Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Monday, October 09, 2006

Change Your Goal

by AJ

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Its so easy to get impatient. We are conditioned, by school and society, to demand instant results. Our attention spans get shorter and shorter.

School, in particular, teaches us a lie. The lie is that in one semester, or four years, we can take all the required courses, pass all the required tests, and then receive our degree as proof of our "mastery" of a subject or subjects.

But this is a farce. Its a farce in most subjects, not just language education. In fact, formal school is a very poor place to master any subject or skill.

I got my undergraduate degree in journalism. I graduated with honors. I took all the required journalism courses and was near the top of my class. I thought I knew this subject well.

But upon graduation, I realized that I knew almost nothing about writing or journalism. I was told by many reporters and editors that journalism school was almost useless- and that the only thing that mattered was developing one's skills independently, through experience.

Several years later (still clueless), I went back to school to get a Masters degree in Social Work. I took classes, passed tests, and endlessly analyzed obtuse theories of social work. At the end of my program I had an internship. I was placed in an agency that helped abused and neglected teenagers. After just one week there, I realized that I had no idea what to do. My Masters degree program had not given me any practical knowledge- nor usable theories.

Everything I learned as a social worker, I learned on the job. I learned by trying things, examining the results, formulating new ideas, and then trying more things. Relentlessly, over several years, I improved as a social worker. The Masters degree was a ticket to higher paying jobs- but it provided nothing useful beyond that.

The truth is- school is not a good place to learn. Life is where you learn and that learning is a lifelong process. There is no end. There is no graduation. There are no "permanent grades" or records.

True learning, true skill, true mastery, come from the process that Anthony Robbins calls CANI- Constant And Neverending Improvement. The Japanese call this "kaizen".

The truth is- learning never ends. Most language learners, including me, are still stuck with a school mentality. They think that if they take enough courses, they'll get a certificate that will prove that they speak the language. Then they try to talk to a native speaker and discover that their certificate is, in fact, useless. Many language learners also have a "graduation" mentality. They think that if they study hard enough, in one year, two years, five years, etc. they will finally "graduate" from English and be finished.

But there is no graduation. I am a 38 year old native speaker and I'm still trying to improve my English speaking ability. I'm trying to work on the rhythm of my speech. I'm also trying to reduce the number of fillers that I use (for example, "Uhm", "you know", "like"). As a writer, I still have a lot of improvement to make. I need to develop the clarity and power of my writing. And I'm still learning new words.

The point is- I will always be improving my English ability. I'll never be "finished". I'll never graduate. English learning is a life long learning process.

And though I'm starting 38 years later than I did with English, I'm beginning to realize that Spanish is also a life long learning process. I'm trying to shift my attitude from a "graduation" mentality to a CANI mentality. There is no finish line- there is only constant and neverending improvement- for as long as I live.

A CANI attitude can help your motivation because it takes off the pressure. So many language learners view learning as a race. They are desperately trying to get to the finish line as fast as possible. Instead, try adopting a mindset of Constant And Neverending Improvement. Don't worry about finish lines. Instead, be sure that every week, you improve just a little bit. You might learn a few new phrases. You might make a tiny improvement in listening comprehension, or pronunciation.

The next week, be sure to make a few more improvements. They don't need to be big. They don't need to be dramatic. Small, even tiny improvements are enough- as long as they are constant and neverending.

I'll end this article with a challenge. For the next few months I challenge you to forget all your "finish line" goals. Forget TOEIC and TOEFL scores. Forget certificates or degrees. Forget any idea of "finishing" English. Instead, for the next few months, make Constant And Neverending Improvement your only goal. Decide that every week you will make a very small improvement with your English ability. And you will do this every week.

Constantly. Consistently. Neverending.

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