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Traveling Light and Language Learning Posted by on Jul 20, 2015 in Archived Posts

Itchy Feet: Three Things

My first time traveling overseas all by myself, my mother gave her the advice that her mother gave her on her first time traveling all by herself: all you really need are tickets, your passport, and money. The Holy Trinity. The idea is that as long as you have a way to get there, your identification and a way to pay for things, the rest is extra. Pretty much anything else you might need can be bought along the way.

These days, that list is quickly shrinking to just cell phone (tickets, even money) plus passport, and I imagine physical passports probably won’t be around for that much longer either. That said, even if you do use your cell phone for everything you should definitely bring hard copies of your tickets and an extra credit card hidden somewhere in your underwear. A light-fingered thief and a loose pocket can quickly part you from two-thirds of the all-important Trinity.

The point is, when traveling, there’s no need to pack a crazy amount of luggage or stress out about what you might have forgotten. When I leave a place, I always have that nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something crucial. I just think back to the rule: got my tickets? Check. Passport? Check. Money? Check. Good enough. Now I can enjoy my travels and shrug everything else off.

The same goes for language learning.

Deep down, tickets/passport/money are simply another way of identifying the means/self/currency of your travels. A ticket represents a device, a means of getting from A to B. It’s the manifestation of the how. Your passport is your identification, the proof that you are who you say you are. It’s the who, the answer to the question of self. Money is the way – the literal currency, the stuff of trade, the tender by which you exchange what you have for what you want. It’s the circulation of give and take, the back and forth that moves you ever forward.

And means/self/currency is indeed all you need for language learning. The means is your scheme, your process. How do you study? How do you practice? What is your system, your device? What’s the method wrangling the madness? You pick a mode and its framework, and you obey it. Then, the self – you, of course, but also what you identify as. What’s the you you’re bringing to the how? What does he/she/it want, and how do they appear? Finally, the currency – what do you the self bring to the how? What do you offer? What language do you have to exchange, to barter with? When you’ve solved these three enigmas, you’ve got the only important truths to learning a language.

Just kidding. Those last two paragraphs are just a bunch of made-up nonsense.

Don’t overthink it. That’s the only lesson here, and it’s applicable not just to language learning, but to anything you do. Pick the most important things to you—perhaps it’s being able to speak, perhaps its grammar focus. Perhaps it changes day to day. Just identify what’s really important and you’ll avoid flailing about, madly trying to pack everything into your luggage, trying to learn everything at once and stressing that it can’t be done. Just listen, speak, and learn.

What would you say are the kernel truths of learning a language? What’s the tickets/passport/money equivalent of simplifying your journey?

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About the Author: Malachi Rempen

Malachi Rempen is an American filmmaker, author, photographer, and cartoonist. Born in Switzerland, raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he fled Los Angeles after film school and expatted it in France, Morocco, Italy, and now Berlin, Germany, where he lives with his Italian wife and German cat. "Itchy Feet" is his weekly cartoon chronicle of travel, language learning, and life as an expat.

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