Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


by AJ

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"Do as I say, not as I do."
--My Dad

"Learning English should be fun! If it isn't you'’re learning the wrong way. Half the fun of traveling, they say, is the journey. Well, that'’s how we feel about learning languages. "
--Steve Kaufman

When training for my first marathon, I sometimes became stressed. My life would get very busy. Perhaps I had a lot to do at my job. Or maybe my social life became busy. Whatever the reason, there were times in which my time and energy were committed to other things and I couldn't train the way I wanted to. I would miss training days. Other days, I'd go running, but I'd feel tired and would run quite slowly. The worst weeks were when I missed a long run- the most important run of the week.

At such times, I'd get stressed and worried. I'd think, "I'm not gonna make my goal. I'm missing training days- this isn't good. I've got to run more. I've got to train harder." The busier I got, the more I worried.

At a certain level, this sort of worry was helpful. It showed that I was very motivated. It showed I was serious about my goal of finishing my first marathon in under 4 hours. The worry gave me a kick and made sure I didn't slip too much.

But all things in moderation! Past a certain point, this kind of worry is counter-productive. It began to erode my enjoyment of running. When I worried too much, running became stressful. It became a chore and a duty instead of a fun, healthy, and engaging activity. This worry also effected my job and social life. I began to feel guilty about working late, or joining my friends for a weekend camping trip.

Finally, I realized that my 4 hour goal was good-- but that I had to remember the larger goals-- to enjoy running, to complete a marathon (with any time), and to enjoy the process of training- not just the end result. I forced myself to relax! When life became busy, I missed some runs. When I felt tired, I ran slowly and was happy to just be running- instead of obsessing about speed and time. This was an important change. This change in attitude allowed me to balance running with other aspects of my life and encouraged me to focus more on the experience of running rather than a time or finish line.

I'm reminded of this experience because I've experienced the same problem with Spanish lately. During the past 4 weeks, my life has become extremely hectic. My hours increased at my school, I've been teaching a lot of private hours, I'm still tutoring with The Linguist, and I'm working on my website. Plus, I have friends and I like to spend time with them.

And so, Spanish study has suffered. I missed some days. Other days, I studied but my energy and focus were low. I just wasn't learning as well or as fast as I had been. I got stressed. I got worried. I began to resent my jobs and even my social life. They were interfering with my Spanish goal- Dammit!

Well, finally I realized that this attitude is crazy. I forgot my biggest goals-- to reach fluency with Spanish and to enjoy the process. In the end, it doesn't matter if I become fluent in one year, two years, or three years. However long it takes, I won't get there if the process is stressful and unpleasant.

So, I've given myself a new rule: Relax.

What's funny is that this is my Number One rule for my students. Literally. When I begin a class with new students, I write my rules on the board. Rule 1 is always: Relax! I tell my students that relaxing and enjoying the language is the single most important factor for success.

But I was asking them to "do as I say, not as I do".

Not anymore. I will keep learning Spanish. I'll still read and listen about one hour a day- sometimes more, sometimes less. But I will miss some days. And I'll be tired some days. And that's fine.

Learning a language is much like training for a marathon. Any particular day is not very important. What's important is overall consistency over a long period of time. You can miss a few days so long as you enjoy the process and keep going-- week after week, month after month.

And so my best advice to frustrated students is-- "Do as I say, not as I did-- Relax!!"

And by the way, I still reached my four hour goal for that first marathon-- 3:48:00 in fact.

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