Learning turns every day into a ‘plus’ day

塵も積もれば山となる。1) Write index cards for 5-10 new kanji and review of last 50 studied, 5 new verbs, 1 new grammar/usage point 2) read 午後の曳航, 雪国 or editorials for 30-60 minutes, using highlighter to identify 10-20 words to look up later, 3) Think in and shift conversations into Japanese.

This was the routine I used in the early 90s to teach myself Japanese.

As someone who wasn’t a good language student in the classroom, but later discovered that I really loved learning how to use new language for real conversations with real people in the real world, Lýdia Machová’s research (featured in a TED talk on language acquisition pasted in below) resonated for me:

“And as I was listening to these polyglots telling me about their methods, it suddenly dawned on me: the one thing we all have in common is that we simply found ways to enjoy the language-learning process. All of these polyglots were talking about language learning as if it was great fun. You should have seen their faces when they were showing me their colorful grammar charts and their carefully handmade flash cards, and their statistics about learning vocabulary using apps, or even how they love to cook based on recipes in a foreign language. All of them use different methods, but they always make sure it’s something that they personally enjoy.”

Though there are now countless non-Japanese nationals and mixed folks who speak better Japanese than I do, back in the early 90s people used to ask me for advice on how to learn Japanese and other languages.

My main advice:

– Stop thinking of the language as a foreign language and reframe the language acquisition process to expanding the range of options you have for communicating with people you want to communicate with:)

– Break free from the “minus” evaluations we get in classrooms and reframe the evaluation of your own learning in terms of “plus” metrics. Every day add 5 new kanji, +5 new verbs, +30 minutes reading a great novel…If you forget a few, you still have more than you had the day before:)

I used to literally fall asleep when we did grammar drills in my Nepali language classes, even though there were usually only two students working with each teacher. But when I left the classroom, I always found someone to chat with on the street and I’ll never forget the long (no doubt painful for them) conversations I had with my homestay family. By the time I moved from Nepal to Japan, I knew I would love expanding my ability to communicate in Japanese as well:)

30 years later, this Ted talk confirms what I learned back then. If you love what you are doing/learning, you can accept the hard work, and even reframe the stress and headaches as evidence of growth.

Since then, I’ve believed that the biggest drivers of “grit” and the “growth mindset” are sense of purpose, experience of fulfillment and evidence of progress. We can learn most of the things we need to learn if we have a good reason to learn them, a system that makes the learning efficient and fun and a way to notice our growth on a regular basis.

© Dana Cogan, 2023-2024, all rights reserved.

Leave a Reply