What does customer service and language learning have in common?
You've pounded the grammar. You've glued the headphones to your ears to get the accent just right. You've stapled the vocab list to your forehead and walked around all day with it wafting in front of your eyeballs.
But what if the best way to learn is to do less?
When learning Spanish, for me one of the most satisfying ways to learn was to simply go about my business. It flies in the face of high-intensity "CRASH COURSE NOW!" and "INTENSIVE LEARNING" style offerings, but by just getting yourself out there and listening to people you learn a lot.
What happens is that you'll hear the most important words over and over again. The second time you hear a particular word it wiĺl register something in the back of your mind. The third time you hear it you'll be curious. The fourth time you hear it you'll be convinced of its worth and you'll look up the meaning. You may even arrive at the meaning through context. The fifth time you'll recognise it, understand the meaning, and you'll be ready to use it yourself.
You basically end up filtering out the rubbish and learning the essentials.
I recently read the excellent Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. In a note on customer service, they say the following:
"How should you keep track of what customers want? Don't. Listen, but then forget what people said. Seriously. There's no need for a spreadsheet, database, or filing system. The requests that really matter are the ones you'll hear over and over. After a while, you won't be able to forget them. Your customers will be your memory."
The same is true for language. Let the speakers around you be your memory. There's no need to copy and memorize "the 100 most useful Spanish verbs!" Natural conversation has already compiled it for you. Just get out there and download it.