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30-Day Challenge

30-Day Challenge: Day #7 – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s language learning mindset

Inspiration: Arnold Schwarzenegger


There is a saying in German: Wenn Schon, Denn Schon. It basically means, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it. Go all out.’
— USC Global Conference Keynote in Seoul

What made Arnold Schwarzenegger so great?

He was the youngest winner ever of the Mr. Universe title when he was 20. He then won Mr. Olympia 7 consecutive times. He went on to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, then governor of California for  two consecutive terms.

Definitely a large part of what made Arnold so great is his mindset (as seen in the quote above).

How did Arnold Schwarzenegger learn English?

Certainly, if Arnold had never learned how to speak English, he’d have never accomplished so much. So, how did he do it? What drove him to learn? Here are 4 lessons about language learning from Arnold’s autobiography Total Recall.

1. There’s probably no better way than Immersion

Three months after his first Mr. Universe contest (in which he took second place), one of the judges, Wag Bennett, invited Arnold to stay with him in London for a while to work on his posing routine (which was clearly one of the things that caused him to take 2nd in the previous competition).

There’s probably no better way to learn English than to join a lively,
happy London household where nobody understands German and
where you sleep on the couch and have six little Siblings. They
treated me like a giant new puppy and loved teaching me words.
(Chapter 4)

2. Choose your friends with purpose – to learn the language and the culture

When he first went to Los Angeles, Arnold was impressed with the hospitality and manners in the bodybuilding community. But he was also a bit surprised by some of the cultural differences. For example, one night after dinner with a friend, his girlfriend said, “Find out his address so I can write a ‘Thank You’ not.” Arnold was confused a bit (“We’ve already thanked him,” he’d say), but quickly decided he’d better learn more about the culture.

As a first step, I made it a rule to date only American girls; I did
not want to hang out with girls who knew German. →

3. And take classes with purpose – to learn how to “be a native”

→ And I immediately Signed up for English classes at Santa Monica
Community College. I wanted my English to be good enough so
that I could read newspapers and textbooks and go on to classes in
other subjects. I wanted to speed up the process of learning to
think, read, and write like an American. I didn’t want to just wait
till I picked it up.
(Chapter 5)

4. Have a single-minded focus

As Arnold continued living and training in LA, he cut down all his priorities to just two and focused on those: (1) bodybuilding; (2) learning English. He knew he’d never make it as far as he dreamed without both of those things being top priorities.

Unless I had English class, I would go straight to Gold’s and
work out.
(Chapter 5)

5. Don’t be lazy about it

The man who invited Arnold to America in the first place, Joe Weider, creator of the Mr. Olympia contest and co-founder of the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB), took a strong liking to Arnold’s passion and drive and became a father figure to him in America.

Plus, I was not a lazy bastard. The first thing I told [Joe Welder] when I
got to California was “I don’t want to hang around. I don’t want to
take your money for nothing. Give me something to do where I
can learn.” He had a retail store on Fifth Street in Santa Monica
that sold nutritional supplements and weight-lifting equipment. So
I asked if I could work there. “I want to help customers,” I told
him. “It helps me to learn business and practice my English, and I
like dealing with people.”

Joe loved hearing this. “You see, Arnold,” he said in his
Canadian accent, “you want to work, you want to build yourself,
you are German, you are a machine, you are unbelievable. You
are not like these [other bodybuilder] lazy bastards!”
(Chapter 6)

In a nutshell

Arnold’s obviously not an idiot, especially considering all the things he’s done. Yet in 2007, when he advised Mexican immigrants on how best to adapt to life in America (obviously drawn from personal experience as an immigrant himself), he was blasted by Hispanic leaders for his ignorance. His advice?

You’ve got to turn off the Spanish television set. You’re just forced to speak English, and that just makes you learn the language faster.

Citing his ignorance on the issue, Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens said, “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger demonstrated his ignorance on immigration issues once again by perpetuating the myth that immigrants have to reject their old culture and language in order to learn English and assimilate.”

And yet, here is Arnold Schwarzenegger, then-governor of the most populous US state, himself once an immigrant, who has obviously not rejected his old culture and language being chided like a child for his ignorance in this situation.

Something tells me that fat people making fun of skinny people’s diets is silly. And so is a struggling immigrant population chiding the immigration strategies of a rich, powerful, and successful immigrant.

You don’t give up your old culture, you simply step out of it for a short time.

With all of Arnold’s English-learning strategies, he was really on to something. He wasn’t rejecting Austria nor the German language in order to “assimilate.” Rather, he was briefly stepping out of his old culture and embracing the new one because he desired success in the new one more than he desired consistency in the first one.

So, we should ask ourselves that same question. What do our lifestyles say about which we desire more?

  1. Do we desire success in Korea, the Korean language, and Korean culture? Then do we surround ourselves with that stuff?
  2. Do we desire consistency and comfort in English? Then do we surround ourselves with that?


Today’s Challenge is about Immersion, Purpose, Focus, and non-Laziness. Can you briefly step out of your Comfort Zone of English and embrace Korean?

#7: Do NOTHING in English today unless absolutely necessary. Turn off the English TV, English movies, English music. Get out and meet an old friend or make a new friend and have a 20-minute conversation with them in Korean.

Yes, you might flounder around a bit in Korean, struggling to find the right words. But it’s no different than what Arnold Schwarzenegger went through with English. Don’t expect to get any shortcuts he didn’t.

Hashtags today are:

#k2k307 #turnofftheTV


Today, we’ll go back to giving you a few useful Korean phrases for the Challenge.

  1.  어떻게 지냈어요? (“How have you been?”)
  2. 고향이 어디에요? (“Where’s your hometown?”)
  3. …어느 지방 에서 왔어요? (“What part of … are you from?”)
  4. …에 간 적이 있어요? (“Have you ever been to…?”)
  5. …어떻게 생각해요? (“What do you think of…?”)
  6. 직업이 뭐예요? (“What’s your job?”) 무슨 일을 해요? (“What line of work?”) 어디서 일해요? (“Where do you work?”)
  7. 무엇을 공부해요? (“What are you studying?”)
  8. 취미가 뭐예요? (“What are your hobbies?”)
  9. 점심 같이 먹어요? (“Would you like to have lunch together?”)
  10. 오늘 저녁 시간이 있어요? (“Are you free tonight?”)
  11. 어디서 만나요? (“Where shall we meet?”)
  12. 왜 웃어요? (“Why are you laughing?”)
  13. 내 한국어 그렇게 형편없어요? (“Is my Korean that bad?”)
  14. 내일 다시 볼 수 있어요? (“Can we hang out again tomorrow?”)
  15. 전화번호 주세요. (“Please give me your phone number.”)

Have you found anything interesting in Korean culture to immerse yourself in? Is it cool enough to keep the English away? On average, how much Korean do you think you use or listen to every day?

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