You’re probably never going to shoot, block or rebound like Kobe Bryant and Jeremy Lin. But there is one way you can be just like them — even if you’re 5 feet tall and have never picked up a basketball in your life.

These two NBA greats are also all-star language learners. Their experiences show us a lot about the best way to pick up another language and the benefits of doing so.

Kobe Bryant: Telenovelas Make Great Teachers

If you’re a Los Angeles Lakers fan, you might already know that the Black Mamba speaks Spanish so well that he can conduct interviews in that language.

Bryant had plenty of motivations to learn Spanish. His wife, Vanessa, whom he married in 2001, is Mexican-American. His friend and former teammate Pau Gasol is a native of Spain, and he’s friends with soccer great Lionel Messi, who only feels comfortable speaking in Spanish.

Bryant also wanted to hone his Spanish skills to connect with Lakers fans. After his 2016 retirement, Bryant said (in Spanish):

“Latino fans are important to me, because when I arrived (in Los Angeles) they were the fans who most passionately embraced me. So I told them, “give me two or three years so that I can learn a little bit of Spanish.” Now, my Spanish is not that good, but I can speak a little.”

Spending time with native speakers helped Bryant hone his skills. So did watching television shows in Spanish. Bryant says he learned a lot by viewing telenovelas and Sabado Gigante with his wife and mother-in-law.

If you watch the video, you can tell that Bryant is being overly critical of his Spanish skills when he says he’s “not that good.” He’s a great example of how practicing over time can build fluency – consistency speaking in real context is the key.

Jeremy Lin: From Uncertain Speaker to Confident Rapper

Lin may have spent all of this season rehabbing after an injury he suffered opening night, but his place in basketball history is assured. ESPN named him one of the most influential players of all time because he forced “NBA observers to reconsider the talents of players of Asian heritage.”

And it’s his heritage that drove Lin’s language learning. He was born in Southern California and grew up in Palo Alto. His parents came to the U.S. from Taiwan (neither parent is tall, by the way).

In 2011, Lin said that he could understand Mandarin but could “use a little help” with speaking it. But just a couple years later, he could answer most questions at a Taiwan press conference in Mandarin, attributing the growth in his skills to lots of practice with an online tutor. And by 2015, he was rapping in Chinese to honor his mom on Mother’s Day. (Aww!)

Today, Lin is a big part of the NBA’s outreach to fans in China. As part of the league’s Chinese New Year celebrations earlier this year, he met with three members of NBA China’s fan loyalty program during a Nets game in New York. I’m sure everything Lin has learned through his language studies helps him forge a deeper connection with fans.

Takeaway Tips for Learning a New Language

If you’re studying a new language or thinking about giving it a try, here are a few things you can learn from how Bryant and Lin did it.

Find your motivation. Lin and Bryant were both motivated by family connections to the language they studied. Figure out what your own driving reason is for studying a new language, whether it’s getting to know family members or your neighbors, or possibly enhancing your career.

Be patient. Acquiring a new language doesn’t happen overnight. But you will make steady improvements over time with a consistent online conversation tutor – make it convenient for yourself!

Hang out with native speakers. Bryant no doubt picked up the real-life nuances of Spanish — which you won’t learn from a textbook — from his wife, mother-in-law and friends.

Learn online. Even if there are no native speakers where you live, you can still study with a native speaker by taking classes online.

Entertain yourself. Just as Bryant watched telenovelas, you can find shows, music and novels in the language you are studying. That’s a powerful way to dive into a new culture, even if you can’t visit a country where your chosen language is spoken.

Realize that small steps count. Before you become fluent in your new language — and, actually, even if you never become fluent — learning more about the language and culture of a client, colleague or acquaintance still shows respect and enhances your connection.

While the team at Fluency Corp wouldn’t fare too well in a pickup game against Lin and Bryant, we do share their fun, practical approach to learning language. Contact us for a free consultation to find out more about in-person and online language training for your or your employees – anywhere.