Michael and Ellen Robinson first met in 2004 while they were studying Spanish in Mexico. Though Ellen had intended not to spend time with any other native English speakers while abroad, Michael’s charm and sufficient command of the Spanish language were enough to overcome her initial objections. They are now married, have two children, have visited 23 countries, and have lived abroad nine times. In the interview, they share key lessons they’ve learned while acquiring Spanish, living abroad, and raising children bilingually.

Incidentally, my wife and I met Michael while attending FinCon 2019 in Washington, DC in September. We have grown increasingly interested in financial independence as we’ve worked to pay off $66,000 in debt (We’re officially debt free as of February 2019! Read how we did it here.). I was not only impressed with their family’s linguistic journey, but also their fiscal one: they achieved financial independence at age 33 and early retirement at age 36!

Topics Discussed

In the interview, we discuss:

  • The dangerous allure of physical books…
  • How to create more time for language learning by pursuing FI (Financial Independence).
  • The importance of planning, action, and sacrifice whether you are acquiring a language or working toward financial freedom.

“The Uncommon Dream is the dream pursued—the dream met with planning, action, and sacrifice. With just a dream and those three tools, you can accomplish almost anything. A plan illuminates your path and clarifies the actions you can begin taking to work toward achieving your dream. We all know this much. But that last ingredient—sacrifice—could receive a little more of our collective attention. The prevailing tendency is to overcommit to the unimportant, spending our time, energy, and money on things that often don’t bring us much happiness or any closer to living our dream. Instead, we choose to simplify our lives by identifying the few things that matter to us most and eliminating the rest. In doing so, we gain more freedom and control over our lives. And by consciously choosing to do and consume less, we save money and have more time and energy to make meaningful contributions in the areas of our lives we care about the most.”

  • Michael and Ellen’s language learning “origin story.”
  • The pros and cons of learning a foreign language with your significant other.
  • Why Michael and Ellen decided to live abroad and raise their children as bilingual English-Spanish speakers.
  • The importance of children playing with peers who speak the target language.
  • The pros and cons of classroom language study vs. self-guided immersion.
  • Why, contrary to popular belief, children aren’t necessarily better or faster language learners.
  • How you can create language immersion for yourself no matter where in the world you live.
  • Why living abroad is no guarantee that you will acquire the local language.
  • The importance of having a strong, visceral WHY for learning a language.
  • How to apply David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD) approach in language learning.
  • The magic of compound interest in language acquisition, finance, fitness, and beyond.
  • How habits are like ice cubes.
  • What Michael and Ellen wish they’d known when they first started learning Spanish or living abroad.
  • The privilege of having the time and money to learn a foreign language and how it builds empathy for those learning English.
  • Why everyone should experience being a minority, not understanding the local language, and being far from family and friends.

Concepts, Places, People & Resources Mentioned

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