Recently Khatzumoto over at All Japanese All The Time wrote a great article comparing language learning to boiling water. Khatzumoto’s metaphor reminded me a lot of one used by my favorite Thai forest monk Ajahn Chah. He said:
Nothing happens immediately, so in the beginning we can’t see any results from our practice. This is like the example I have often given you of the man who tries to make fire by rubbing two sticks of wood together. He says to himself, “They say there’s fire here.” and he begins rubbing energetically. He’s very impetuous. He rubs on and on but his impatience doesn’t end. He wants to have that fire. He keeps wanting to have that fire, but the fire doesn’t come. So he gets discouraged and stops to rest for awhile. He starts again but the going is slow, so he rests again. By then the heat has disappeared; he didn’t keep at it long enough. He rubs and rubs until he tires and then he stops altogether. Not only is he tired, but he becomes more and more discouraged until he gives up completely. “There’s no fire here!” Actually he was doing the work, but there wasn’t enough heat to start a fire. The fire was there all the time but he didn’t carry on to the end.
Of course Ajahn Chah was talking about meditation practice not language acquisition, but it’s easy to extend the metaphor to language learning. The potential for fluency in your target language is there. You have all the tools you need in order to achieve your goal. All that is left for you to do is to use your tools until you make that fire.
But you have to keep at it. Avoid the vicious cycle where you study enthusiastically for a month only to get bored and take a month off. If you do this, the heat will disappear! Another thing Ajahn Chah used to say regarding meditation practice is this:
Don’t worry whether you feel lazy or diligent. Don’t even say “I’m diligent” or “I’m lazy.” Most people practice only when they feel diligent, if they feel lazy they don’t bother. This is how people usually are. But monks shouldn’t think like that. If you are diligent you practice, when you are lazy you still practice.
Be language learning monks! If you feel motivated, great, start studying. If you feel you have no motivation, study anyway. Keep the momentum going so you don’t lose the heat you’ve worked so hard to create. Switch it up. If you’re bored to death of your Spanish textbook, pop in a Spanish DVD. Shadow an audio book in your target language. Listen to a podcast. Read Harry Potter. They’ve translated Harry Potter into Latin and Ancient Greek. I kid you not. Chances are they have it in your target language too. Keep rubbing those two sticks. Do whatever it takes to maintain consistent practice, and one day you will have your fire: fluency.
- Language Learning Tip #3: Learn To Cook
- Learning a language is like having a pet
- Language Learning Tip #2: Read Children’s Books
- Project Mayhem – Learning a Foreign Language Through Movies
- Language Learning Tip #1: Start A Translation Project