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Learn That Language Now -- Learn a New Language 3 Times Faster
Don't be a language show-off
Home > Guide > Tips & Tricks > Show-offs

An important part of your motivation to learn a foreign language will be the anticipation of the sense of personal achievement obtained from having successfully taught yourself a language. It is normal to feel proud to have succeeded where most dare not even try and to feel self-confident about the results of your perseverance and hard work.

While learning the language it is normal to have fantasies of showing off your target language. It is part of the self-motivation needed to get through with a language. But when you reach fluency, you need to discard these fantasies like the butterfly leaves the ugly chrysalis and flies away to a better life.

A small proportion of language learners feel the urge to show off their language skills . They like to tell people how many languages they speak, that they are 'fluent' in such and such language and make all sorts of boastful claims in a pretention and self-complacent way.

It is not a good idea to flash your language skills around like a huge gold watch in a ghetto. People don't like that, but more to the point, you will look like a fool. One day or another the person you'll try to impress will speak that language infinitely better than you do and will let you know. He might also speak many more languages than you do. By trying to look more than you are, you will end up looking like a fool.

Here are 3 no-noes :

Never say 'I speak X languages'.
This is a pretentious statement to make and quite dangerous if you are not very fluent in all of the X languages. You will be at the mercy of the first critical listener who might well make you eat your hat before the session is over.

I once met a man who for an entire hour told me about every five minutes the phrase 'I speak 5 languages'. I am quite convinced he would have carried on for hours until I had acknowledged. Finally, I put him out of his misery by asking him 'So, what 5 languages do you speak?'. Well, he said he spoke French, English, Italian, German, and ... Swiss German. Now that's nice. Usually in Switzerland people don't count Swiss German as 'one language' since it's so close to German that the effort required to learn it is quite small if you already speak German. I guess that if the gentleman spoke Chinese, he would have counted it as 'two languages' because of its difficulty. I probably spoke better and more languages than him, but I did not peep a word about me and just said that it was nice to be 'so gifted with languages'. This man wanted badly to impress me and look smart, and he looked like a fool. Don't be like him.

It is much safer to say 'I speak Spanish quite well, read litterature in German, speak a little Japanese and am quite pleased with my recent progress in Turkish'. Then people might realize that perhaps you are being modest and that you speak those languages better than you say. But to say that you 'speak' X language with no qualifications as to what standard you apply to the word 'speak' and what you mean by 'language' is bound to land you in trouble.


Never say 'I speak X fluently'
Unless X is your mother tongue, it is not smart to say that you speak a language 'fluently'. Nobody speaks a language he learned perfectly. 'Fluently' in that context sounds very terminal - you can't know it better. What will happen if the guy sitting next to you is a native speaker of that language and he, too, is pumped with testosterone and wishes to teach you a lesson? Will you be able to have perfect pronunciation, to know every idiom? Chances are you will look like a moron. People might feel that you exagerated your command of that language, and that maybe everything else about you is fraudulent.

The prudent polyglot will say 'I speak X quite well'. Nobody will ever try to expose the gaps in your command of a language if you say that. And people will esteem you for your modesty. They will think perhaps there is more to you than meets the eye.


Never display your command of a foreign language ostentatiously
Some people flash around their linguisting skills like small-time drug pushers flash big gold chains around the neck. If you are really very fluent in a language, with excellent accent and an exceptional command of idioms, try to err on the side of a little too much modesty. Don't speak it as loud as you can so that everybody in the store can hear how well you speak. People might wonder why you feel it's essential to your self-esteem to be perceived as a very fluent speaker of this or that language. They might also wonder if speaking this language well is this only thing you can feel proud about and that is why you speak it so loud. You will perhaps impress the a few people, but even them might resent such a good command of the language. By trying too hard to impress people, you will not impress them at all.

It is much better to be modest, speak in a quiet and inconspicuous way and have people slowly realize that you are indeed an astonishing speaker of that language. If you are discreet about your skill, people will wonder if perhaps you are so discreet that you are a treasure chest of hidden skills. This is a better impression to leave than that of a cheap, easily satisfied show-off.

If you feel that part of the text looks like you, don't be offended. In the privacy of your screen, nobody will know you have read this. It is always time to become more modest.

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