“Your ego isn’t really that interested in what’s really inside of you. Your ego is very much interested in presenting an idealised version of yourself to the world and vulnerability only cracks through that by accident – unintentionally. When your ego is really working hard to be smart and clever and on par with your heroes… Those are real roadblocks to discovery. I just trust the process a lot more than I trust myself to present something honest and vulnerable and real. Your unconscious has somehow allowed some of you to slip through” – Jeff Tweedy, lead singer and principal songwriter of Wilco on Song Exploder (4:09-4:53).
There’s an inherently narcissistic edge to blog-writing. With so much time to craft each sentence, it’s not difficult to leave little but your best self on the page when it’s time to hit “publish”, especially in a personal development blog like this one. However, what should really matter most to me is not the reputation I get for being an independent language learner, but the rewards I get out of sincerely reflecting on my language learning.
These past few months, language learning has had to compete with other priorities such as saving more money, eating more healthily, and exercising more regularly. The guy who sits next to me at work gyms and cooks his own lunch 4 days a week, which made me realise how much better my day-to-day habits could be! Inspiration was also provided by the Gastropod podcast’s breakfast episode: Did you know breakfast cereal was invented in America to combat the nationwide indigestion problem brought on by over-eating? It makes you think about the ever-increasing availability and convenience of gluten- and dairy-rich foods and the number of people suffering from IBS today.
So, in this time, I haven’t been able to give enough of my time to language learning. There’s only so much self-control one can have, I suppose. As I’ve written before, language learning has been about the path of least resistance. Spanish practice centres around the Blue Studies Spanish-English Language Exchange which happens every fortnight. If I can find the time, I’ll listen to some podcasts or read some articles in Spanish to prepare. I’m actually practicing more German these days than this time last year, but that’s not saying much – it’s been ad hoc at best. Despite writing so passionately about my Chinese heritage in May, I still haven’t restarted learning Chinese; and, while I completed Michel Thomas Portuguese, that was also where that affair ended.
With these brutal and honest truths out of the way, it’s time to look forwards. What are my goals and motivations for language learning going into 2016?
Travel & cultural learning: I’m going to Peru and northern Chile next year! I’m super excited to finally meet a friend I made through Sharedtalk over two years ago, to experience the cuisines and cultures of the region and see the amazing landscapes. Linguistically, though, I need to make a decision. I’ve already reached a level of Spanish where I can communicate and socialise with ease. Gains at this stage are harder to get and take a lot longer. Am I comfortable where I am? All I can say is I’m looking for reasons to keep going hard at Spanish here in Sydney. Otherwise, I’ll probably only make progress when I travel to Spanish-speaking places.
Pride & self-image: Earlier this year, I hadn’t spoken German in months and had almost convinced myself that I’d be ok if I lost it. Then, I met a bona fide German geocaching fanatic. I realised how much vocabulary and fluency (both speaking and understanding) I had lost and this frustrated me. Knowing German is a part of me, and I want to keep it that way. My problem is I’m not really aiming to do anything with the language. I can’t say how or if I’ll ‘need’ it in the future, and I have no immediate plans to travel in the deutscher Sprachraum. I’m not complaining, though. Since meeting that friend, I’ve been using German every now and then, and it’s been enjoyable. For now, this is enough.
Foreign yet familiar; accessing a challenging but fascinating world: What can I say, I have so many reasons why I want to learn Chinese but I just haven’t been able to get going with it! Perhaps I’ve built it up too much in my mind after listening to the conversations of one-time visitors who end up living in China for decades, crisscrossing the country on bicycles, writing books, marrying Chinese girls. My family history aside, I really want to travel in China and I would live there if I had the opportunity, but only if I know Chinese. As Bill Bishop says on the Sinica podcast in September of this year (from about 13:16 onwards):
“The thing about here [living in China] is every day’s a challenge because nothing’s easy here. it’s in a different language, it’s a different culture, it’s incredibly intellectually stimulating. it can be extremely frustrating but it’s never boring. you know, the US is great and it’s comfortable and yes there are things that are also very difficult but you can also kinda… like my chinese friends who have moved to the US, some of them are coming back because they’re bored out of their minds… everything you do here is exhausting, [but] it’s exhilarating”
I probably shouldn’t get distracted by such lofty possibilities just yet. My first goal is just to make a start. I think I need to make learning Chinese a social activity. Back when I was learning Spanish, I liked the comfort of online arenas like italki and Sharedtalk, but I have the confidence now that I need that real-time, face-to-face interaction to get the adrenalin pumping, get me motivated to keep learning. Besides this, it would take me weeks of rote learning to get to a satisfactory reading level to learn Chinese the way I did Spanish. I need to first focus on listening and speaking.
These types of blog posts always take me so long to write. It’s like having a conversation with myself, grappling with all my different thoughts. I really enjoy the process, though, as I tend to finish with a better understanding of myself and what I want to achieve in language learning. This is Tim Spricht signing out!