The Myth of 10,000 Hours and the Lure of ASL

Hey, fellow WordPressians!

So, I was watching a TED talk the other day, and as will happen with Internet browsing, one video led to another, the videos led to an article, and finally I hit upon something truly fascinating. I discovered that the whole “10,000 hours to become an expert” thing is a myth.

That’s right. A myth.

Welp, as you can imagine, that news was pretty startling to me. I had embarked on this major project to learn how to bellydance, following this idea that it’d only take me 10,000 hours of practicing on my own. Turns out, practicing 10,000 hours on your own may or may not accomplish anything. You could practice something for twenty years and never become much better than a novice at whatever it is you chose to study.

The main predictor of success is deliberate practice — persistent training to which you give your full concentration rather than just your time, often guided by a skilled expert, coach, or mentor. (Full article)

from via Google Images

Chart from via Google Images

In order to actually become an expert at something, you have to practice not only with concerted, single-minded effort but also with tons of feedback from someone who is actually a master at it. Otherwise, you may end up practicing mistakes for 10,000 hours!

My whole plan was to learn to bellydance using YouTube videos. As it happens, YouTube can only give you a limited amount of instruction. It can’t give you any feedback whatsoever. Self-assessing and self-correcting your mistakes just won’t cut it, it seems.

So my whole blog idea went up in flames. But that’s okay, really, because I found something that I can realistically find a good teacher for, and which I’ve loved ever since I took my first class on it…

American Sign Language!

from via Google Images

Image from via Google Images

You’ve read a couple articles where I mentioned my all-consuming passion for this language and talked about how I wanted to become an interpreter. Well, now that’s my new goal.

Given that ASL and Deaf culture are very visually-oriented, and ASL is not a written language, it seems an odd fit to have a blog about ASL and Deaf culture using written English. It’d be way more appropriate to have a vlog. Video is definitely the medium of choice.

from via Google Images

Image from via Google Images

But — having learned something about Deaf politics, I think it’d be pretty unwise of me to start a vlog before I’m fluent in ASL. When hearing people get popular on YouTube using ASL, and especially before they’ve learned to use it well…boy, can that blow up in their faces! (Google the song-signing controversy if you’re interested in learning more about this.)

Blogging about interpreting, however, seems pretty reasonable. That may be what this ends up turning into: a sign language interpreter’s blog. It could either get very academic (with book reviews), or very political (with controversial opinions), or be just an emotion-laden memoir of a lady trying hard to learn a new language and avoid pissing people off in the process.

Who really knows? I certainly don’t seem to be able to predict the long-term aims of my blog. But maybe, by staying true to this topic that fascinates me to my core, I can keep up a regular writing routine.


  1. Hi Alison,

    I definitely agree with what you say and what you found out. You can spend 10,000 hours doing something but if you’re doing it the wrong way the entire time, you’re not really getting much out of it. It’s so important to have a mentor to give you constructive criticism when you learn a language or want to get involved in interpreting but the outcomes can be very rewarding. I studied ASL at a university level for 2 years and had great instructors. I even had the opportunity to visit a Deaf club on several occasions and everyone was very welcoming and patient when engaging them in ASL. Good luck with your pursuits!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s