Several months ago as we were traveling to Germany, I bet with my wife that I could make the German immigration officer say the exact sentence of a dialog we are using in one of the first scenes of our German 1 language program.
She was skeptical, but listen to the dialog, which occurs at the beginning of Scene 4:
If you speak German, you'll realize right away, why I was sure I would win the bet. If you don't, this is what happened:
When I approached the officer, I greeted her with a friendly: “Guten Morgen!” (Good morning!) while handing her my American passport. As I had predicted, she answered with an equally friendly “Guten Morgen! and a somewhat surprised: ”Sie sprechen Deutsch!” (You speak German!)
Although I could not give the same response as our “hero” Michael, ( I was not born in Boston!) her next question was again the same as in our scene: ”Sind Sie geschäftlich hier?” (Are you here on business?)
We were not, and we continued a friendly conversation before she stamped our passports and we moved on.
The above question (Are you here on business?) reminded me of the story of a woman who reacted with indignation when she was asked by an Italian immigration officer:
You may have figured out why the woman - who obviously spoke little Italian - misinterpreted the question: “É qui per affari?” He asked: “Are you here on business?” but she thought he asked whether she was there for an affair... (Or she might also have thought: “How could he possibly know this...?”)
But all bets and jokes aside, the point of these little vignettes is that knowing another language can both be helpful for your travels as well as avoid misunderstandings. Learning a new language will not only benefit your next travel adventure, but also be one of the small steps to strengthen your willpower or even help seniors' grey cells to function at a high level. It's never too late to learn a new language...
It's Monday morning, top of the week, and I'm more than ready for the following headline in the G section of my local paper: "How Willpower Works. Research indicates that willpower can be strengthened like a muscle - and is a key predictor for success in life." That looks promising. I'm just embarking on learning Mandarin Chinese, my first non-European language. A little extra willpower will be helpful for sure.
Deborah Kotz, health reporter/blogger for the Boston Globe, has tracked down pertinent research about willpower in general, and mentions various studies that show the benefits of self-control. She concludes: "Willpower, it turns out, is one of the most important predictors of success in later life."
But how can the research she describes apply specifically to learning a new language, which Kotz calls a "high-willpower activity"? One key premise is a quote by the "endurance artist" David Blaine, who states: "Getting your brain wired into little goals and achieving them helps you achieve the bigger things you shouldn't be able to do."
Learning a new language, sticking with it, and getting some real results is definitely a "big thing." Like staying with a diet, language learning has a high failure rate. In part, this may be because people expect too much too fast and don't find a way to stay with it.
So how can you best strengthen your willpower for learning a new language?
1) Set your mind on a specific long-term goal and be clear why you want to achieve that goal. For example: You're planning a trip to France in the spring and you want to get a good command of survival French. You want to learn how to buy fruit at an open market or a newspaper at a kiosk; navigate the public transportation system; ask for directions to someone's house or apartment; make formal and informal introductions, etc.
2) Get into the habit of doing little self-control tasks on a daily basis. And as I understand, they can be really "little." Some of these tasks don't need to be language related. Remember, you're just exercising your willpower muscle. In his book Willpower Roy F. Baumeister suggests that cultivating specific new habits that require a mental effort - such as doing a habitual action in a different way - can strengthen self-control. For example, you can fix your posture several times a day, or brush your teeth with the other hand.
3) Become creative with language learning mini-tasks. Besides the regular language learning schedule you're committed to, do a number of language learning mini-tasks throughout the day. For example, keep a journal in your new language and make several short entries throughout the day; practice a few vocabs intermittently on your smart phone; or line up a couple of YouTube videos for the day to cllick on. Or scan the online edition of a foreign newspaper, initially just for some phrases and sentences, later for full articles or stories.
4) Get to know that part of your brain where you make your decisions. Kotz explains the function of the prefrontal cortex (here, radically simplified by me): the right side helps you say "no" to temptation, the left side helps you say "yes" to the good choice, and the middle part helps you weigh the either/or. Each time you achieve a small goal, it's a springboard for the next one. Also, be aware that there are things that will drain your willpower. Fatigue is one, being hungry or stressed out are others. I would also add boredom and being overwhelmed with choices.
5) Learn to pace yourself. Unless you're studying for a language exam or you're one of those rare language geeks, a step-by-step approach may be best. Break the language down into chunks and then put it together again. Make sure that there always is a meaningful context. Doing 15 minutes a day, every day will get you farther than doing 1 hour twice a week. But if you miss a day, don't be self-critical. When you're ready, just continue where you left off.
So here's the bottom line. Doing little self-control tasks throughout the day can help your willpower for language learning. Conversely, setting regular language learning goals for yourself can help you be successful with other, larger achievements. It's a win-win situation. Now, will my tennis practice help my acquisition of Manderin Chinese, or is my language learning helping my tennis? The answer is yes! The issue is not just the tennis or the Chinese itself, but the discipline of its practice. It's all good.
OK and now, before I start on my 15-minute Mandarin Chinese practice, should I have a little left-over Halloween candy for a glucose boost, or should I have that apple?
- Context learning
- Effective learning Games
- ESL learning
- Foreign Language Fluency
- Foreign Language Learning
- Foreign Language Proficiency
- Foreign Novels
- German Grammar
- German idioms
- Language & Food
- Language and Travel
- Language as Communication
- Language Camps
- Learning as a Game
- Learning Grammar
- Memory Training
- Mobile Devices
- Music and Language
- Online Foreign Language Learning
- Rosetta Stone Blog
- Social Interaction Online
- Swiss French
- Teaching Tools
- Training the Ear
- Cool German Idioms 3
- Is Gamesforlanguage.com Too Steep a Climb For Beginners?
- QUICK TIP German: "holen" vs "abholen"
- The GamesforLanguage Program - Part 2: Games Summary
- Zorro: 1 (big) Thing to Learn Spanish
- May 2013 (5)
- April 2013 (5)
- March 2013 (3)
- February 2013 (3)
- January 2013 (3)
- December 2012 (4)
- November 2012 (4)
- October 2012 (3)
- September 2012 (5)
- August 2012 (3)
- July 2012 (2)
- June 2012 (4)
- May 2012 (7)
- April 2012 (5)
- March 2012 (3)
- February 2012 (5)
- January 2012 (5)
- December 2011 (3)
- November 2011 (2)
- October 2011 (1)
- September 2011 (2)
- August 2011 (5)
- July 2011 (2)
- June 2011 (1)
- May 2011 (6)
- March 2011 (1)
- February 2011 (3)
- January 2011 (4)