Learning That There’s Always More to Learn Posted by Malachi Rempen on Dec 8, 2014 in Language Learning
Starting a new language is fun and easy. Early on, you feel like you’re making so much progress, because from nothing, everything is 100% improvement. You’re still awkward and trembling, like a kitten stumbling around, trying to keep its balance. But it’s fun. Here you are, communicating with what to you are still essentially meaningless combinations of sounds. It’s thrilling.
Then you get out of the classroom and go on a trip to that country, and you try it out for the first time. You can say “where are the toilets?” and “two beers, please” and “my name is, I come from…” The locals get excited, even tickled, because you can say a few things (unless you’re in France), and you feel good. You’re encouraged to keep going. You think, this is easy! You just need to learn a bunch more words and phrases, and you’re good to go. Sure, you can’t understand what’s being said most of the time, and you can’t converse outside what you’ve learned, but that’ll come with time, right? Surely you just need to learn a little tiny bit more.
So you learn a little bit more. Suddenly, there’s the past tense, and the future tense. There are adjective endings and exceptions to rules and prepositions that don’t translate directly to your native language. There’s proper pronunciation, various formalities, maybe even a completely new alphabet that’s more complex than you thought at first glance. Things are getting tough! You realize you aren’t as good as you thought you were. Why, you’re still a complete beginner! You can’t even talk about your day without stuttering and stopping and starting over fifty times. How embarrassing!
But fine, there can’t be much left to go. You press forward, through the thickets of vocabulary and conjugation, determined to at least be conversational. That’s when you’ll be satisfied—when you can talk about general topics and tell stories and so on, when you can read the newspaper and watch TV. Then you’ll be pretty much fluent, right? Right?
So you did it! You’re conversational. You can talk on the phone as long as they don’t speak too fast or about something weird. You can understand radio interviews and some song lyrics. You can read kid’s books without a problem. It took you much longer than you’d originally thought, but you’re more or less there. So why are you still not satisfied?
Because just look at that mountain. Just look at Mt. Fluency, its peak glimmering in the distance. It’s massive, and beautiful. You had no idea it was this big until you climbed up this far. And now that you have, you still feel like you’re at the bottom! You still can’t express yourself as easily as you’d like. You still get stuck on words, you’re constantly checking your dictionary while reading the newspaper, and worst of all, you can hear all the terrible, embarrassing mistakes you’re making as they come out of your mouth! Fluency is far, far away, and you know it.
But you didn’t used to know that. When you started, there were things you knew that you didn’t know. The more you learned, however, the more you learned you needed to learn. There was so much out there that you didn’t even know you didn’t know! The rest of the iceberg, hidden beneath the waves, waiting to be discovered.
But once you’ve climbed your first mountain, the next peak isn’t quite so difficult. In fact, you might find yourself trying to climb as many as you can…
How’s your experience been? Have you crested Mt. Fluency? Is the peak in sight? Are you still staring up at the mountain from base camp?