Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Monday, July 17, 2006

Momentum and Engineering

by AJ

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I've reached a very important point in my Spanish studies. I am truly addicted.

Today I had an extremely hectic day. I was running around frantically to classes and meetings. As a result, I didn't have the opportunity to listen to much Spanish-- only 20 minutes.

Though I didn't have time, Spanish was constantly on my mind. I found myself getting frustrated because I was too busy to listen and read. Its the feeling I used to get when I was running regularly-- a gnawing feeling that I was missing something I wanted and needed to do.

The great part about this is that I can remember three months ago, when I started, that I struggled to complete 20 minutes a day. That seemed like a lot of listening and reading to me. It took effort to do it. But today I was severely annoyed because I could "only" do 20 minutes.

Why the change? There are a few reasons. First of all, I'm having fun. I'm reading/listening to content that I find enjoyable and interesting. Though I sometimes use the word, in fact I don't feel like I'm "studying" at all. I'm enjoying the process. Read & Think Spanish is particularly interesting- with its myriad articles about the food, people, history, and culture of Spanish speaking countries.

Second, success is addictive. I can feel myself improving. What was very difficult to understand two months ago now seems fairly easy. That feeling of progress and success is extremely motivating. Its what Kathy Sierra calls the all important "I kick ass" feeling. No, I can't really speak. Yes, I'm still a beginner. But I'm understanding text/audio that just two months ago seemed impossibly difficult. What a feeling.

Third, I believe. As a runner, a key milestone for me was completing my first 5k run. For serious runners, that's nothing. But doing it changed my image of myself. Before that race, I never called myself a "runner". After finishing that race, and from then on, I've always referred to myself as "a runner"... even now, though I haven't run regularly in the last 6 months!

Likewise, something changed for me recently. Suddenly I started to think of myself as a language learner. I could envision myself successfully speaking Spanish. I know it will take a lot more time and effort, but I believe! I know I can do it.

As I analyze my increasing momentum with Spanish, I can't help but notice the stark contrast with traditional language education. Most students who go to "normal" language programs (public schools, language schools) have the exact opposite experience from mine. First, they're bludgeoned with artificial, grammar-heavy, extremely boring content-- usually textbooks. Second, they never experience success. Rather, teachers focus on their mistakes, test them, and grade them... a frustrating and demotivating experiencing for even the most talented. Finally, these students rarely learn to believe in themselves. They are subjected to methods that don't work, and then, when they fail to acquire the language, they blame themselves and not the school.

In short, traditional language education is engineered for demotivation. It is engineered for failure.

San Francisco, CA