People often ask me for advice on how to learn languages. What books should they buy? What’s the best dictionary? Who offers he best language lessons? What system is best for learning? Is it any good learning online or better in a classroom?
As a teacher and language learner I can’t deny that these are all valid questions, but I’m not going to answer them here. A more important question is the attitude we take to learning and attitude we take to ourselves.
As a matter of fact, I’m prepared to go one step further and say the quality of lessons and the type or amount of books we have does not matter the slightest if we do not have the correct mindset to put them to good use.
Over the years I’ve accumulated an impressive library of books on grammar, idioms and word formation, not to mention dictionaries, in order to get that extra edge and learn that little bit more, whereas now I can see that what I should have been doing was using what I had to the max and implementing my already existing knowledge, not building it up on unsound foundations. Would you tell a blind man to drive a car by pointing at where it is and sending him over? He wouldn’t know how to get to the car and would stumble over on his way towards it. First of all, we help the blind man feel the car so he can see it in his mind’s eye and get the hang of it by trying everything to see what it does.
It might sound heartless, but I know for a fact that those language learners who do best are the ones who feel their way along without hesitation and often ending up running along quite happily. The ones who have the most problems are those who wait to be taken by the hand the whole way and are afraid to go themselves. I’d go even one step further and say that I often feel guilty wasting intelligent, able people’s time when teaching them – since I know full well how capable they are as individuals and that all they need is a gentle push in the right direction, not constant nannying.
In my time I’ve had a few accidents. I even say I’ve been in a few traffic jams, had some car crashes and run over a hand full of pedestrians*. So what are you afraid of? Get in the drivers seat and go! You’ll be surprised by the success of your adventures!
*This is of course to be interpreted in the metaphorical, not literal sense.