The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, written by James Weldon Johnson in 1912, contains a short section that highlights three keys to building this process into your life.
Conversation, fundamentals and working questions.
The text itself is not an autobiography, but rather a piece of fiction blended with episodes from Johnson’s own experience.
After the central character arrives in Paris, he lays out how he went on to learn French. The Ex-Coloured Man’s first step?
“I used to get three or four of the young women who frequented the place at a table and buy beer and cigarettes for them. In return I received my lesson. I got more than my money’s worth, for they actually compelled me to speak the language. This, together with reading the papers every day, enabled me within a few months to express myself fairly well, and, before I left Paris, to have more than an ordinary command of French.”
This used to be harder to do. In the past you were limited to the expertise available in your locale. But now you can learn from the best in the world no matter where you are.
The next step is to build a relationship with them. To interact with them. Very often, for the price of a coffee, or lunch, or by going to a conference, you can learn from individuals who are smarter and more experienced than you.
“Of course, every person who goes to Paris could not dare to learn French in this manner, but I can think of no easier or quicker way of doing it.”
“For French, (I) devised what was, so far as I knew, an original system of study. I compiled a list which I termed “Three hundred necessary words.” These I thoroughly committed to memory… I studied these words over and over, much as children of a couple generations ago studied the alphabet.”
“I also practised a set of phrases like the following: “How!” “What did you say?” “What does the word ——— mean?” “I understand all you say except ———.” “Please repeat.” “What do you call ———?” “How do you say ———?” These I called my working sentences.”
Some examples: “How does ________ compare to my current knowledge?” “Is ______ the most effective way to do it?” “Is ________ essential to know, or is it superfluous?” “If I accept _______ to be true, how does it alter my current actions and attitude?”
Better questions means better answers which mean a better you.
“In an astonishingly short time I reached the point where the language taught itself – where I learned to speak merely by speaking.”