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Monday, February 27, 2012

How to Teach Yourself a Language (or anything else, really[part 1])

When I was gathering my materials for the blog, one of the things I came upon was that for everything language teachers do to try and better their students, they leave typically leave classes with the same level of ability to absorb info as they came in with, which, when someone's trying to better their ability to learn a language and the info is flying at them a mile a minute, is not a good thing. I knew that a student should be able to bolster how they absorb new info, but for the life of me, I couldn't put any method onto the page that didn't require the kind of time sink most people just don't have(e.g. reading and researching book after book until everything suddenly clicks, which is how I got started).

Some time later I came upon some info about how the brain absorbs info, then later how the stages of learning people go through to get it down solid, which I began to organize into the best, most easily connectable and most quickly applicable form my skills would allow. This next series of articles is the result of all that, and is built to help you trim the fat in how much of the grind you'll have to go through, because if there's one thing I know people want to maximize, it's how much they get back from the time and effort they put into what boils down to relearning how to express yourself in every facet of the word. All that said, let's kick it off with some of why someone should improve the way they learn.

Why Learn Better?
One of the most important and least taught skills you'll ever learn is how to learn better, which of course raises the question of “What do you mean 'Learn Better'? Isn't reading and all that crap enough to get something down?” It can be, but when you improve the way you absorb info, all those seemingly impossible tasks you couldn't approach before take several steps back in difficulty, thus letting us grasp and apply what we learn that much faster. I mean would you rather learn the method to cooking rice in a way you understand or the way someone who doesn't know the way you best learn wants you to? It certainly is possible, but I can guarantee that learning it in a way you connect with will make it more fun and make it stick much, much longer. To start building towards learning your way, here are the 4 steps in the basic development process, the process many will naturally go through when they make first contact with something new.

The Process in Brief
The super condensed version of this starts with the Preparatory stage(basically copycatting) , goes to the Play stage (learn by doing), then the Game stage (managing lots of relationships and things we do at once) and goes right to the Generalized Others stage(learning how things are done in a given society). If you, for instance, were amazed by how Michael Jordan handled the rock, you'd probably start by copying the way he plays the game, then getting on the court and getting comfy with how the ball feels in your hand as you run up and down, building your rhythm from dribble to jump to shot.

After a bit of practice with that, you'll probably want to get into a real time game of basketball, where you learn how to apply what you've been practicing when someone's in your face and trying to swat it out of your hands. The more you do that, the more you get to know both what to do and what not to do in certain situations, such as getting used to passing to teammates when you're being doubled teamed and they have an open shot, which starts to bring you from a kid shooting J's at the plastic hoop in their room to a kid shooting J's over hapless defenders. I know that sports isn't everybody's things, so if you need a bit more meat to how this stuff works, then allow me to detail each step, starting with the Preparatory stage

The Preparatory Stage
One thing people often forget when they learn something new is that no matter how talented, rich, sharp, connected or experienced you are, everyone starts at the bottom and has to work their way up from zero. How do you get started when you basically have next to zilch to draw from when you take it on? You could jump right in and learn it step by step by step and get frustrated with every face-plant you make trying to learn it and get it down, or you could look at what the guy with their stuff together is doing and copy them 'til you find your footing.

When you do that, a crucial process takes place: you lay the foundation on which everything else you learn is built, refined and tested by the stresses of how it's applied to the real world; can't think outside the box without a box to think outside of, right? Once you build it, though, you can do any number of things to change its shape and how it's meant to work, even question whether or not you need a box and perhaps would like a circular container, instead. Say, for example, you never got behind the wheel of a car before and wanted to learn how to drive-and the person who taught you the basics also happens to love driving like they're trying out for the next Fast and Furious movie.

After you picked what they have to teach, their style becomes your style, which you then become free to modify however you please to suit your needs(that is, unless you plan to get tickets every time you get behind the wheel), and part of doing that lies in playing around with it, in turn letting it show what it can and can't presently do, so you can find where it needs work; this is where you enter the Play stage of development(coming soon, I promise!)

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