August 27

Yoda on Language Learning

How often have we heard the exhortation, or even made it ourselves, “Try harder!” The implication being that rewards come to those who try. Should we not instead heed the words of the immortal guru Yoda, who said,  “Do or do not. There is no try.”

That advice seemed to resonate with me at so many different levels when I first heard it. Trying implies difficulty, effort and in a sense even implied failure. We would not be trying if we could do it! Learning to me always seemed more a matter of doing than of trying. Maybe what I am doing when I am learning is not that great ( in terms of the end result) but I am doing the best I can with what I have. The doing may require effort but that is not a consideration. Instead I am focussed on the doing not on how much effort is involved. So anything we learn requires effort but that is not my perception when I am learning as my attention is elsewhere. It is on what I am doing; not succeeding is not on my mind.

Different people approach the task of learning language with differing levels of need, commitment, determination and opportunity.

For the ones who meet difficulties early on and who may not be so “gung ho”, the statement, “I tried” can give them an “honourable” exit. “Trying” seems to exonerate them from doing more, as it were. For any number of reasons what they were learning may have appeared too difficult, required more effort or time than was first envisaged or some other reason. We don’t need to explain our selves to anyone, as just by saying those words, “I tried!”, we gives ourselves a back door exit.

The term “trying” can hide a lot. So for the purposes of learning more about what can assist us, let’s reframe the experience, using Yoda’s advice, and talk instead about “doing”. At some point we may in fact decide to stop “doing”. Saying, “I have decided to stop learning” requires  me to take more responsibility for my actions. I am walking out the front door when I say that! 🙂

Let’s start off looking at learning a skill, like learning to drive a car or play a guitar. In cases like this when we aren’t able to do as we want, we don’t talk about trying. Instead, if we don’t do what is required or don’t improve sufficiently  (note, I didn’t say “succeed”) then we usually just have another go to see if we can do it better. People who are intent on succeeding don’t tend to talk about trying or about failing. They talk more about having another go and keeping going. They may talk about the difficulty and sure, they may get dispirited by a continual shortfall in their efforts. They may even decide to walk away and stop learning.

Trying implies we need to work harder…do more. However we don’t tend to think or say I need to try harder when we are learning a skill. So, will “trying” per se help us or is there something else we need to be doing in order to succeed?

Learning is not about trying harder.

yoda on language and learningLearning IS about:

  • paying attention and learning to distinguish how what we do now is different to or the same as what we did before
  • paying attention to what we did and what happened
  • learning to control one self
  • paying attention and learning to distinguish how what we are doing is different or the same from where we are wishing to get to
  • persistence
  • becoming more attentive to what we are doing, seeing, hearing
  • learning from what we have done
  • seeking input from others/elsewhere when there is a feeling of being stuck
  • believing that we are capable of learning to the level we desire
  • recognising that we may not really be committed enough to what we set ourselves to learn, that in fact we have other priorities

Learning is much more complex than saying, “I am not trying hard enough.”

If you feel that in any one of the above areas you recognise there is a certain uncertainty or unease about what you are doing, it may well be a good time to reflect on what you can do to gain more certainty about what you are doing and how you are learning.  It is remarkable what we are capable of when we are committed and when we become more attentive to what is working for us and what is not.

Let’s break down learning into some basic steps in an effort to bring some simplicity to what we are doing when we are learning :

  • We decide to learn something (because we are attracted to it for some reason)
  • We start the process of learning, (with possibly a mix of feelings ranging from excitement to trepidation)
  • Along the path we need to come to the point where we recognise that our attempts

    • hit the mark
    • miss the mark
    • move closer to the mark
    • move away from the mark
  • If we are at sea with it all, we need to keep at it until one of the above events happen.
  • After we have one of the above 4 experiences, we then have now one additional factor to consider – how did we do in relation to our last attempt?

How long we persist in our attempts to improve will depend on any number of factors. Ultimately though, it boils down do we have another go, or not!

The question hence is not to do with try or not but, “Will I continue?” This may seem like semantics, but I assure you it is far more than that. It is to do with our mindset and how we approach what we do. In there lies a key to success.

Our “doing” or learning needs to have ALL of us in it, or better not to continue. If we can’t bring all of ourselves to the table it is better to walk away, knowing that is what we decided. If we persist in a half hearted manner, then in time we will eventually give up as the learning will not be successful; this time from frustration because we are not progressing.

So stop trying and start doing! 🙂




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