half an hour while enjoying the company of our guests.
Which is to say…
All you want is to enjoy a conversation with a friend, in another language, without getting stressed, worrying about making mistakes, or making it into any sort of a big deal.
If you could do that, you'd be happy… right?
And if this is what you want, then the first thing to do is to steer well clear of the “Olly Richards school of cooking”.
You know, where you never study your languages during the week, because other stuff just comes up…
And then you “make up for it” at the weekend with one massive 4-hour grammar session on Sunday afternoon…(typical inconsistency villain)
Where you decide you can’t learn a language by yourself, so you decide to “get serious”, and sign up for another set of expensive language classes… (again)
That’s what I’d be like if I learnt languages the way I cook.
And if that’s you…you know who you are!
No, the solution is much simpler.
Start Learning Languages Every Day
Just start “cooking every day”.
- No drama…
- Or excuses…
- No special measures…
Just sitting down with your language every day, and doing something meaningful.
You'll learn a new word on Monday, and see it again on Tuesday…
You’ll spot an interesting grammar pattern on Wednesday, and see it again on Thursday…
Everything you come across becomes easier to remember and you’ll learn faster and with far less stress.
Whatever it is…For me these days, it looks like reading short stories in my target language every day.
It's through gentle, regular, daily study that you'll discover and learn these things, and start to learn languages in a way that you could call “natural”.
That's why it's one of the Rules of Language Learning.
So, whatever else you decide to do in your quest for fluency, just make sure to do something with your languages every day… however small.
- Is your language learning process the equivalent of me in the kitchen?
- Or do you take small, daily steps to learn your target language?