Learning A New Language: The Ups and Downs

Learning A New Skill

While training in Arizona for my company, we’ve had many guest lecturers and learned a lot of useful things. One thing I wanted to pass along in a more generic sense is the challenge of learning a language or learning any new skill. The graph above is similar to the one presented in the lecture,1 but I’ve changed some details with permission from the instructor.

Anyhow, this graph reflects a person’s mind when they first start a new skill. At first, they’re very confident and eager to learn, so they progress quickly and their skills improve. At this stage, you feel things are doing fine and you’re going to reach your goal quickly and smoothly if you just keep it up.

However, sooner or later, you hit a wall. And this is the hard part. Until now, you thought things were going well and you thought you knew what you were doing, but maybe you encounter a humiliating situation, or something you just don’t know how to do. How do you feel? You feel very stupid. You feel embarrassed and you want to run away and hide. This happens to me at work sometimes when I encounter a difficult and unfamiliar issue, but it also happens a lot when I am speaking Japanese or Korean to someone and I say something really stupid. Or, someone says something to me in Japanese/Korean and I misunderstand or don’t understand at all.

Now you have a choice. You can stop and quit right there. Or, you can climb that wall. Climbing the wall is hard work, and it doesn’t feel like you are making progress anymore. But you are making progress, and if you keep climbing the wall, you will reach the top.

That is a breakthrough moment when you begin to understand what you did wrong. In terms of language learning, this is when you realize what you said wrong, or what the other person said, and now it “clicks”. It doesn’t mean you’ve mastered it, but you finally “get it”.

Now, things go downhill, as it makes more and more sense and your confidence comes back again. Now, if you keep going, you will eventually “own it”. In other words, you will become so familiar with that skill that you can now teach someone else confidently.

However, all of this is a long, long process because it process is a cycle. After climbing one wall, you will hit another wall eventually, and another and another. For the picture above, once you get to the right-side, you will come to another wall! But if you keep climbing those walls, you can look back and see all the progress you made.

P.S. I drew this version using Microsoft Paint. ;p I am not a graphic-designer.

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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.

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