I like to think of learning languages as something akin to playing chess or Go. If I took and sat down for a couple of hours, I could understand the basics of it, start using some basic formations and play. Sure, not playing as well a chess student but I could still do it. I’ve learned the basic movements and I can understand, hit or miss, pretty much what’s going on on the field.
Then you go to the language school, and every day you’re taught new tricks, new techniques and strategies, and with other learners, you play at your level. You are aware that you’re still not at the famous-russians-chess players kind of level, but you’re there, and with the other students, you not only enjoy playing but you definitely feel that the more you do, the more solid your fundaments become.
And then there’s the trip to the country that speaks your learned language. That, I imagine as if it were the world championship, a room full of players with high ELO, ready to crush you at any moment. While they do though, they’ll accidentally show you their secret tricks, which you’ll take note of, pen to paper, in order to improve yourself. You know how when in chess, if you play against a really great guy and lose, your points still go up? Same thing. And when you’re in the World Championship room, they’re all playing with each other at the professional level, with you as spectator, struck in awe at their speed of thought and mastery of the pieces. As you watch them, you first try to understand what happens at the surface level — it’s not easy but you do it after much practice, then you start to see the patterns, the secret under-the-surface moves that all known players do, just they’re not taught in school.
After gaining all of this practice from watching the games, you put yourself on the field and play. You start realising that you are actually way more competitive than you thought, and just thinking about this gives you the power to continue, to watch more games, to climb that leaderboard and mix in with the pros. You know all those secret tactics, you learn how to play differently with different players, you feel like you can enter the pro club at any moment. And years after years, if you never gave up, if every time you trained you looked at the big picture, if you looked at the “future you”, then, you’ll play without even thinking too much. And one day, when you’re just casually having a game, someone will confuse you for one of the pros. And when they do, you realise you are one of them.