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Setting the Conditions for Language Learning – Trip Over your Task Posted by on Jul 22, 2015 in Archived Posts

If you’re reading this blog, it is a pretty safe assumption that you want to learn a language, sustain a language, and/or improve a language. All of this is great. Transparent Language has created the greatest tool for language for all three objectives.

Technology is a fantastic medium, but everything in life breaks down to action. Behavior. Execution. What are you going to do with these innovations?

In the Army we use a phrase ‘Setting the Conditions’. As I have matured over the years, I see all the implications of this phrase. Leadership, training, organization, planning, logistics, communication, coordinating, the areas in which we must ‘set the conditions’ are nearly infinite.

The primary reason we need to ‘set the conditions’ is due to a phenomena called the ‘hot cold empathy gap’. In short, humans totally underestimate the power and influence of feelings on our behavior. Said differently, a warm man doesn’t understand how a cold man feels. In the Army, this is why commanders live in the same conditions as their soldiers.

How does this influence our behavior? In a ‘warm’ state, fully rested, inspired to achieve some goal—lose weight, get up earlier, stop smoking, begin a new Yoga routine, learn an instrument, learn a language–we make plans based upon this ‘warm state’.

At that time we make this mental commitment, we underestimate how it will actually feel to begin such an activity.  Just getting up a bit earlier is an experience of shock. The warmth of the bed, the urge to return to sleep is so powerful at 0500—nothing like we assumed at noon the previous day when making this decision.

This totally reminds me of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman yelling at Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. Pyle cannot negotiate the first ladder in an obstacle course, and Hartman yells, (among other colorful language) “If God wanted you up there, He would have ‘miracled’ your butt up there.”

Setting the conditions is being realistic enough to understand that God will not ‘miracle’ us to our stated goal, but simply making a commitment without putting in some scaffolding around that decision leaves us like Private Pyle,150 lbs of chewed bubble gum.

What are some examples of ‘setting the conditions’? Here are a few that I try incorporate for other areas in my life:

  • Go to bed in my running shorts. One less thing to do before I head out for a run or go to the gym in the morning.
  • Pack my gym bag at night, and place in the car.
  • Pack my lunch the night before. (Full disclosure: my wife does this for me.)
  • Have James Allen homepage the first page that opens on my Internet browser.

So what are the ways to set the conditions for sustained language training? Relying on willpower is a fool’s errand. It is much better to change the environment as much as possible so that it is easier to do the task than ignore it.

Trip over your language training.

Here are a couple of ideas, but I’m curious to know what works for you. What hacks have you used?

  • Email myself a reminder with the Transparent Language’s webpage in the email. One click and I’m in.
  • Tie my language study to another habit that is already hard-wired., such as listening to my vocabulary lists while driving to work.

How do you set the conditions for language learning? This is not rhetorical, I’m truly curious. I am always looking for better ways to do the things I don’t necessarily enjoy doing.

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About the Author: bnelson

Brian Nelson is a Major in the Washington Army National Guard and currently serves as the Deputy Director of the Joint Services Section. He is a combat veteran (Afghanistan 2006-2007) where he served as the Operations Officer for Task Force Dagger. He is a Russian-speaking Intelligence Officer with a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership. Brian also developed a foreign language immersion program, and a web-based ‘daily workout’ of language training called LingFit. With his wife Kelly, he co-founded Kindred Souls Foundation and produced “Unleashed at Stadium Bowl” in Tacoma, WA.


  1. bobthebuilder:

    I also struggle with this a lot. Recently I’ve “set the condition” by telling everyone about what I’m doing. So that when I’m not doing something as I should my mom ends up asking me why I’m not or reminding me. Also having someone else to learn with helps a as well. They rely on you and you rely on them, its helpful motivation to get the work done.

    • bnelson:

      @bobthebuilder Bob,
      I think you’re right. We are much more likely to quit on ourselves than to quit on a buddy. Another unhelpful component of the human condition.

  2. Lisa Bramble:

    I take it with me. As mentioned, Spanish music CDs in car, Bible in Spanish at church. Flags and currency on my desk and in purse. To mention a few.

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