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Monday, May 7, 2012

How to Teach Yourself a Language [part 7]

Constructing the Method Made for You
It's no secret that when something appeals to the way we do things, we're more likely to give it the time of day, and when it comes to learning something new, this aspect is crucial to getting it down solid. Unfortunately, many teachers don't allow the flexibility needed to apply what what's taught outside the classroom and often insist on injecting themselves into the whole learning experience, turning it into a static, unchanging object. In my view, the difference between whether that knowledge becomes a part of a student's day to day grind or goes right in their mental shoebox is in how much the teacher steps out of the way and allows them to apply it in a way that not only get them to identify with it, but also to think about what they're doing. When you're young and still building your conception of how the world works, lack of that creates what some like to call the Ophelia Syndrome.

The Ophelia Syndrome and You
Named after Ophelia, the young lady from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, it encapsulates the concept of basing your thoughts, feelings and acts purely upon what you think people higher up than you want, as Ophelia did, when she was conflicted on how to feel about Hamlet and her dad, Polonius, told her “I'll teach you. Think yourself a baby...(and yes, that is exactly what you might be thinking)”. Of course people have to do this to some extent when they're still building the box they need think outside of, but there comes a point where people can't just let older folks determine the best course of action.

            Given enough years, they soon become those older folks the next generation looks to for guidance, and if they just do that for the rest of their lives, it'll just be everybody asking everybody else what they should do next, creating a never ending cycle of the blind leading the blind until someone- regardless of they can weigh the needs of the many of not-guts up and says “This is the way things are gonna be” Whether it's in the entertainment, sports or political arenas, the Ophelia Syndrome is what allows one to control to the lives of those around them, even if they're as stable as a guy running on a six pack of Absinthe, so to help you break the cycle, I'll give you a few pointers in how to ease off of relying on the higher ups (myself, included, admittedly) for what you want to know.

No Matter the Subject, Search for Great Teachers
While 'great' and similar words will always be subjective, many referred to as great teachers are people that get students talking about what they're learning, talk not at, but with them, get them excited about the subject at hand and push them to use their noggin to apply what's taught, rarely, if ever telling what you should and shouldn't do. In my experiences as a student, many Math teachers don't fit this bill, which could be why most math skills go into eternal storage once the degree is had and it's time to earn some cash money. If you find students saying this stuff about their teachers, this is someone you'll want to set some time to chat with.

Know, Be and Trust Yourself and What You Know
As someone still getting the practical aspects sorted out, I know well the value of being able to look back on where you've come from and how much you've picked up over the years.  Even something as silly seeming as keeping a journal or taking some of those online personality tests can make milestones for you to look back on and consider where you were at that point in time-and trust me, in 5-10 years from now, who you become then might even be a mirror image of who you are now(I know I'd like to hop back 7 years and slap my past self in the craw).

            The same goes for testing what you've learned over the years in current day situations, colored by your experiences and any further knowledge you've picked up since those days. The more awake you are to the you from then and now, the more things can come full circle, and you can find the needed spark to push ahead, grow even further and rely on the instincts and hunches you've honed throughout all that time. Might not be easy, but rarely is that the case for anything worth it.

Ride the Ever-shifting Winds
Despite how boring it might be, it's a heck of lot easier to teach things as absolute and unchanging, but ask anyone how life is, and they'll tell you that things are rarely as cut and dry as 1+1=2; shoot, they were probably even debating that, when Math was in it's inception. This is part of why it's key to accept that the way things are often aren't the way we expect them to be, as even people with years of experience in the finest of educational establishments clash academic swords over how something should be presented. Consider, if you will, when art experts were debating what message the Sistine Chapel in all it's griminess was trying to send, and then, a few folks heading up to clean it up later, they found the thing was as bright and vivid as any modern day painting, launching a new set of debates over it's intended message.

            You might be thinking, “Well if the experts aren't sure about how something is, then how I can be sure anyone is?” Exactly. Don't be content with just the word of someone more knowledgeable than you-including me! In my younger days, I've taught my fair share of folks erroneous info, and didn't even know it until years later, when further studies showed me that what I taught was completely and un-objectively wrong, so I know that people in authority need that authority challenged. It's bound to lead you to new, interesting and enriching info as time passes, so go ahead, embrace that nothing is certain, assume that the person teaching you can back up what they're teaching with something other than “That's just the way it is”, question everything you've ever known(be careful, though. Some people might not be happy to have their authority questioned).

When You Find One Solution, Start Looking for Another
When you can look for other ways of approaching a given problem or issue, you'll find that not only does your own view become that much more complete, you also start to see that even things like grammar and math can have completely different and equally valid ways of tackling the same problem. The more you surround yourself with info and people willing to challenge what you know, the more you'll be able to break out of an given flow and start building a new one, even if it's on the spot. Naturally, this gives you a chance to see how what you know stacks up, lets you see a little more about what you're learning and, quite frankly, is much more engaging and fun than just drilling one way of doing things, and I can name few occasions where fun is a bad thing.

Question If It Should Even be a Box
Everyone loves to say you should think outside the box, but that hinges on the premise that your thinking will back in that box when it's all said and done and it's time to get back to life's daily grind. Why can't it be rectangular, a Pentagon or even have any corners at all? In other words, why should you have to go back to what you knew before thinking outside the box, when you found so much more after you thought outside of it? That willingness to change what people see as the norm is what let things like the airplane, internet and global communication even be a glimmer in the eye of those who invented and refined them over the years. For you and how you do things, chucking out everything you thought you knew can be one of the scariest things you'll ever do, but with great risks come great rewards, and while your greatest punishment may be falling flat on your face, your greatest reward will be the most understanding, enriching and interesting learning experience you'll ever have. As someone who's been on both sides of the coin, I know well what's at stake in both scenarios, so be sure that the price is more than worth you'll get in return, especially when you can finally use what you're learning the way that fits you, instead of the way someone else says is best. 

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