It is fascinating how strongly school determines our behavior and perception of the world. School teaches us to value scores more than knowledge. Some kids study literature, or chemistry, or mathematics because they like those subjects and they are craving for new knowledge, but the vast majority of students are interested in better scores, and consider the lessons pretty useless for the real life. It is fine when you are 10, but the real problem is that people continue aiming for good marks many years after graduation. Real life never starts for so many of us. Whenever grown-ups decide to learn something new, they seek for routines, schedules, scores and tests instead of seeking for new knowledge and skills.
When we operate in the “back to school” mode, we substitute education with schooling. This approach may significantly slow down your language learning progress. Many learners start their journey with re-establishing their (mainly) unsuccessful language classes: boring stories in a simplified version of a target language, meaningless exercises, mindless repetitions of new words separated from their context. All these can keep you very busy. You even can measure your progress high, but you should remember, you measure your progress in completing exercises and memorizing words. It is not your progress in acquiring your target language. Unless you disconnect yourself from this school “Matrix”, you won’t get into the real world and won’t start enjoying the real language.
Language is a means of 1) expressing our thoughts 2) communication 3) preserving information. Treat language like a means, and you’ll realize how to navigate through the learning process in the manner that suits your needs best. Here are some suggestions how you can turn off your schooling mode and start dealing with real life language:
- Ditch that simplified language. Nobody speaks like that. Why waste your time on a non-existent language? I’m not saying that you have to start with philosophical works (but if you want to, why not?). Just read the same sort of books and essays that you read and enjoy in your mother-tongue. Believe me, it is easier than overcoming overwhelming stupidity of all those primitive dialogs from your textbooks that may occur only between two early prototypes of AI robots.
- Fall in love with your target culture: listen to the songs in your target language and watch movies. Songs are the best. Try to find songs in your target language that you would enjoy listening over and over again. My students who managed to become fluent in Russian, all were passionate about this or that Russian band. I believe, you can always find something for your taste. Movies are hard to grasp at the beginning, but watching movies along with subtitles is a good and very efficient practice.
- Be your own interpreter. From time to time, try to switch your inner speech (the voice in your head) into your target language. Our thoughts are continuous, so why not to try to start thinking in your target language. “How would I say this phrase in x-language?” is a good question to start with. Your real thoughts, your natural flow of topics and ideas is the most valuable material to work with.
- Hesitate to speak? Write! I don’t mean, invent any specific topics for your essays. Just anything that amuses you. What? Your vocabulary isn’t wide enough? Good! Use the Internet for finding the exact words and go on!
- Stop measuring your progress. You don’t need it. You are not going to end your journey. There always be something new to learn. Accept it and enjoy. One day you’ll notice that you don’t need to look for every other word in a dictionary when reading, or that you don’t really read those subtitles when watching movies, or that your friends who speak your mother-tongue don’t slow down their speech when talking to you. This is your real progress. This is what matters.
Many people make impressive achievements when getting to the reality learning mode. Stop wasting your time earning good marks. Stop procrastinating at your imaginary school. Invest your resources in new knowledge and skills instead, and your return on investments will surprise you.
Photo by Stéfan