There are (at least) two kinds of language learners.
One needs to learn a language in order to reach a certain goal. This goal may reach from getting a visa, writing an application to communicating to your spouse from “over-seas”.
The other group learns a language seemingly without any apparent “goal”. But are they the weaker learners?
The simple answer here is “No!” – Having a goal and a certain time framework surely will help going through the process quicker. But there’s also the danger of “going through the motions” without actually internalizing any of it.
The Problem with Speed-Reading Shakespeare
Speed-Reading is designed to let you read quicker in order to reach your goal (finishing book, writing paper, preparing presentation, etc) faster. Obviously.
Whereas a purely informational book about science, economics, etc may be enjoyed more by reading it quicker (hence decreasing boredom and fatigue) if you read a novel or poem by the classic authors – increased speed does not mean increased enjoyment. In fact, you might miss a lot of important nuances if you don’t slow down.
The first example is like the group of learners that want to reach a goal as quickly as possible.
The latter is like the group of people who don’t seem to have a concrete goal but have a huge interest.
Neither one is better than the other. At Learn Out Live we help and support everybody.
The importance and power of setting and reaching goals is well-known to most people. So here’s a case for non-linear and non-goal-oriented language learning.
Mountain Climbing is not about reaching the top
If you like you can dissect life and split everything into a “path” or “process” and a “goal” or “target”. In most cases you will find yourself to be on the long winding road of the process, though. Goals and targets do occur. But as everyone who is good at setting and reaching goals knows, is that after reaching one, you’ll need a new one fast – otherwise you’ll immediately begin to feel useless.
This is why – as a language teacher – I believe that the first and most important aspect of learning a language is to relax into the process. If you are rushing ahead to your goal you might get there quicker but you might also miss the beautiful scenery along the way and the deep experiences of cross-cultural understanding that can unfold from decelerated learning.
A Language can become a Friend for Life
Whereas goal-oriented language learning may be the seemingly quickest way to the top, process-oriented language learning is actually the deepest.
To me, learning a language is like getting to know a friend or your spouse. Basically, it never ends. There are always new things to discover,misunderstandings to be clarified, surprises to be made, etc.
So, again – if your life or job doesn’t depend on it, this is an invitation to relax.
Take your time and start dancing with the language you are learning. It’s like in a relationship: sometimes it’s tango, sometimes waltz .. and sometimes the flailing and wailing of lovers locked in combat.
We have to be careful not to over-estimate principles of efficiency. It may seem cool and flashy to accelerate things on the surface. But actually it’s an achingly over-rated principle. What works for factories and businesses does not work for relationships. Obvious, isn’t it?
Learning a language is not a conveyor belt activity. It’s about maintaining and sustaining relationships.
In this respect the relation to a language and the people it allows you to connect to are one and the same.
Photo credit: Some rights reserved by amanda.venner