December 3

The Zen of Learning English


Why Doing Nothing* Can Be Better Than Doing Something

At advanced levels of English it can be problematic knowing where exactly to focus and what to do to keep improving. Getting stuck at more advanced levels for these reasons is much more common than you would expect. For this reason and for others, we have talked about elsewhere.

Zen and learning English

The problems, the lacks, the misunderstandings, the awkwardness all tend to become smaller and smaller, the better you become. Hence they are harder to find!

What may have worked before does not seem to work, so what is the answer?

Well, of course the answer is never just one thing. However, this one suggestion I am about to make is something that may well work for you, no matter what you are doing, or not doing!

When something goes wrong, your first reaction can be, you have to do something. Or when you think, “I really need to put some effort into my English”. Yes, clearly something has to be done differently to before. if the results you wanted weren’t forthcoming.

My suggestion is that before rushing in and doing something, you need to find out what is not working or what could be done a better.

So the very first thing to do is to become more attentive, more watchful. To do that, and this might go against all that you have been taught, do “nothing. In other words stop actively looking for an answer on Google, stop learning grammar, vocabulary, listening to experts on YouTube, etc.

Instead be quieter …. Of course, don’t stop speaking to people!  Focus on quieting the internal chatter, or at least learn to not get caught up in it.

Blaming, worrying, criticising, fantasising, judging etc etc is just noise that can fill us up, leaving little or no energy to deploy to become more aware of what is going on around us and within us. Awareness of something new, something different is what is going to enable you to find a direction.

This can be a big ask, as we are so used to filling up out days and our mind with activity. 

As has been said by others, you have to learn to be quiet so you can hear more.

By becoming quieter, you free up some energy with which you can now direct for your own purposes.

Should you decide to try this and focus on thinking less, so you can see more…. I would suggest that in that quietness you find something to focus on and once you do, stay with it… You can focus on the interactions of people, the words they use, how they say those words, the emotions behind the words, the intent behind the words, and so on.

Any insights you gain here will deepen your connection with English and how people use words to express all that is behind it.

You can explore the nature of sounds, the contours of communication, the edges of meaning where the meaning can flip form one to another thing just by adding an inflexion or even a space, the nuances that people add by adding a space between sentences.

By doing this you are expanding your awareness about so many things, including how people communicate in English. This way you can push your learning forward. If you do this often enough you will come to be more at ease as you better understand.

IF you are not able to find something to focus on by this method, use some other method to find some area you need to focus on ( eg. typical errors that people from your language background make when learning English)

The aim however should be for you to learn to find your own…

The more you work at this approach, the better you can become at it.

Action, that is translating what you have become aware of to a skill, is of course also necessary. However, the actions you need to take will become more evident, as you work to implement what you can now see and feel more clearly.



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