April 10

Can we get lost in learning a language?


With the recent startling events concerning flight MH370 my thoughts turned to wondering about how getting lost applies to learning a language. Can we get so lost in learning a language? I believe that we can. The language learners who don’t succeed are the ones who got really lost. They are the ones who get so lost that they never find a way to keep improving. So the question we can ask ourselves is, “How can we avoid getting lost when we are learning a language? As a way of answering this question I will look at some key reasons why we get lost.

Here are 4 of them:

– We are told to learn “a certain way”. We believe that, as the people who tell us must know what they are saying so we follow their advice. When it doesn’t work, we may not question the advice, instead, we question our own abilities. This is the beginning of the end, so to speak, as once we start to doubt our abilities and the belief we can do it, we in fact undermine ourselves and then it is VERY hard to get out of that self fulfilling prophecy.

The next reason is similar to the first but a little different.

– We believe for other reasons ( to do with what we have heard, read and experienced) that we should learn languages by doing a number of things, like memorising vocabulary. When this doesn’t work, again, the same thing may happen as before (Most don’t question their direction, they question their own abilities).

– As a result of following various advice, we have become too reliant on these ways of learning (taught to us in schools or by other) and hence have lost contact with the powerful learning powers all of us have. These learning powers I have talked about directly or indirectly elsewhere on this site in most of the posts.  A few key one are the articles on  awareness, noticing, and intuition. I expanded on this discussion significantly in my book  Language Learning Unlocked.

We have developed a number of  emotional behaviours that seem to prevent us from succeeding.  Many people don’t fully appreciate that these behaviours are by and large learned. Hence they are not an essential part of who we are, so they don’t need to stay with us. They can appear as fear, resentment, despair, jealousy, and so on. All of these emotional states or responses can deprive us of seeing the world as it really is, as well as turning our attention inwards not to what is happening around us. To access the learning powers referred to earlier we need to be present, so clearly we are put at a disadvantage when our emotions are dominating our lives.

lost in learning a language

We can minimize the risk of getting lost by understanding that ALL of us are capable of learning another language. That way, when progress is too slow or too hard, we can look at what may be going awry with our understandings and methods. By remaining firm in the conviction that “I am capable”, new input can be sought and tried.

We can also minimize the chance of getting lost by realizing that whatever we do must result in an increase in skill level (“Can I speak better?”) and an increase in confidence in what has been learned. If this has not been achieved we need to reassess what is happening. Much the same way as over time we can realize that we can cook better. No one has to tell us…we just know! Learning a language is not about memorising word lists, grammar rules and the like, which we can’t remember when we need them. It is about becoming more perceptive and improving our skills. Being able to express uncertainty, for example, by including a word or two in your utterance rests on much more than just remembering those words. The right placement, an appropriate tone and possible even look on your face are separate awarenesses that need to be reached and and skills mastered before the whole package can be brought together.

We can also reduce the chances of getting lost by learning to trust ourselves more and learning to trust our feelings, hunches and intuitions more. This way we become more attentive to what is going on around us all the time. Much the same way as you can see an infant learning. They are all ears, eyes and senses when they are interacting with the world. It’s not that we should not listen to others but when what they say drowns out our own senses and inner “voice”, we can end up losing our way as learners.  If we keep looking for answers from “others”, we can in fact paralyze our learning.

I am not of course saying that we can’t benefit from the input of others. Clearly we can. However I have seen far too many language learners unable to learn even the most basic of things in normal interchanges as they believe learning must be directed by a teacher, or gleaned from a book or program. So they are not looking to learn from what they do. When this happens our progress is destined to get stuck!

So when you are faced with a situation of not understanding, learn to look for clues and have a guess, rather than panic and look for help. By learning to become more self reliant ( when possible) you give yourself the opportunity to reactivate and strengthen the powers that I have been talking about on this site and in Language Learning Unlocked

Should you get lost, it is important to understand that the first step towards not being lost is the realisation that you are!


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