Language Studies: Keep It Simple, Stupid

Recently I was inspired by this website, which shows how to learn Welsh language. Welsh is a language I don’t know anything about, but the page’s offer provided very simple solutions to learn the language. The first one that struck me was to avoid complicated solutions. Most of it just creates extra work, when really all you need to do is get more and more exposure to the language.

Really, the whole point of a language is communication, so if you focus on reading and listening, as the web page suggests, you will be able to communicate more and more over time. As the author explains, a lot of this is as simple as having Welsh radio playing in the background all the time, while you get used to the sounds and pace of the language.1

But I tend to get discouraged by this kind of approach because there is no instant-gratification, no way to easily measure my progress. Coincidentally, Khatzumoto at AJATT wrote about this using the example of famous story, The Tortoise and the Hare:

In real life, human “tortoises” are laid-back, nonchalant, happy. Meanwhile, human “hares” are destructively disciplinarian, destructively obsessive, and destructively obsessed with quick results.

What happens is that the hares self-flagellate to the point of burnout. Their very obsession with the “race” and “running” it better, faster and longer causes them to come to hate anything to do with “running” and thus avoid it at all costs (here, running = action; race = project).

That’s why hares are always resting and procrastinating instead of moving — it’s not arrogance, it’s self-preservation: hares are refugees from a war being waged by, on and within themselves. They’re not shirkers; they’re not lazy; they’re just trying to get a break from their own mental violence, their constant negative self-talk, their tantalusian expectations.

Reading this made me realize that I tend to approach many projects like the hare. A good example was the JLPT N2 exam. I would study very hard for a month, then the next month I would procrastinate, and then repeat over and over again. By the time the exam was done, I was completely burned out, and never wanted to take another exam.

Similarly, I tend to spend a lot of time worry about how I will learn a language, rather than just taking it day by day. The problem isn’t the languages or the resources, just my attitude. I want the instant, now-now-now gratification, and put too much pressure as a result. Then I get mad at myself and give up. But I’ve also done this with non-language projects like meditation and other habits.

It’s part of a cycle of binging and purging, which isn’t really healthy.

Instead, I should take the advice (more advice here) of Xunzi the old Confucian scholar. He used the example of the old nag, which will inevitably walk a thousand li if it keeps going step by step. It won’t get there first, but it will still get there.

Or take the example of Frodo who just walks and walks and walks, rather than worrying about methods or techniques.

The point of all these examples is this:

  • True success is not based on instant-gratification. Long-term goals and instant-gratification do not mix.
  • Keep things simple and straightforward. Don’t get fancy.
  • Small persistent efforts are much more effective than heroic, self-denying ones.
  • You’re much more likely to succeed in a long-term goal if you relax and enjoy it like a game or a hobby, than “work”. Don’t binge-and-purge.

It is the attitude and outlook is what matters. You can accomplish anything with a healthy attitude, not a neurotic one.

P.S. I found that has a lot of free radio stations for both Japanese and Korean. It’s hard to get connected sometimes. Also, depending on the time, the shows will be very boring or sometimes not broadcasting, so you may want to supplement with other sources (i.e. podcasts), or adjust your schedule to follow Japanese/Korean day time.

1 Speaking of which, if you want to hear what Welsh sounds like, check out Radio Cymru by the BBC. It’s sounds pretty interesting, and vaguely reminds me of Irish, which I occasionally heard while living in Ireland.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

2 thoughts on “Language Studies: Keep It Simple, Stupid”

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