I've never actually set out to learn a language without some sort of task I needed to accomplish in it. My ideal working environment, in fact, is one where I am given a great body of ugly and half-functional code in an unfamiliar language, and told to make it right. Then the process of learning the language is subsumed under the task of understanding their evil, broken code, and by the time I've finished the refactoring, I already know the language syntax and constructs intuitively.
The only time this has ever failed me, oddly enough, was with Perl itself. Perl's syntax is opaque enough (is that the Holy War Alarm[tm] I hear in the background?) that I actually had to learn something of the language even to be able to read an existing application, much less modify it or write my own.
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