I hated learning language at school. It was the most boring thing ever – lists of words, boring short stories to read, endless grammar, and happy when those 50 minutes were over. Like holding your breath under water and surfacing again to breathe afterwards, I was happy to just speak Dutch again after a ’bout’ of French or German. Timbres. Schmetterlingen. Screwdriver. If anything, being taught these of which I did not know why I would want to learn them but “Useful when you go to other countries!” and “Maybe you want to be a diplomat!” – created an aversion to the idea of actually going to those countries. It did more harm than good. Though not for long, so it seemed.
English was different. Long before the subject English had started to become a serious thing in school, I watched Star Trek (TNG!) with only English subtitles available. Robots, spaceships, semi-intellectual talk about what could and would go wrong in space – count me in! Gods, we ate that show up. Mr. Data, make it so. Engage. Phasers, Mr Worf! Even at the very start, what whey were doing seemed so very interesting.
In my young insatiable mind I just had to understand what was going on.
I needed to understand. Remember those times when you didn’t really care about names of people you’d never see again anyway? Or on the other hand, those times at meetings where you really wanted, no, needed to remember those names and you actually did? Have a purpose, incite your curiosity, and suddenly you are a vivid learner. Suddenly, you lose yourself spending hours trying to figure something out without noticing.
German and French? They didn’t do that for me. Good Bye Lenin!, Amélie. Jeux d’Enfants. Lola rennt. There is beautiful art that definitely involves these cultures and languages – but it just wasn’t enough for me to want submerge myself – week in, week out.
I started trying to learn Spanish almost about 2.5-3 years ago, how time flies.
Enjoy your achievements, but never be satisfied
Most people start out enthusiastically. Upon arriving in a brand-new country and culture, you just want to know what a signs says, how to order a bagel, taco, empanada, souvlaki, mousaka, guacamole, or hummus – besides just saying those words in a silly accent (or proudly in your, repeat it more slowly. And more loudly. Mostly more loudly. That would be hilarious. But please don’t. Still, pretty hilarious.
This is how your talks with strangers would go: I’m learning, oh what does this mean, I’ve learnt that word, that word, that’s great, so long and thanks for all the fish. Which gets tiring after a while.
Also, classes are taken – you ambitiously sign up for a 3 month course and if you even make it through to the end without missing a class, passing your exam – well, no one can be solidly proficient in a language after that period. Nevertheless usually, that’s where it stops.
That was the sole reason I quit taking group classes. No one would ever ‘graduate’ to the advanced classes, and then not before long a new batch of fresh souls would come to learn virtues, “me gusta”, “una cerveza por favor”, and “ayer tenía mucho dolor en mi estómago después de comer esta sucia comida que me vendí el pinche mesero quien me puso a pagar demasiado, hijo de puta”, and the like.
Before you know it, you’ll be speaking a language for 7 years, and you’ll still use the wrong words half of the time. Suddenly, you think of the immigrants in your own country of whom you used to say “hmmm… 7 years, that’s some time to learn a language even just a bit, isn’t it?”
Never forget to pat yourself on the back for achievements, however, always move on. If the moment of understanding gives you that boost of dopamine, go seek it out.
Focus on small objectives, continuous development and progress, not why you can’t write your magnum opus yet
Whenever you take on a big project, you keep the final goal in mind, but maintain focus on continuous development. It’s definitely important not to lose track of your ultimate goal, whatever it may be – a vague ‘mastery’, a passing a test, or feeling confident in talking with your howdy neighbour. In the bigger whole, learning is most gratifying when attempted the way life is most gratifying: by enjoying the journey, laughing about things that seem silly in the language or your mistakes.
Moreover: set goals that require use of the language
If your actual goal is to improve your language proficiency but you just don’t want to lay your eyes on another “Business Result” Student’s Book without the sour taste of gastric juices filling your mouth, try to do things that you’d want to do in your own time and language too. Listen to music of genres you love, but in your focus language. Play games, but change the language. Switch the base language of your phone. Your PC operating system. Hurt yourself. No pain, no gain. Try to find news websites in the language. Read Al Jazeera in it.
Enjoy being extravagant!
The last one for today – love adverbs and adjectives. Use majestic words, verbs that dazzle you, preposterous adjectives, and think graciously. You’ll get a good laugh out of it, so will others, and you will not forget.
I’ve promised a specific person not to make my blog posts too long! So here’s the abrupt en-