Don’t Worry About Method

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Beginning language learners can be a nervous bunch. Adults who are studying independently are nervous about messing up– they spent their childhood learning foreign languages slowly and painfully in school, and they’re not quite sure that adults can achieve anything notable. So, understandably, they get a little paranoid that they’re going about studying the wrong way, asking questions like, “Is this textbook accurate?” “Is this course going to make me fluent?” “What if immersion methods don’t teach me grammar?” And so on.

Well, I’m here to tell you that these are little things, and they matter far less than you think they do.

My educational background is in law, and [American] lawyers like to talk about how making legal arguments is like throwing spaghetti at a wall– you just do it and see what sticks. And I like to think of learning methods, whether for languages or otherwise, as exactly like that.

Nothing will hurt your studies if you go after your goal in a comprehensive way. Is that textbook interesting and within your budget, but it has iffy reviews? Buy it, use it, and see if it works for you! Even if a textbook has problems (or errors!), it won’t be too much of a problem if you’re using all of the other things that interest you, like phrasebooks, dictionaries, music, and reading whatever you can get your hands on– those additional things will correct for you.

If you’re really into Duolingo right now, use it for all it’s worth. Suck the marrow out of your resources if you like them. Use the cheap textbooks, the computer programs, whatever you find. Follow your interest and passion, and I think you’ll come out on top.

As a personal example, with Dutch, I flit from Duolingo to reading Harry Potter to going through listening-heavy phases and back again. All of this helps, and I try to fit in as much as I can each day. But, like everyone, some days I’m not feeling it and I only get in Duolingo or a couple minutes of listening. And this helps! Every little bit counts.

For a non-language example, I wanted to learn some basic calculus (because, through strategic planning, I managed to get out of most university-level mathematics courses. Yay? Turns out, I might have liked some of them). I tried out Khan Academy, MIT course videos (those things are great– you can find them on YouTube), and several textbooks until I found a good overview book that cut to the chase about a lot of concepts. But, the multiple perspectives on various topics helped immensely, and I certainly completed my goal of gaining an understanding of basic calculus. I tried resources like crazy and abandoned them when I decided they weren’t for me.

In conclusion, try everything that looks interesting. If there’s a pretty textbook you want to try out, it doesn’t hurt. If you’re sick of textbooks and can’t stand the look of them, listen to L2 music and read comics. Think of learning a language like filling up an hourglass– every little grain of sand counts.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t Worry About Method

  1. An interesting post. I certainly agree with you but I wonder if you will close this blog after writing this (just kidding, of course… but not completely). As I said before, I notice in your posts between the lines some anxiety to squeeze yourself rather than the languages and the many pleasures they can provide. This entry does the opposite and focuses finally on what is important.

    Having said this, let me add two recommendations about maths. The teaching company has great courses about it. You have for instance this one http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/mathematics/understanding-calculus-ii-problems-solutions-and-tips.html and if you are not sure if it is for you, you can check it before buying it by downloading some lectures in avaxhome.se.

    Apart from that, I found the best explanation of what is calculus in the book “What is quantum mechanics, a physics adventure”. I can’t tell you how good is this book because I would be drooling during many paragraphs like a baby with some candy but I can at least say that it is a translation of the Japanese book 量子力学の冒険. (this one http://www.amazon.co.jp/exec/obidos/ASIN/4906519016 ) and it is published by the Transnational College of LEX. If you check their web in English the first sentence you will read is “anyone can speak 7 languages” but this doesn’t mean that it is the typical introduction to science for language and humanities lovers, a book where you rarely see a mathematical formula. In fact you will see a lot of them, one after another but all are clearly explained for people without any scientific background, you only need to know that 2+2 =4 and things like that (the first chapter for instance starts with the question “what is physics?” and can be understood by primary school students). If you think you will not be able to understand the mathematics of a book where you will find paragraphs like “Aligning schrödinger’s equation for hooke fields with the form of Heisenberg’s equation” you are wrong because they will show you the path to be able to do it and follow the mathematical reasoning from the very beginning, you only need to read attentively and thanks to it, you will get a much more deeper understanding of what really is Quantum Mechanics. (You can “taste” this book here http://www.lexlrf.org/language-clubs/samples/quantum-TOC.html )

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  2. I love the ending sentence: “Think of learning a language like filling up an hourglass – every little grain of sand counts.” As long as you get there in the end, that’s the most important thing.

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  3. […] You need resources to learn anything. It doesn’t make sense to try to learn an entire subject or skill from one book, even if that’s the way ordinary classes try to teach (Khatzumoto gets into this subject in this time management article). With language learning, you’ll want to collect textbooks that look interesting, native reading material, favorite TV shows, and lots and lots of music. Don’t worry about choosing any particular learning method or tool. […]

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