Learning A New Language Is Like Learning To Walk Again

When you're learning a new language, it can be very frustrating. In the beginning, the first thing you become aware of isn't how fun it is, or how much potential there is... The first thing you become aware of when learning a new language is exactly how much you can not do.

Sure, you know how to say "hello", or ask someone their name, but when you want to share an opinion, or ask an important question, your mind goes over every bit of vocabulary you know, looking for a way to express the though, and often ends in frustration with the realization of, "great, there's another thing I don't know."

It's a lot like learning to walk again. You already know how to walk — you've done it your whole life. Now imagine that was suddenly taken away from you, and you had to learn to walk all over again. It's easy to see why people give up on their language studies!

As I was thinking about this, it reminded me of Jamie Gillentine. I read about Jamie Gillentine a few years ago on a weight training web site:

In August 2007 Jamie Gillentine dove head first into the ocean. But he didn’t know it was a sand bar. Jamie Gillentine shattered his 6th cervical vertebrae. Spinal fragments were lodged in his spinal cord.

Jamie Gillentine lost all feeling and movement from his upper-chest down to his legs. He had some arm movement but no hand dexterity.

In my mind, these are the things that make you strong as a person. They give you character and value. Completing something long and difficult, without giving up, helps you to appreciate the simple things, and it earns you the respect of others.

Fortunately, most of us will never have to re-learn how to walk. And hopefully, most of us will never have to overcome such a serious injury. But we all have the potential to do difficult things and complete these long, hard journeys. Whether it's losing weight, or paying off a huge debt, or learning a foreign language.


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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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  • great post! yes, this is exactly what it feels like...and as I am doing 2 of these things it can get overwhleming. Your posts are a nice shot in the arm.

  • Glad to hear it!

  • Learning it for the first time is definitely intimidating, and one of the things MOST likely to discourage people and get them to quit is the realization of the fact that it's going to take longer than they thought AND that coupled with NOT KNOWING how long it's going to be before they get to whatever their desired level of proficiency is...I really think it's the not knowing that gets people: not knowing how long it's going to take, not knowing if they'll be able to do it, not knowing HOW exactly to do it.I found it far, far easier to dive into Japanese after I had already learned a good bit of Spanish such that I KNEW I could learn a second language, and I had a rough idea of how long it would take me to get to X level of proficiency, etc.What they say about how it's so much easier to learn a new language AFTER you've already done it once (taught yourself a second language) is absolutely true--your first second language is always the hardest.Cheers,
    Andrew

  • True. The "not knowing" is the hardest part of anything. That's why I live for the unknown. By choosing to always do new things and experience the unknown, I have given myself a sense of comfort in the unknown. Instead of being scary, it becomes exciting.

  • I think the focusing on that *can't* instead of the *can* is a bad habit people make in many aspects of their life and it definitely applies to learning. It's just another reason why a positive attitude, dogged determination and celebrating the small goals are so important to helping reach the desired end result.

  • It's actually natural... it's an evolved trait. The survival risk of pessimism is low, but the survival risk of optimism is high. Thus, the optimistic and adventuresome genes didn't survive in the numbers that the conservative and pessimistic genes did. Today, it's just a detail we have to overcome!

  • It is certainly not easy to learn a new language. But it makes you very creative. While you may not be able to express your thoughts in proper long sentences, you can still put some words together and communicate your idea.

  • Software on-line or not an audio portion also have this problem. The quality of their language skills are limited without hearing the language spoken and imitating the intonation.

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