What an Irish Polyglot Taught Me About Better Marketing

If you’re from the United States, you probably had the misfortune of suffering through foreign language classes in school.

To everyone else who had excellent foreign language classes in their youth, consider yourselves lucky!  A few hundred million Americans and I are jealous.

I know I suffered.  When I look back on my years in Spanish class, my memories are a blur of grammar tables (shudder), vocabulary flashcards, and verb conjugations.

Rules, rules, rules.

I did my best to follow them all.  Which leaves a bad taste in my mouth that, even after growing up in Texas and attending college in Miami, I still haven’t attained the level of Spanish fluency I desire.

Spending time with my beautiful Nicaraguan girlfriend (and a trip there last summer) has convinced me to give this whole foreign language thing another shot.

But this time I’m doing it MY way.  I know what didn’t work for me in the past, so I’m determined to find some language-learning techniques that will actually help.

I did some surfing online, which lead me to:

Benny Lewis, AKA The Irish Polyglot!

Benny Lewis runs a hugely popular blog, Fluent in 3 Months.  It didn’t take long for his story to captivate me after I stumbled across his site.

Benny is an electrical engineering (of all things!) graduate who’s spent the past decade traveling the world and picking up new languages left and right.

The crazy part is he could only speak English when he was 21 years old!  He struggled for years to learn German in school, and even lived in Spain for several months without making much progress in Spanish.

Now, I believe he’s fluent in 11 or 12 languages and working on Arabic!

One of his posts discusses a fundamental mindset shift that catalyzed his language learning process: he would abandon English completely.

This revelation hit home for me.  It allowed me to make more progress in my Spanish in the last two weeks than the last two years.

And it applies to marketing too!

That revelation is:

Learning a Foreign Language (And Most Other Skills) Takes More Than “Studying” in an Academic Setting.  It Requires Output as Well as Input.

I was too caught up trying to “study Spanish” to make much progress actually learning the language!

My Spanish classes taught me to view the process through an academic lens.  If I perfected my vocabulary, if I discovered all the nuances of the language’s structure, eventually the Fluency Fairy would swoop down one night and leave a bilingual tongue under my pillow.

Forget the fact that language is about communicating with another human being.  Or that asking a native speaker whether your “conjugation in the subjunctive was correct” will get you nothing more than a blank stare.

My method was too input-heavy with way too little output.

I worried so much about embarrassing myself I avoided actually speaking Spanish.  I thought I could get everything “perfect” first and then try to communicate.

It was a cop out.  My line of reasoning was completely backwards.

How This Affects Your Marketing . . .

If you aren’t careful, my “textbook Spanish” approach can carry over into other aspects of your life, including your marketing.

How many marketing textbooks have you read?  How many podcasts have you listened to?  And how many seminars have you attended?

That’s the “input” part of your learning.

But how many marketing campaigns have you launched?  How many products have you created?  How many failures have you experienced?

That’s the output.

Both parts have their place, but you need to get your ratio in check if it’s out of balance.  For most of us, that means it’s time to get out there and walk the walk.  It’s time for us to ship.

It’s the only way you’ll learn everything you need about marketing.  And, just like with learning a new language, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback.  The things you’ll discover that way are worth more than all the textbooks in the world.

You can’t figure how to ride a bike just by watching YouTube videos or reading textbooks.  The same goes for marketing.

There’s that moment when you have to get out there and strap on your helmet.

Are you putting the pedal to the metal?  Or are you too afraid of scraping your knees to move?

P.S. In the spirit of today’s post, I’d love some honest feedback from you!  Are there any areas in your life where my “textbook Spanish” method holds YOU back from reaching your potential?  How did you get over that fear in the past?  Leave me a comment or send me an email.

P.P.S.  “Knowing is not enough, we must apply.  Willing is not enough, we must do.” – Bruce Lee