Language Learning Is A Long Journey Of Uncertainty

I've done a lot of flying in the past year, but prior to that, most of my travel was done by car. I've made several road trips all over the US, and many of them at night.

When you drive at night, you can't see much. Sometimes you drive through a city and you can see everything around you. Sometimes you are among traffic and you can see all the lights on all the other vehicles around you. But often, you're completely alone, and the only thing you can see is whatever is illuminated in your headlights — usually only a few dozen meters in front of you.

A person can drive all night long, just making minor adjustments based on the information illuminated in those few meters of visibility in their headlights — turns in the road, highway markings, exit signs — and the very basic amount of information on their gauges — speed, fuel level, engine temperature.

I have made many such trips. In fact, I've traveled overnight not just in the dark, but in rain, in snow, in hurricane winds, and on icy roads. On dozens of occasions, I've driven hundreds of miles to reach my destination, all while never being able to see more than a few meters in front of me. (And never with the help of any GPS.)

All big goals

Learning a new language is a lot like making a long drive. You know where you are when you start, and you know where you want to be when you are finished, but over the course of the entire journey, you can never see very far into the future.

Sometimes there are detours. Sometimes there is heavy traffic. Sometimes the weather is bad. Sometimes you decide to take a scenic route.

You have your gauges. You know how much fuel you have, and sometimes you need to stop for more. You know how fast you are going, and just as when you drive, you can choose the fastest safe speed, or a relaxing slow speed, but never the fastest speed possible lest you might lose control.

Patience

Most importantly, however, you know that there are no shortcuts. You can make plenty of decisions that will lengthen your trip, but there are almost never any decisions you can make to shorten it. There's no point fighting time, just go with it.

As I write this I am in Frankfurt, preparing to board my flight back home. My job is easy, because I just sit patiently in a chair for 9 hours. But the flight crew will make all those same decisions — thousands of tiny adjustments to the information coming to them — never seeing anything other than the clouds, always secure in the knowledge that when they finally bring the plane down, Chicago will be underneath it.

You, too, are on a long journey. You only know where you started and where you are. You haven't yet reached your destination, and maybe at times you want to give up. Don't give up.

Keep going. Keep on making your adjustments. Keep an eye on your gauges, maintain your speed and don't run out of fuel, and just keep driving. Eventually you will get there.


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Author: Yearlyglot
I'll lead you through a 12 month journey from knowing absolutely nothing about a language to having professional fluency.

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  • Very encouraging. Thank you.

  • Thanks for the great post. Particularly poignant today. Sometimes I just need reminding. Welcome back to Chicago.

  • Thanks, glad to be back! And always happy to help.

  • Taking a wrong "road" is the most annoying thing (and maybe even dangerous) that may happen to you. I'm Italian, and I have been studying English for some months. I had also been using a SRS software (anky) until I realized that there was something wrong with it. This made me feel so upset because I had wasted a lot of my free time, which I could have used in a better way. Never mind. Yes, I agree with you. Learning a new language is a lot like making a long drive, and, sometimes, as you said, shit happens! :-)

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