Only a Fool Learns a Language

Only a Fool Learns a Language

For those who don't want to laugh, you can scroll past the videos and right to juicy psych deets.

To learn a language, you can't be afraid to make a fool out of yourself. Some of you might need to ease into embarrassment by messing up a few verb conjugations in front of your friends at a private dinner party, then enter a bar to try out some idioms, and eventually make your way into public spaces full of strangers without the support of liquid confidence. Or, you can record and reenact all your most embarrassing moments on a platform that keeps and sells your data along with billions of other users.

That's what I did.

Go big or go home, right? Well, I’m not sure where home is, so I’m left with going big. Once I found out the slightly derogatory term for a foreigner in Spain, I was like, THAT’S ME! I’m a Guiri. As I mentioned in my article ¿Qué es un Guiri?, a guiri is Alguien que pone ketchup en la tortilla, mezcla los verbos estar y ser, deja propinas, busca restaurantes abiertos entre las 15:00 y 20:00, va al club a las diez, llora en el ayuntamiento, pide paella fuera de la comunidad Valencia, y comete otros errores graves. A guiri is someone that puts ketchup on their tortilla, mixes the verbs estar and ser, leaves tips, looks for open restaurants between 15:00 and 20:00, leaves the club at ten, cries in city hall, orders paella outside of the Valencia region, and commits other grave errors. And these errors are exactly what I show on my TikTok Account @erroresdeunguiri.

@erroresdeunguiri Error de un #guiri episodio #2 Error de #pollo #bromas #bocadillo #gracioso #viral #humor #comica #españa #castellano #aprenderespañol ♬ original sound - El Guiri

For those who need a translation, pollo = chicken and polla = penis. I mean, that's just setting people up for embarrassment. I assumed the penis would be masculine, but then again, you shouldn't assume gender. And if you need a transcript, you're in luck. I've realized that instead of putting the phone away at work, the dinner table, and school, many people have settled for turning it on silent. And to those who say, "but I'm great at multi-tasking," you should read Multitasking: Switching costs and You'll Never Learn. But I'm not here to convince you to stop. Au contraire!

I now upload videos with captions for those scrolling through in silence and, more importantly, those interested in learning languages. I don't bring my phone out at the dinner table, but captions have greatly improved my Spanish.

@erroresdeunguiri Bocadillo de polla #errores #guiri #bromas #aprenderespañol #learnspanish #humor #languagelearning #tiktokspanish ♬ original sound - El Guiri

And if you're interested in learning Spanish, you can do what I do if you didn't catch a word in the caption. Head to SpanishDict and Reverso, my two favourite translators.

Alright, now back to some more Errores y observaciones de un Guiri. For the following videos, I'm going to embed them from Youtube instead of  TikTok because it's a slightly more ethical platform. Like those who have gone from scrolling through stories with sound to no sound, or those who bought a brand new $100 000 Tesla after trading in a perfectly functional $100 000 BMW, we like to feel like we're going down the right road, but really, we're still on the same one as before.

Have I convinced you that getting embarrassed is essential to learning a language? Then it would be best if you learned about the generation effect. "The generation effect is a robust memory phenomenon in which actively producing material during encoding acts to improve later memory performance." (Rosner, Elman, and Shimamura, 2013). The rest of their paper is quite interesting, but for today's purposes, you can also watch the first four minutes of this video:

If the answer is "No, I'll stick to recording my speech, transcribing myself, and playing it back," I salute you. Not only because that's an excellent learning method but because you're going to get even more embarrassed when you do make a mistake. As you heard in the video, memorizing information better by testing yourself before you know the answers and getting embarrassed is linked to the hyper-correction effect. However, they didn't mention that the hyper-correct effect works best when you confidently think you know the answer. "The hypercorrection effect, which refers to the finding that errors committed with high confidence are more likely to be corrected than are low confidence errors, has been replicated many times, and with both young adults and children." (Rosner, Elman, and Shimamura, 2013)

I hope this article has motivated you to get out there and get embarrassed. I would love it if you all shared some of the most embarrassing language-learning moments in the comments. And if you enjoyed the comic at the top of the page, you can find much more content at IG @errores_de_un_guiri. By the end of the year, I will also release all my language-learning comics to paid subscribers.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider becoming a paid member. The Without Borders podcast, youtube channel, and website can't exist without your support.


Eich, T. S., Stern, Y., & Metcalfe, J. (2012). The hypercorrection effect in younger and older adults. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 20(5), 511–521.

Rosner, Z. A., Elman, J. A., & Shimamura, A. P. (2013). The generation effect: Activating broad neural circuits during memory encoding. Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from