Sunday, April 18, 2010

Passion in language learning


I was going to write a comment on this post by Benny but decided to write a post here instead (lest I be accused of negativity). I see more and more of these kind of messages, I don't think they are particularly helpful, I think they are so off the mark in regard to human nature that they are actually harmful.

If you find winging helps you then go for it (I might not want to listen though), if you find you have have a slightly miserable outlook on life yet still achieve then read on. If you hate sugar saccharin sweetness then read on. If on the other hand you have an over active gland somewhere in your brain that truly means you are always upbeat never doubt etc. then leave now and and have a nice day.

Besides is the post entirely positive, aren't people just getting a buzz out off feeling they aren't on of the slackers, getting a buzz out of complaining about the cry babies?

The Commentary

This is going to hurt but here goes, as Benny says this applies to many things in life, you can apply the same positivity logic to many often more important things, people who ruin their health with smoking or over eating or drug addiction. You can move into socially sensitive areas ("stop winging about not having children, you made the life choice that left it too late") but most people don't feel comfortable when you do that etc. etc. Actually for most instances language learning isn't important enough to warrant the worry in comparison to much more important ones (although learning a language can be vital for some to be sure).

The truth is many of the wingers didn't want it enough and some of them may be stable geniuses and satisfied over achievers in other areas, it is human nature to blame something else, whether failing to lose that two stone of weight or pass the MBA exams. People that achieve things often successfully apply this attitude in one area or another and yes it is important, but we are humans which means that very few people can take this approach in every area of their life or we would all be enlightened beings by now ;)

It is easy to find negativity in any endeavour but also easy to find positivity, yes people whine about tones in Asian languages but I picked up a book from a charity shop today about Thai that was very positive and upbeat about tones and that was written 20 years ago, go back over one hundred years and the famous Mr Giles tells us that spoken Chinese is quite easy to learn and six months or so should have you chatting away about all sort of matters (and they didn't even have mp3). When I started Mandarin I found lots of negativity but lots of positivity also and advice, and bloggers telling a more compelling message than the textbook, a message that supported my own positivity in knowing that I could learn to talk with Chinese people on my own in England (not being negative here I didn't actually want to travel at that time :O ) The Internet opened up my language learning world and there is plenty of positivity there when you need it.

For anyone who is inspired by the positivity post, then congratulations you have learned a life lesson but not about language learning, rather about learning or achieving almost anything. Now the good news is you can skip any similar post on any other area you become interested in and save time (a positive message).

For anyone who reads the post and feels guilty because they are one of the wingers then either get stuck in or decide that actually you don't really care enough about languages and be what you can be somewhere else, be positive about the things you have achieved :) You probably have a bigger car or a bigger $%^! than these successful language learners anyway and hey remember you play the saxophone like a god... (a positive message).

The danger is that life is a balance, be too positive and you can be positive that that evening course really is going to teach me to speak Mandarin this side of age 100 (and where would that have left me). But it runs deeper some of the greatest achievers are those that are never satisfied no matter what, they always award themselves 1 out of 10 no matter what, or they are often tortured by self doubt or other negative emotions. Not sure I want to be like that but I reap the rewards offered by those that are, the artists (I don't think Van Gough was on the whole very positive), the writers (Hemingway, Poe .... ) the scientists ..... and quite frankly if people like that want to winge or wake up some nights in a cold sweat of self doubt I say let them.

Take away the negative and you take away Punk music, you take away Joy Division Love Will Tear us Apart, you take away so much that is me, my tongue can taste both bitter and sweet and every aspect of my life is the same including my own attitude to life.

If you like this comment then be aware that it was mostly driven by negativity (with a twist of passion) but I guess most people can find positive messages in it if they are positive enough in their outlook (a kind of negative-positive mobius strip). I really, really do believe however that too much positivity is bad, like too much sugar, there are some things that taste better with lemon, sometimes a touch of wistfulness and melancholy with a glass of good wine is better than happiness at that moment. No I didn't skip the post but being human I often forget to apply my own life hacks (doh).

If someone is always positive then why change anything?

The next level doesn't even require you to be positive or negative, be the language, the language just is... learning Chinese? then be Chinese, at that time, (maybe a Chinese amnesiac who has to learn his own language again ;)). Don't judge the language, accept it. If you drive your language learning on positivity alone there is a danger that the energy can run out. IF you can find a way to drive the learning from both positive, negative and neutral feelings you will drive forward and learn something every single day, it will be impossible to go a single day without engaging with the language you will be in love with the language (and love of course is both bitter and sweet).

Maybe some will feel this is an inappropriate comment on Benny's positivity post but look again, can you feel the passion, I am passionate about some issues, and in a fight of emotions I would take passion over positivity any day. Think of passionate people (are they always positive?) even with negativity they can achieve their dreams.


Chiro-kun said...

Positivity works because it's helpful. It's because looking at things from a positive perspective will add fuel to your motivation thus enabling you to move on even when you're facing a major slump.

Positivity isn't anything special. It's just a different way of looking at things. So no, believing that a language course will make you native-level fluent in Mandarin isn't being positive, it's being self-deceptive. However, if you're in a slump, taking that Mandarin course can provide the incentive for actually going out of your way to look for effective language learning methods. The fact that you're actually taking steps to improve your Mandarin is, in my humble opinion, far more encouraging than doing nothing and feeling bad about it.

On the whole though, I do kind of agree with the message you're trying to get at. Life would certainly be bland if all we had were those PD pageboys with glaring "DO IT NOW" placards. Too many sweets will make you sick of sweets, as you said.

Chris said...

@chiro-kun thanks for the comment, the comment you made neatly reflects the variety that makes up the real world :), I take you point about the course, you are right sometimes doing "something" is enough to keep the spark going.

My point in this post isn't all correct either, but I thought I should make some sort of stand against the 100% (brook no negativity) approach. Life isn't all black and white and that is what makes it interesting.

Anonymous said...

As someone who knows and likes Benny in real life, I have to confess that some of his posts make me want to throw things at him and the Crybaby post was one of them ;)

Thank you for your post, which restores a vital bit of negativity to the world.

I'm sure Benny "speaks" more languages than I ever will, but I think that the sort of existence he leads would be considered by many of us as too high a price to pay. Much as we might whinge from time to time, sometimes our homes, our partners and our jobs are the very things which make our lives fulfilling. Not our mastery of Thai tones.

Naphthous said...

I like your reply to the self-styled "Irish polyglot." I'd never heard of him and I really wish I hadn't now, because almost every single thing about his website irritates me, so I'm going to stop browsing it now.

Anyway, your reply was mostly spot-on, though Chiro-kun basically said what I wanted to.

Best thing your in post: pointing out how negative "Benny"'s post actually is.