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Learn anything in 20 hours with this 4-Step method

An excellent TED talk by Josh Kaufman on how you can learn anything in 20 hours:

Here is his 4-step breakdown

1. Deconstruct the skill

What makes up the entire skill? What are the parts of the skill that help you get to what you want?

2. Learn enough to self-correct

3-5 resources to help you along as you’re learning so that you practice but self-correct to change when you make a mistake.

3. Remove barriers to practice

Don’t get distracted, don’t procrastinate.

4. Practice at least 20 hours

DO IT. JUST DO IT. Josh says it’s about 45 minutes a day for a month.


He says the barrier is emotional. You feel stupid doing it but you just need to do it and practice doing it to get over that emotional barrier of fear.



I kind of followed his example without knowing it.

1. Deconstruct the skill

I asked myself: What do I need to learn in French?

  • Le/La for items (even French people think this is stupid, or so I am told)
  • Vocabulary (actual words)
  • I, You (Formal and Informal), He, She, We, They (Feminine and Masculine)
  • Grammar
  • Verb conjugations

2. Learn enough to self-correct

Pick up a few books that give you basic vocabulary in picture books for children, and books filled with verbs and all of their nasty conjugations.

Whenever I couldn’t find a word or I wasn’t sure if it was Le / La, I’d ask my handy walking dictionary (BF), or I’d look it up.

3. Remove barriers to practice

I have BF who speaks perfect French. No barrier here, just need to force him to practice with me, which was hard at first (we’re used to speaking English all the time), but not impossible.

4. Practice at least 20 hours

Done. I practiced 24/7. Any time I opened my mouth to speak to him, I tried speaking in French.

Gosh it sucked for the first 2 months because my brain HURT. I was translating from English to French, and it just wasn’t coming naturally.

After the first 2 months, it became easier. My brain clicked into gear and now I can (in some lucid moments) think in French without having to translate from English to French.


You’re going to say: But in 20 hours I won’t be an expert!

Well, an expert would be someone like Mozart, who spent 10,000 hours to reach that level. He wasn’t naturally gifted in the sense that he touched a piano and could immediately play any song he heard without any training, but he had a natural talent for it and worked hard.

From the age of three, then, Wolfgang had an entire family driving him to excel with a powerful blend of instruction, encouragement, and constant practice.

He was expected to be the pride and financial engine of the family, and he did not disappoint.

Still, like his sister, the young Mozart was never a truly great adult-level instrumentalist. 

He was highly advanced for his age, but not compared with skillful adult performers. 

The tiny Mozart dazzled royalty and was at the time unusual for his early abilities. 


He definitely had a natural talent and knack for it, but his father (a composer himself) went all Tiger Woods and Serena & Venus Williams on him at a young age, pushed, taught and encouraged him to be amazing, which is how he ended up playing for kings at the age of 3.

Sure, he played beautifully at a very young age, but have you seen all these Youtube videos of little kid prodigies at the piano or the violin? They’re AMAZING.

No? Here are a few kids to watch:

Tsung Tsung:

Emily Bear:

..and there are plenty more on YouTube.

20 hours = Good Level

10,000 hours = Expert

My point is that if you understand that 20 hours gets you to a BASIC proficiency level, and more than 20 hours just improves your talent (if you’re interested) beyond that basic “good” level, then it shouldn’t discourage you that after 20 hours you can’t play like these little kids above.

You could reach that level, it’s just that they had a head start on you, having played since they were very,VERY young, for hours and hours, practicing what they truly enjoy doing.


  • Thomas | Your Daily Finance

    I have always heard that to be great at something you must to it 10k times. I believe you have to be able to get past the biggest thing blocking you which is usually yourself. Kids know no reason to not do something. They think all things are possible only when we get to adults where we make excuses.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @Thomas | Your Daily Finance: Yes, if you watch the TED talk, it is a myth in the sense that if you wanted to become “great” which means an “expert”, it’s 10,000 hours, but if you just want to get good at something then it’s 20 hours.

      My mom has been playing for about 10 hours now on the piano and can play simple songs. She has 10 more hours to go and she’ll be able to play with both hands, I reckon.

  • femmefrugality

    Those kids are amazing! I think this is a good general rule. You’d really have to have an expert, or at least someone well beyond the basic proficiency level to help you through the process to make it work in the first 20 hours, IMHO. Otherwise self-corrections may not be accurate or even as frequent as they should be. Congrats on doing it with French!

  • Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle

    I am not sure I could master parallel parking even after hours of practice. I think that part of my brain must be missing.

    Happy Canada Day!

  • cj

    Mochimac! This is good for people to know since our societal expectations for focusing on one thing for any length of time has become SO pitifully low. Those kids have a big head start plus they learned during the most critical formative years. Someone in their 30s or 40s should never expect to play as well as those kids can, but they can learn enough to enjoy an instrument and that is nice too.

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