Zhuangzi’s Crooked Tree


Huizi said to Zhuangzi, “This old tree is so crooked and rough that it is useless for lumber. In the same way, your teachings have no practical use.” 

Zhuangzi replied, “This tree may be useless as lumber, but you could rest in the gentle shade of its big branches or admire its rustic character. It only seems useless to you because you want to turn it into something else and dont know how to appreciate it for what it is. My teachings are like this.” 

Zhuangzi, the Taoist philosopher, lived in


over 2,300 years ago He taught the Tao, or way, an approach to life based on effortlessness and harmony with one’s nature.  He was down to earth and had a tongue in cheek sense of humour. He made fun of ritual, dogma, and pretentious moralizing. His epigrams and parables praised those who achieved mastery through constant practice of a skill, following their own inclinations, He scorned complicated explanations and theories.


Zhuangzi’s famous story about the crooked tree appeals to me for many reasons. Being in the forest industry, I know that a crooked tree is not suitable for making standard commodity lumber products, but it can make high quality decorative products which feature its natural beauty and individuality.


Such a tree has grown to a ripe old age by adapting itself to its environment. Whereas the trees in the industrial forest are straight and look alike, the crooked tree grew alone, or with a mixture of other trees of different ages and species. This kind of tree will resist wind and disease better than the more uniform trees of the plantation forest. 

People who follow their natures and pursue their own path to language learning will be happier and more successful than learners who try meet goals set for them by others. A true language learner must be like the crooked tree of Zhuangzi, not seeking perfection of form, but prospering by taking advantage of surrounding resources. Think of the crooked tree. Please read this book to learn how to take advantage of the abundant language resources and opportunities for communication that surround you. And most of all just enjoy yourself!

This was in the introduction to my book, The Linguist, A Personal Guide to Language Learning which I wrote a few years ago. I cannot stress enough the importance of being an independent individual in order to achieve success in language learning.