How to learn a language like Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee is probably the most iconic person ever to come out of Hong Kong. His lightning fast moves are legendary all across the world, and so is his philosophy.

Across his career, he always strove to be better and pushed himself.

He developed not only a way of fighting, but a philosophy and a way of living as well. He believed in the acquisition of knowledge.

Because of this there are countless quotes and inspiration to be taken from Bruce Lee. So today I want to take a look at a few of the things he said, and how they relate to us, the language learner.

Don't think. FEEL


“Don't think. FEEL. It's like a finger pointing at the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all of the heavenly glory.”

This is one of his most famous quotes, and rightly so. In language learning it is all too easy to want to look up every single word we don't know. Try to micro analyse every detail and grammar rule until our heads explode.

This is how we learnt at school, and it's ingrained in us. If that's not how we learn, then how?

Language learning is as much about feel than it is science. If we simply expose ourselves to a lot of content, and focus on getting the general feel and meaning of what is being said, not micro analysing every small detail, we will find our progress soar.

To become fluent in a language we need to expose ourselves to a lot of content. And it we focus on every little detail, we will never put enough pieces together to see the whole picture.


A goal is not always meant to be reached


I have wrote before about setting goals that actually work, in order to keep you motivated and on the right track with your language learning.

But what about setting goals so over the top, so ambitious that there is no way we can possibly reach them.

"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.” - Norman Vincent Peale

This really comes down to what type of person you are.

Sometimes setting ourselves ridiculously high goals is incredibly motivating.

Thinking how rewarding and good it will be to reach them.

Then when we sprint off at 100 miles an hour towards that goal, in the end when we don't reach it, we still come a hell of a lot further than if we hadn't set one in the first place.

“A goal is not something always meant to be reached, simply as something to aim at”


Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them


I think when we start out doing something new, we are always scared of making mistakes.

Even when we look at sports, all of the greats made a lot of mistakes. They made so many mistakes because they were pushing themselves, and learnt from every single one. This is what made them great.

Language learning is no different.

When we start learning we will make a lot of mistakes. Mistakes about how to study, mistakes about what materials we use, and mistakes using the language.

I have made more mistakes than I can count.

This is inevitable. What matters is that we push ourselves, and we learn from these mistakes.

If we push outside of our comfort zone, use and speak the language regularly, we will make a ton of mistakes, but we will make even more progress.

"Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them"


Become like water

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”

When we are learning something new, we need to be open minded. Especially when learning a language, everything can seem so alien, weird and outright wrong from the get go.

It can go against our natural idiosyncrasies and instincts.

Here Bruce teaches us that you need to be mentally agile, and accept new concepts when they come your way. He always said he was a master of no martial arts, and rather he studied all of them. He made his own way from what he learned.

Language learning is no different.

Every time we come across a new structure or difference in the language you are learning, we need to accept it for what it is and move on.

"You must be shapeless, formless, like water."


Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own


I like this analogy for two reasons.

First off, the word absorb. We don't learn or study languages, we get used to them. It's what happened with our first language, and it will happen with our second and third if we give it time.

Go through lots of content, let it wash over your brain, listen and read to lots of content you can understand and you will keep progressing.

The second reason I like this is, is because he mentions discarding what isn't useful.

A lot of the time, when I hear people going through a language course, they want to meticulously go through every tiny little detail and learn absolutely everything.

But a massive chunk of what's in there just won't be useful or relevant to you in the slightest.

I was trying out duolingo the other day, and one of the first lessons takes you to the zoo. It forced me to learn words like Lion, and Penguin before I can even introduce myself. It just doesn't make any sense!

We need to take what's relevant, add our own bits, and customize it to make it relevant to us.

For example, if I learn how to say "I am a Doctor", from my beginners textbook.

I can take that structure, take out the word doctor, and add in what my actual job is.

"Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own"


To hell with circumstances, I create opportunities


It can be all to easy to blame our lack of progress on the situation rather than ourselves.

"If I could just fly to where my target language is spoken, I would be fluent by now."

"If I had more money I could buy more lessons on italki."

"If I didn't live in such a desolate small town, I would have so many more opportunities to practice!"

Do any of these found familiar?

The fact of the matter is, we all encounter the same problems. Language learning is as much about creating opportunities, than it is having them.

If you are living in a big city there are tons of ways to meet native speakers. You can use couchsurfing, facebook, meetups and more.

I even emailed the Guangzhou bureau in my city to pair me up with a language partner so we can practice together.

Even if you don't live in a big city and don't have enough money to buy a teacher, there is always a work around.

Go on website like italki, or hellotalk and do language exchanges.

If you want to you can create all of the opportunities you need, it's just about getting out there and making them happen.

"To hell with circumstances, I create opportunities"


Knowing is not enough, we need to apply

I always emphasize the importance of listening and reading on my blog, and I still maintain this at the cornerstone of how we learn languages.

However, if we want to speak good, we need to speak a lot.

If your goal is to speak, then it's not use spending hours and hours building up your listening and reading comprehension but never actually saying a word!

You need to take what you've learned from your input activities and then apply it in conversation.

This is how we activate our vocabulary, and become more confident and comfortable speaking our target language.

Also, one thing that I am guilty of, as i'm sure a lot of you are, is spending hours of time reading through blogs and articles of how to learn a language, without actually getting out there and applying what you've read!

It's all well and good wanting to look into how to learn, and trying to streamline your method, but it's not going to learn itself!

All this reading won't help you unless you apply what you have learned!

"Knowing is not enough, we need to apply"


Learning is never cumulative, it is a movement of knowing which has no beginning and no end


This is probably one of my favourite quotes because it perfectly sums up one of the biggest misconceptions in language learning.

One of the things I get asked most is "Luke, are you fluent yet?"

It's not quite that simple.

We are constantly improving and growing in all of our languages, even our natives ones.

People like to assume language learning is a one time thing, complete it and your done, your fluent.

But it isn't like that. You can be perfectly fluent on some topics, talk about politics, history, linguistics and then still not know how to order a drink at a bar.

This is because in language learning we become comfortable with the things we expose ourselves to, and not with the things we don't.

If you never exposed yourself to that specific vocabulary, you won't of learned it before. We come from a much smaller base than from the years and years of exposure growing up in our native language.

Language learning is not a process to complete. Instead, we get up to a level where we can enjoy and engage in interesting content, and from there on it is a slow gradual process of continual improvement.

"Learning is never cumulative, it is a movement of knowing which has no beginning and no end"




Bruce Lee was a great man and probably the most iconic person ever to come out of Hong Kong.

He was a martial artist, but also a philosopher.

He prided himself on learning, and always striving for better. Never limiting himself to one method or way. And mixing everything to create his own path.

So much of what he talked about is incredibly applicable in our own lives, especially for us as language learners.

What do you think? Have you got any Bruce Lee quotes you think I missed?

Who has been an inspiration for you in your life?

Leave a comment and let me know!