By now, you’ve probably heard about cryptocurrencies. The word crypto seems inescapable: it creeps up in dinner conversations with friends, when complaining about the seemingly never-ending inflation, and in podcasts you listen to every day.
A quick search on Google Trends for the word “crypto” yields the following result. We can see the interest in crypto truly exploded in the past two years.
One day, your interest hits a tipping point and you can't take the FOMO anymore. You roll up your sleeves and decide to figure out what exactly crypto is 😤. Except, you find yourself both very excited 🤩 and very lost 😞.
In this article, I would like to share my experience of breaking into the crypto world – how learning crypto is like learning a new language. I am by no means a crypto native or a polyglot. But, having learned English as a second language, immigrated to the U.S., and somewhat found my footing in the crypto space, I wanted to share my journey and my mental model of how to learn crypto as a language.
First things first, definitions. According to Merriam-Webster, native means, “belonging to a particular place by birth”, or “natural, normal”. Taken together, if someone is a crypto native, then they are extremely familiar with the crypto space and the crypto landscape has become their “natural” habitat.
On the other hand, being fluent in a language means being, “capable of using a language easily and accurately”, or “effortlessly smooth and flowing.” In my humble opinion, when a person is born into or reaches the native fluency of a language, they will not only be able to read, write, and converse in that language fluently but also blend in with that culture and identify as a part of the community.
In the following paragraphs, I will highlight how crypto mimics a language in four ways: vocabulary, grammar, culture, and identity.
I first started being crypto-curious in October 2021. My company had started encouraging us to learn about digital assets. I went to a few panel discussions and decided I wanted to learn more. Then I googled “top crypto/blockchain podcasts” and found my way to shows like Bankless and The Blockchain Insider. I would go on an hour-long walk every morning and listen to an episode in those early days. It quickly evolved (or perhaps spiraled 😂) to listening to my crypto podcasts while I was cooking, cleaning, or even doing my facial routines 🤷♀️.
I knew I had found my new itch. But, it wasn’t always a smooth process. If you saw me on these daily walks, you would probably think I was texting the whole time. In reality, I was scrambling to my phone every few minutes after hearing some unknown words like “DeFi”, “LP”, “EIP-1559” and jotting them down in Notes so I could look them up when I get home.
Looking back, it struck me that what I was doing was building up my crypto vocabulary 😮. One of the first non-textbook books I ever read in English was Jane Eyre, and I remember highlighting all the unknown words at the first pass so I could look them up later and then read it again.
As time went on, I was no longer confused by the previously overwhelming amount of strange phrases I would hear from these crypto podcasts. I found myself easily navigating through conversations comparing L1s to L2s, and deep dives into NFTs and DAOs. It’s all about the vocabulary. Once I got the basic terminologies down, I was able to understand crypto. Or, so I thought (spoiler alert, I was very wrong ).
In late November, I found myself overly enthusiastic about crypto compared to my friends. If you mention the word crypto to me, I could go on a monologue for quite a long time. I was happy, but lonely. I felt isolated in my joy and thirst for crypto. I didn’t have anyone to WAGMI with nor ape into some cool NFTs together 😢.
At the same time, I also realized I was consuming a lot of content but not doing anything. Sure, I could understand all these crypto podcasts almost perfectly, but what good does that do? I wanted to do something in the space and meet some friends who were equally excited about crypto.
Coming from a data science background, I started reading Medium articles about blockchain data in hopes of doing some modeling projects with Ethereum’s open and public data. In Mid-December, I read a piece from Andrew Hong about “SQL on Ethereum”. I saw his intro included a link to his LinkedIn. Encouraged by my inner voice who so wanted to make friends in crypto, I reached out and asked for a coffee chat. I wasn’t really sure what would happen, but I convinced myself it wouldn’t hurt to try. The worst that could happen was a no.
As you can see, Andrew responded a minute later, telling me he would be happy to connect. This was my first welcoming message to the crypto world. From here on, many people whom I reached out to would respond the same way – friendly, welcoming, encouraging, and accepting.
In our initial chat, Andrew told me about his journey into crypto. He explained to me why things like the ethos of ETH vs. BTC and why they were built are important to understand, as well as shared helpful resources on how I could level up in the crypto data land. Fast forward six months, Andrew would turn out to be one of my strongest connections in the crypto space. He not only helped me grow technically but also introduced me to other connections and exposed me to the open-source, community-driven culture in the space. (P.S. Many of the connections I’ve made are through the web3 data degen group that Andrew started. Please do consider applying and join us!)
Back to mid-December, a few hours after messaging Andrew and encouraged by the positive feedback, I decided to send a friend request to Nic Carter and ask to meet up as well. I first saw him on a panel discussion my company hosted on The Intersection of Bitcoin and Sustainability. Since then, I’ve come to learn that he is a very active member in the crypto space. I wanted to hear his journey from TradFi to crypto and then co-founding Coin Metrics and doing VC. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as I have come to learn time and again how open and friendly people are in the space, he accepted my friend request a day later and we scheduled a time to grab coffee.
In early 2022, I participated in hackathons hosted by ETHGlobal and tried to flip NFTs with my IRL friends. I started to realize that reaching out on LinkedIn is kind of a web2 thing and in the crypto/web3 land you reach out via Twitter, Discord, and/or Telegram.
Although I had known about Dune since November 2021, it was not until March/April 2022 that I started doing on-chain analysis and creating dashboards there. Boxer from Dune actually gave me the idea for the first dashboard I published on the State of Ethereum Quarterly Report, and how I got to talk to him was again, through me reaching out for a coffee chat. Although, this time it was on Twitter instead of on LinkedIn 😛.
Around the same time, I finally decided to pop into MetricsDAO’s discord. I had heard about MetricsDAO in a passing Bankless episode. I knew they were a group of people passionate about on-chain data analysis. Because of my interest in crypto and data, I thought this might be a good community to explore and join. Even though it was not that long ago, the details of how I joined are already a blur 😅. But what I do remember is the “overwhelming” amount of reception and support I felt from Danner when I joined. He offered to walk me through all the channels in MetricsDAO (for anyone who’s on Discord, you understand the struggle 😂), and I took him up on the offer.
Due to the encouragement of existing members, the permissionless nature of DAO, and the pods set up at MetricsDAO, the path to becoming a member was very easy. Soon, I was contributing to different pods of MetricsDAO and making friends while growing my skills. One day, on a pod weekly call, I got to meet Chuxin. She is a data scientist who’s also keen on crypto and an active contributor in the space. As a fellow Asian female in the crypto data space, I had wanted to get to know her for a while. After the call ended, I just decided to reach out and we got connected.
Gradually, I no longer felt alone on my crypto journey. I started to understand the different ethos of Bitcoin and Ethereum. I started to find my tribe through web3 data degens group and MetricsDAO. I now have real friends who I vibe with about crypto, data, and analytics. I am in Telegram and Discord chats where members care about things I care about.
While I am still finding my community and formulating my identity in the crypto space, I know that I am on a journey with like-minded people.
Looking back, this experience again mirrors the culture and identity aspects of learning a language. When I immigrated to the U.S., besides learning how to order water in English, I also learned that Americans like to drink their water cold with ice, whereas back at home we prefer hot water more often than not. Language, culture, and identity are so intertwined. When you learn a language, you inevitably discover the context surrounding that language and the communities using that language. You eventually start identifying with certain ideas and groups of people 🥰. You eventually find your community 🏡.
At a high level, the definition of grammar is “a system of rules that allow us to structure sentences”. This is another area where crypto parallels a language.
With a language, you have a set of governing, composable rules that you follow to form sentences and compose articles and speeches. For example, a sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a period, a question mark, or an exclamation mark. Also, in English, subjects come before verbs, which then come before objects.
Similarly, with crypto, you have a set of token standards and smart contracts which you follow and build upon to create dApps and a vibrant ecosystem. For example, if you are creating an NFT, then you follow ERC-721 standard to create this non-fungible token collection. If you want to understand the DeFi space, then you follow the path of: 1) learn what fungible tokens are → 2) learn what automated markets (AMM) and decentralized exchanges are → 3) learn what automated lending and borrowing are → 4) learn what automated investment strategy is (e.g. Yearn). Afterward, you can use these concepts as rules and building blocks to help you understand or build new products in the crypto space.
Now that we have established why being a crypto native is like being fluent in a language, how do we approach learning crypto as if we were learning a natural language?
When I was learning English, I made sure everything I did was in English. Besides going to an English speaking school every day (which was not necessarily a deliberate choice but more a byproduct of me immigrating to the U.S. and a precursor to me needing to learn English), I also changed my phone settings to English, switched to only watching English movies and listening to English songs, tried to write diaries in English, and even made sure every time I was counting something I did so in English. You get it; the point was to completely immerse myself in that language, in all possible ways. Eventually, the magic moment happened – I started having dreams in English 🙌! Within six months of coming to the U.S., I could understand what teachers were teaching, what classmates were talking about, and carry smooth conversations of my own.
When it comes to crypto, I believe it’s very helpful to take the same immersive approach. Plant crypto-related content throughout your routine. Twitter? Crypto-related accounts – @spencernoon, @ljxie, @ljin18, @MessariCrypto, @CryptoGucci (it’s impossible to name all of them, but you get the idea, go surf!). Podcast? Crypto-related shows – Bankless, Blockhain Insider, The Delphi Podcast, The Bad Crypto Podcast… YouTube? Crypto-related channels – Finematics, Whiteboard Crypto. Side hustles? Crypto-related projects – build dashboards on Dune or Flipside, start leveling up through RabbitHole’s quests. When you spend all your available time living and breathing in the crypto space, it’s hard not to become fluent in this new language.
One of the most effective ways to learn a new language is to make friends who speak it natively. Through interactive conversations, you not only get to practice but also will pick up some slang or pop culture references and get the flow of things much faster. Since you want to have fun with your friends, you will be motivated to try harder. Conversely, your friends will also want to help you get better as quickly as possible.
It’s the same thing when it comes to crypto. Make crypto native friends. Talk to the people who have already found their way in. As I have shared, anywhere is a good starting point – LinkedIn, Twitter, Discord etc. If you see content you like, don’t be afraid to DM the authors. If you are new to a Discord channel, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. I am not going to lie; I still constantly struggle with, “Am I bothering them?” vs. “Nah I should just do it.” But, echoing my anecdotal evidence above, I really believe most people in the space are very approachable. They are always so willing to connect and help you find your way to your crypto journey.
You will level up skills faster with their guidance and start picking up crypto culture by being in the vicinity. These conversations and developing relationships will certainly expedite your crypto learning journey.
Unless it’s your mother tongue, mastering any language requires you to put in the hard work of memorizing vocabulary and learning the grammar. Without knowing enough words, no matter how many English songs you listen to or how many English-speaking friends you make, you will never become fluent. If the structural rules of the language evade you, it’s nearly impossible to make sense of all the words.
Crypto is no different. As previously mentioned, at its foundation, crypto as a language also consists of vocabulary and grammar. Therefore, the same method one uses to acquire new words and study grammar can also be applied. For example, when encountering new vocabulary in conversations or articles, write them down and look up the definitions. If you want to investigate a sector, grasp the building block knowledge first to equip yourself with conceptual understanding so that you can navigate anything new thereafter. For example, in order to understand the DeFi sector, you must first learn what ERC-20 tokens are, what Liquidity Pools are about, and why Automated Market Maker was invented. Then you can advance to researching automated lending and borrowing platforms, such as Aave and Compound, and start experimenting with investment strategies like Yearn and Alchemix.
A popular piece of advice people give to learn a new language is to go abroad. It totally makes sense. Once you are in a country that speaks the language, you are forced to be present in that environment. It becomes much easier to make friends with native speakers. The key here is to create that immersive experience for yourself and find support when you need it.
With the existence of the Internet and how everything in crypto is built, “going abroad” has never been easier. For crypto as a language, going abroad means using whatever protocols or dApps you are learning, reading their whitepapers or articles on Mirror and Medium, following their Twitter accounts, and hopping into their Discord channels to meet other community members of the same product. If you want to understand what Aave v3 is all about, put some money in (not financial advice), and try out different functionalities. If you want to see what a DAO is about, join the DAO, talk to the people there, and start contributing.
Life is about the journey, not the destination. When learning a natural language, it’s not just about becoming fluent. It’s about opening doors to new experiences. While learning a language, you get to learn about the culture and history surrounding that language. Equipped with the new language, you are able to travel around and converse with the local people.
In the land of crypto, the possibilities are similarly endless. It’s not just about becoming a crypto native. After all, the crypto language is just a conduit. You are learning crypto because you feel a sense of attraction; you want to satisfy your curiosity, unlock new experiences, make some new friends, and find a community you belong to in the space.
So, while some days it is about the grind, don’t forget to enjoy yourself along the way. Take a pause and smell the flowers. Give yourself a pat on the back and feel proud of what you have done.
The old proverb says, “all roads lead to Rome”. Everyone has their own unique ways of learning a new language and the paths they take to get into crypto. I want to stress that I am by no means a crypto native or a polyglot. I share my journey and thoughts on learning crypto as a new language in hopes that this can be somewhat helpful to those with a similar curiosity. Please reach out if you feel alone on this journey, as I did a few months ago, or just want to chat about crypto and get excited together.
Last but not least, I want to thank everyone who has helped me and supported me on my journey so far 🙏. Without you, my experience would certainly not have been the same .
Special thanks to Brandon Mason, Andrew Hong, and Chuxin Huang for editing, providing constructive feedback, and proofreading this piece!