The “take-away” learning method

Ever felt “betrayed” by a learning method?

One of the most common problems I find among learners is, oddly enough, not even related to learning, but to motivation. You see, there are a lot of methods to learn languages floating around on the internet, and behind with them there are a lot of people pushing their methods and making a living out of their personal experience learning one language or ten.

This isn’t a bad thing. We all have to make a living, and if these people have found a way to turn what worked for them into money, more power to them. Quoth Confucious: “choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”. If anything, I’d like to shake the hands of those who’ve made a living out of spreading a love for languages.

That said, for every acolyte these polyglots have managed to win over, they usually also have ten detractors. Oftentimes these are people who’ve tried out the method, found that it didn’t work for them, and now go around spreading the hate about what a bunch of lies this particular method is, and how they feel robbed of their hard earned money. (Sure enough, there are also people who haven’t tried it out and still feel entitled to criticize others, but these have long been classified as belonging to the trollus brutus biological family, and as any talk of them would be a waste of your screen’s precious pixels, dear reader, I don’t think you’ll mind me omitting them altogether.)

Selective learning is the path

I’ve said this before: learning a language is an intensely personal experience. The reason why the language courses of your compulsory education years oftentimes failed to engage you is because every person learns how to communicate in different ways, and a standarized language course doesn’t always match your learning needs.

I learned this because I had a particularly tough time learning anything at school. I only truly started learning when I understood how I captured and absorbed knowledge most productively (and this happened when I was already an adult).

One of the things I do the most as part of my learning routine is to listen to other people, or to read. Blogs, books, TV, radio, Youtube, Ted Talks, you name it: if I have a spare ten minutes, I’m usually doing one of these, and quite actively too. I believe I have something to learn from everyone, and therefore I owe them a little bit of my attention.

All said, this doesn’t mean I’m a fervent believer of the Church of Mr. Internet Polyglot, and I believe nobody should be. As a matter of fact, many of these polyglots don’t mean for you to take their method to the letter–their intention is to share what worked for them and may work for you, and the grand majority of them, even if they do earn money from what they teach, don’t expect to be anybody’s guru. Some parts of their plan may fit you, and some parts may not.

This is where you should mind the Take-Away method. It’s awful simple, really:

  1. Listen to/read as much advice as people who’ve been down the path you’re going are willing to give.
  2. Discard what doesn’t fit your routine, or doesn’t feel right.
  3. Try out what you may, and if it works, add it to your box of tricks.

Box of tricks…?

Repertoire, sleeve, method, whatever: you give it a name. The point is that if you want to get good at learning your second, third, or thirty-seventh language, you’d better know what works for you and what doesn’t.

This is the true wonder of learning a new language, and it’s completely unrelated to becoming fluent in it–it’s a trip through your own personality, weaknesses and strenghts, and learning style. Filing away at the rough edges of your method means becoming a flexible learner: don’t expect another person’s method to fit you to a tee and then become disenchanted when it doesn’t. You’re not another person–you’re you, and it’s you who’s learning, so how about getting acquaintanced with yourself instead of blaming the poor author of the method that ‘failed’ you?

Got any cool tricks up your language learning sleeve? Have any experiences with learning methods you’d like to share with us? I’d love to read your comments on this!

  • Korean Vitamin ,

    Bad reviews, good reviews, we need both to make our own well-informed decisions. If something works, I want to know why. If something doesn’t work, I also want to know why. Especially if it involves money.

    • Sis L. ,

      Never said reviews aren’t a great thing: I read them as well before trying out new technology (particularly language learning apps), although I’ll admit that sometimes I find myself questioning the validity of the review if it seems too subjective or doesn’t cover points I consider important.

      What I mean is that blind faith and absolute imitation of someone else’s methodology don’t always work. That’s where customizing (or “taking away”) comes in handy.

    • A Place Like Me In A Girl Like This ,

      Great advice!

      • Sis L. ,

        Thank you! Hope it proves useful to you. 🙂