There is a certain mindset that says that if a little bit of an activity is good, then a whole heap must be fantastic.
This is the person who decides that if a glass of wine is good for your heart, then a couple of bottles a day must be terrific. Just don’t tell his liver.
Am I looking to take up drinking? No more than I already do. And that small sherry every Thursday is just the ticket to fire things up big time!
No, as with so many of my ponderings these days, it comes back to language. Specifically, if I were to concentrate all of my efforts in this project into just one language, would I learn five times as much, or five times faster?
I just can’t see it. When I went to live in Germany, it took me two years in the country to reach a reasonable level of fluency. And while I was teaching English (so not spending all day every day in the target language), it was far more conducive to language learning than the current parameters of the Babel Project (even if I were to just focus on one language).
I feel that learning a new language is a combination of practice and time.
My theory has been that we learn better when we split new words into remembering and understanding. I believe that multiple exposures to a new word are necessary before it “embeds” enough into our memory for us to begin considering its usage (and meaning). The first three or four times we may not remember having previously been exposed to the word. Maybe after six exposures, we are aggravated enough by the new word to go looking for its meaning.
My preferred analogy for this is a pile of sand on the beach. The pile will get bigger as you dump more sand, but it will grow in each direction – it must do so. Rather than bricks that you can stack on top of each other as fast as you like, the sand works best with a steady stream. The pile creeps upwards, but only as long as it can build a broader and a stronger base.
Hindi is currently my weakest language. (Someone has to take the title – that’s where it sits right now). I have been “fighting” the software that I found to learn (no links for now). This probably cost me about a month of learning, perhaps even two. But now that I am sucking it up and just working, something interesting has happened.
While I haven’t developed fantastic conversational skills, I am slowly getting on top of the script. Steady exposure, even if to random words, means that the most commonly used letters are becoming slowly more familiar to me.
Will this be enough to see me safely around the streets of Delhi or Mumbai? No. But this project was conceived as an experiment to see what worked and what didn’t in learning a language.
What I take from this experience is that slow steady and constant work will produce an outcome. It may not be the one that you expect, but you need to be prepared to welcome what comes your way. And keep working towards your goal.