We've all been there.

You're having fun, talking with a group of friends when that guy starts blabbering on about how much he knows on such and such topic. Apparently he's an expert on international politics, french cuisine, investment banking strategies, the nuances of roasting coffee, and everything else under the sun. He loves to begin every sentence with "Well actually..." and even when there are legitimate experts in the room, he can't help but give his two cents.

Everyone feels uncomfortable and frustrated because he has no clue what he's talking about, but modern psychology actually has a terrifying new insight about this situation-

We are ALL "that guy".


In their 1999 study, David Dunning and Justin Kruger introduced a psychological phenomenon known as the "Dunning-Kruger effect". Their data showed that the less people knew about a given topic, the more confident they actually felt about it. In other words, "incompetent people think they know more than they really do, and they're more boastful about it"

In these studies, Kruger and Dunning asked participants to perform a series of tests and to guess how well they had done on each activity. They were shocked by what they found. Every single time, no matter which skill was being evaluated, the people who performed the worst consistently ranked themselves higher than other participants. Additionally, those who performed the best were the most likely to underestimate themselves.

These tests have been reproduced hundreds of times in the areas of math, wine tasting, medical knowledge, and chess- all with the exact same result.

The universal truth that the data revealed is that we don't know what we don't know.


I am shocked at how little the Dunning-Kruger effect has been considered in the area of language acquisition. Psychologists have applied these new findings to marketing strategies, political campaigns, education, and a million other areas, but it seems like no one has considered their application to language learning.

Every time I see some language blog with an article explaining "How I mastered the Russian language in 30 days" or some online program promising "real fluency in a week" I can't help but shudder because they're capitalizing on the Dunning-Kruger effect. The reality is that if they teach someone even 5% of a language, that student will overestimate themselves and think that they are much more fluent than they actually are. This is why dozens of bloggers call themselves polyglots because they are able to speak broken, unnatural versions of 5 different languages.

In real life, the Dunning-Kruger effect usually plays out in 3 stages.

Stage 1: A student decides to learn Turkish and quickly improves as they soak up all the new material. Since they are starting from scratch, they're knowledge is literally doubling every couple of hours, statistically speaking. Within a few weeks or months, they've learned dozens of new concepts and a large amount of new vocabulary. At this point, the student is at the blue point in the graph, famously labelled "Mount stupid".

At this stage in the process, the student's grasp of Turkish is actually very low, but because of his rapid growth and lack of awareness about how little he really knows, he has a large amount of confidence in himself. He begins to (unknowingly) overstate his abilities to friends and family and maybe even loses some motivation for learning more Turkish.

Stage 2: Excited about how much he now knows, he attempts to have a conversation with a native Turkish speaker and is heartbroken and discouraged with his inability to actually communicate. This leads to the green circle on our graph known endearingly as the "valley of despair".

At this stage, the student begins to realize how little he actually knows, and either gives up on the language learning process because he believes it's impossible or decides to press in and put in the hard work required to learn the language.

Stage 3: Let's assume he's motivated and continues to put in more effort. Over time, the student gradually improves, but he starts to feel like his efforts are less productive because he isn't making the massive leaps and bounds that he experienced in his first two weeks. In reality, however, he is actually becoming a much more competent all around Turkish speaker. At this point in the language learning process he is at the purple circle, often called the "slope of enlightenment".

During this stage of language learning this student is much more self aware of his own limitations and how much it requires to actually master a language. Although he knows ten times more than he did during his time at "mount stupid", he is much more humble, aware, and experienced.


I remember a conversation I had with a friend of mine when I had been living in Turkey for less than two or three months. I had made decent progress in the language so far and was feeling pretty good about myself. My friend, also a foreigner, had been living here over 4 years and had a great grasp of the Turkish language.

My friend and I were having a conversation with my Turkish neighbor out in the parking lot during a brutally hot summer day. We spent thirty minutes or so talking about work, life in Turkey, our families, and a few other ordinary topics.

Afterwards, I was talking with my friend about how difficult the conversation was because of my neighbor's thick accent, and I actually said something along these lines:

"Wow- Hasan has a super strong accent! I probably only understood about 70% of what he was saying".

My friend looked at me with a shocked look on his face and said "WHAT? I've been here for almost five years and I still don't understand 70% of what people are saying!" The reality is I had no clue how little of the conversation I was actually picking up.

What's really funny is that over the next couple of months and years, I realized that at any given time, if someone were to have asked me how much of a conversation I had understood, I would still have probably said about 70%. That's because whether I was 2 months into language learning or 2 years into language learning, I still didn't know how much I didn't know.

Thankfully, I'd like to think I'm on the "slope of enlightenment" now and am a little more aware of where my Turkish actually is. I've watched a handful of other Turkish learners go through this process and have been amazed at how universal the Dunning-Kruger effect can be for language learners.


Like most things, the first step to breaking through the Dunning-Kruger effect is to simply be aware of it. You have to understand how the human brain is hardwired and know how you are predispositioned to think about your language learning. The good news is this step is already done! Before you go, we wanted to leave you with a few more helpful ways to overcome this effect and master the Turkish language.

1. Keep learning and practicing: At some point, we all hit a wall of thinking we know "enough". We're convinced that we know everything there is to know about a given topic whether it's a specific grammar point, how to communicate a certain idea, or our vocabulary amount. The fact is, we have to fight against our tendency to overestimate our knowledge and continue to try and press in deeper and deeper until we truly understand these topics.

2. Stay humble and stay encouraged: There are 2 defining moments on the Dunning-Kruger graph- one is "Mount stupid" (the blue dot) and the other is "The valley of despair" (the green dot). These are the points when people are most likely to give up on language learning because they either believe they know it all or they believe they know nothing and they never can. In these seasons, you need to re-hardwire your thinking with the appropriate response.

While your having your mountaintop experience on "Mount stupid" where you have little knowledge and a lot of confidence, take time to remind yourself that there is a long way left to go and you aren't fully aware of how long that road actually is. In other words, you need a dose of humility and reality.

While you're in the "Valley of despair", it's important to remind yourself that language learning isn't impossible, you're not incompetent, and you are totally capable of learning the Turkish language.

3. Objectively evaluate your learning progress: Lastly, the most important recommendation we could give you is to objectively evaluate your progress. Ask Turks for their feedback, expose yourself to different resources, and constantly play devil's advocate. Always assume that your prone to misevaluate yourself and try and look for outside sources to help you identify your weaknesses and strengths. For those of you who are members at the Turkish Language House, we have these elements built into each course with interactive review activities designed to help you evaluate your progress.

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