… and what if instead of intellectuals we trained spies?

All of us spent years sitting on a bench at school, trying to learn subjects such as English.

Some of us then become teachers. Others enter the world of industry and in order to keep up with time they are bound to become their own teachers: nowadays it is necessary to know languages in order to have a career, or even just to be hired. Private language courses are too expensive and are bound to a certain time in the week, so all what is left to do is to learn by ourselves, which means to teach languages to ourselves, using free online resources available at any time.

To teach – or to teach ourselves – we begin from our experience as pupils. During our years of “forced” learning there was that feeling that something was in disagreement with our natural instincts. For this reason, we used to feel bored, apathetic, nervous: we have a body with five senses and we cannot learn only with sight and hearing. We cannot use our brain without even caring about how it works. It is time to admit that our memory is the result of a natural evolution that aims for the survival of the species: only in this way we can understand how to use all its potential.

board-953153_1280-768x512 If our ancestors would see a mate eating a beautiful red mushroom and then dying, they would avoid eating it – or they would feed it to their rival in love. It is easy. We are programmed to survive and to reproduce. As a matter of fact, it is not surprising that our mind is sensitive to violence (survival) and sex (reproduction). Isn’t this the reason why films with such explicit scenes are forbidden to kids?

But what does this matter when studying a language?

If we want to manage our brain instead of frustrating it we need to understand it and respect it.

When we study a language we need to motivate our brain thinking that we are doing so as to survive in our modern jungle and sometimes also in order to reproduce ourselves – if we are in a multicultural environment. Our brain is not going to accept a statement such as “learn just because I tell you to do so”.

target-1506091_1280-768x512The second thing we need to do is to learn how our brain learns.

Before facing dangerous situations or matters of life and death, we are used to drills first. Before hunting a beast with a bow, we find it normal to practice – you never know, we could miss the prey and be attacked, becoming preys ourselves. Hunting is real, it is a risk, shooting at the bull’s eye is a test, and therefore it is a game.

The game is the natural way children – and animals – use to learn.

How to justify the cruelty of a cat that catches and then releases a mouse, just to catch it again and free it again? I believe the cat is simply training its hunting skills, it is playing: if one day mice get scarce, the cat that played will be more skilled in catching the few remaining ones.

To play means to interact in a finite and protected environment before facing reality; online courses are successful because they allow learners to play, to interact, to simulate situations that are going to happen in the future. I can buy bread in the exercise first, and then at the supermarket. My Polish course is an example.


The more the need to learn is urgent, the more learning is effective. He who lives abroad is simply forced to learn, as well as he who has a foreign partner who speaks another language – and here we are not just supposing: thanks to those two motivations I learned Polish language in three years. It has taken me far more to learn English, even if my teachers were very skilled.

If put under pressure, our brain might surprise us, and this with no need of hypnosis or manipulation of our subconsciousness. As Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “throw them (your troops) into a perilous situation and they survive; put them in death ground and they will live”.

During the war times, spies would learn the language of the enemy rather fast: a quick course would bombard their brains, which would absorb everything like a sponge. Soldiers were supposed to speak without mistakes, otherwise they would have been discovered by the enemy and shot.

When there is no real motivation, instead, we need long years at public school to learn just the basics of a language and then we need to pay expensive courses in private schools.

We might conclude that it is always better to learn languages as a spy than as a future intellectual.


Daniele Bottene

About me:

I am interested in language learning methods methods. Before teaching or learning a language, I started with studying the human mind and how it works. I graduated in languages and language teaching and have experience in a private language school, managing also the content of its e-learning courses. After working for an e-learning course, I created my blog polishcourse.blogspot.com.

Image source: Pixabay.com

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