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You Don’t Get Good at English; You Simply Learn to Suck Less

March 22, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Last year I was living in Lisbon over October and November. It’s a beautiful city, and I can’t wait to go back again.

Now, apart from a few words, I don’t speak Portuguese.

I had fun with the language.


But it would be a reeeeeeal stretch to say I can actually do anything in Portuguese other than say “hello”, “thank you”, and cause chaos and confusion with my linguistic incompetence. And that’s fine. I don’t really need the language, after all.

But one experience sticks in mind above all the rest: Going into restaurants.

I don’t mean the touristy places in Lisbon. They’re easy, ‘cos everybody speaks English. No, I mean the more local places.

Take one place I went, for example. I walked into a place not far from where I was staying where nobody spoke a word of English. And after spending what felt like an hour trying to make my order, I finally felt like I’d done a pretty good job.

Only I got something totally different to what I ordered.

And I got a beer, which I didn’t order.

And a coca-cola to go with my beer that I also didn’t order.

People think you start at zero with a language, then progressively get better while aiming for 100% proficiency. But the more I think about it, the more I think that’s wrong. You actually start at 100% Sucking at a language then progressively reduce the amount you suck until you don’t suck any more.

So you don’t get better in English.


You get less worse.

The difference is subtle.

But when you think like this, every conversation is a chance to make fewer mistakes and fuck up less than last time, not yet another chance to make mistakes and look stupid.

Again, the difference is subtle.

But it’s an important mindset change.


Using your real-world English situations (whatever they are) is a big part of what we do in MEFA, and I’ll show you how to treat every one as a spring-board to sucking less and less and less and less.

The place to enrol is here:


Dr Julian Northbrook

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