2014年8月28日 星期四

Self help: Why language learning blogs often emphasize self-improvement and not actual target language materials

So I am sure many of you are wondering, why do most blogs that talk about language learning tend to overemphasize self-development, increasing your locus of control, and conquering your ego rather just simply talking about the language.  It would seem that coming from any beginner level of a foreign language that the main concern and focus should be on the basics: grammar, vocabulary, target language concepts, and pronunciation.  

And to be honest, focusing on these concepts is not a mistake.  Beginners and learners will naturally focus on the building blocks of fluency.  But these acquisition fundamentals occur in stages which are predictable and independent of the stages in which children acquire their first language.  What this means is that mass exposure of a language in different contexts and situations will grant the acquirer (or student) the basic skill set and fundamentals required to advance in that particular language.

That’s it.  That is the method right there.  Watch tons of target language television, listen to target language radio, make target language friends who mostly speak the target language and are willing to correct your pronunciation and read target language resources online.  There are other tools, tips, tricks, and mentalities, but if you do your best to think, drink, eat, sleep, watch, read, and learn the target language you will, guess what, learn the target language.  

So why are there so many methodologies, research, and ‘developments’ involving the target language?  I’ll tell you why.  The road to fluency is long, winding, and a pain in the a$*.  It involves starting off with the language capacity of a baby and building up from there.  However, since you are no longer a baby, you have the emotional and situational filter of an adult (plus an ego, no matter how many times you try to tell yourself that you don’t) and will want to ‘be an expert’ as fast as possible.

But it’s not fast.  There is no quickness to truly mastering any skill.  I’m sure that many people have heard of the 10,000 hour rule中文) and might prescribe to it.  But more important than this is just understanding that in order to become proficient at anything in life we all need to integrate it into our everyday lives.  This equates to listening to Chinese in the car, reading Chinese websites daily, using Weibo (or other social messaging clients), and simply doing our best to integrate ourselves into Chinese material.

Since this is the method, now we need to focus on the procedure.  This is where all of the ‘new age’ self-helpy (totally a word now) material takes effect.  There are people out there who research, analyze, and develop procedures and methodologies for becoming more successful and changing bad habits in an effort to eliminate limiting beliefs and behaviors from our lives.  It takes a change of habit to enact a change of lifestyle.  These productivity or self-development behaviors will benefit your life, and if applied to your language learning life you will find it easier to immerse yourself and find yourself slowly growing into a more ‘successful’ language learner.  

So do as Bruce Lee said, “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”  Use good methods, immerse yourself and feel the Chinese begin to flow through your veins.

Until next time...

2014年8月25日 星期一

Starting over: how to kick up momentum, be awesome, and slowly accomplish the goals that you want to achieve.

萬事開頭難 - wan4 shi4 kai1 tou2 nan2 - In every undertaking the beginning is always the hardest.

In popular culture’s mind, it seems that the concept of new beginnings is one that is dripping with cliche and a positive inflection.  Starting over, refactoring your life, and even hitting rock bottom always end with a positive outcome.  And beginnings are always the easiest, right?

It seems, however, that all too soon these new beginnings take a turn for the worse.  After a few weeks, diets die, exercise routines waver, and we all return to sitting down and passively consuming media as a habit.  It in is this intermediate stage that our minds start to fight us and we start to wonder whether or not we ‘are good enough’ or ‘are able to’ accomplish our goals.

In modern day culture it seems that people think about learning new things with something called a fixed mindset.  I know that I am guilty of it.  When beginning some undertakings in my life that I feel I will love I jump in feet first throwing caution to the wind, only later (when things get tough) wondering whether or not I am ‘cut out’ for this position or type of work.  Ever since I was a child I have prescribed to the ‘do it all, do it now, do it fast, stay focused’ mentality.  I heard grand stories of Mozart writing symphonies at 4, Tiger Woods climbing out of his rocker and having a perfect golf swing as a toddler, and Michael Jackson being born destined to sing and dance with the best of them.  

Well, after growing up and attempting to master Chinese (which, in itself is a funny paradox), I realized that minus a group of 1.7 billion people (to include other Chinese-speaking countries), no one is born destined to learn Chinese.  People naturally are able to learn language, yes, but people are also naturally able to learn anything which has been learned and accomplished before.  The main connection between Mozart, Tiger Woods, and Michael Jackson minus the fact that they are all human is their motivation, time spent in the act, and their focus.

So in the realm of foreign language acquisition, why do children develop language skills so much ‘faster’ than their adult counterparts.  Well, I’m not so sure that they do.  Here is an excerpt from a blog on language learning:
“Research comparing children to adults has consistently demonstrated that adolescents and adults perform better than young children under controlled conditions” … It is clear that the reference here is to classroom language learning.  “Teachers should not expect miraculous results from children learning English as a second language (ESL) in the classroom” … Perhaps but if the child has many friends who speak the local language, the child will learn, regardless of what happens in the classroom.”  (link to full article).

Perhaps it is the method of our language learning that is wrong.  And perhaps it is the mentality that we hold in regards to language acquisition that holds us back from achieving our foreign language potential.  Children playing and socializing have the three characteristics required for success in any subject, so it is only natural that they would achieve success in learning a language to communicate with the targets of their motivation.  So learn like a child.  Forget about what makes someone ‘good’ in an academic sense and work on interacting with the language.  Listen, read, find friends, make mistakes, and consistently be focused on learning how to get better.

And don’t forget to have fun…….

2014年8月19日 星期二

Feelings are not facts: Sticking through to the end and learning to walk your path.

The other day I realized how often my mindset sways at times.  I can go to bed completely focused on one task and wake up the next day with a completely different notion in my head.  When I was younger, this usually was related to what ‘passion’ I wanted in my life.  I would pursue this new ‘passion’ with an intense fervor and gusto and would ultimately switch to another soon after the bold beginning.  

This is the wrong way to approach ‘passions’ and ‘labor’ (when I say labor, I am talking about doing what you love to do, not chopping wood or carrying coal.  Though some people…).  When truly engaging in life changing behaviors, don’t be Icarus, be the Little Engine that could.  Recently I read an article about how Icarus’s wings would not actually melt if he had only flown closer to the sun due to the drop in temperature.  It’s interesting how people will try and use science to disprove the validity of certain myths and legends, but we’ll get to that other article later.

What I want to talk about today is the concept of doing.  Doing is something that sounds much easier that it actually is.  Especially ‘doing’ the right thing, which is the one activity at this point in time that validates, motivates, and fulfills you.  The problem in modern day society is that there are so many activities which can take up your time.  Facebooking, Youtube surfing, internet surfing, video games, television shows, and other resources are constantly knocking at your attention door and waiting to be let in.  And if these activities do not line up with your goals and purposes then they can either be labeled as distractions, addictions, or time sucks.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I time suck some stuff away every single day.  But the trick lies in not allowing these activities, which according to some bloggers and other productivity engineers is all a matter of structure, to take up too much time away from the labor of love which exists inside all of us that motivates, empowers, and fulfills.  Finding your motivation and power is another another topic for another day (ya like that?).

So how do we stick to activities that we love and know are good for us?

I’ve found that internalising one concept has benefited me greatly in pursuing my ‘labors of love’ and has enabled me to reach heights that not many others are able to achieve:  understanding that how you feel about how you proficient you are at things is usually not the truth.  A quick description of the Dunning - Kruger Effect illustrates this perfectly:

The reverse of this effect is true as well: “Many skilled individuals feel that their skills are much lower than accurate”.  I equate this to the image of the samurai (武士道 for the Chinese inclined) or kung fu (功夫) master who continuously trains until death.  It appears that those who train incessantly even AFTER proficient become true masters, as mastery is a path that is simply deliberate practice built on tons of practice.  In laymans terms this means that you need to work hard, work often, reflect on what you are doing and how it is benefiting your cause, then start the process all over again.  We don’t have time for frustration, so push your feelings aside and continue on your path.

2014年8月16日 星期六


I read an article this past week from Mark Manson’s blog that talks about insecurity.  The word insecurity gets thrown around a lot in this day and age, and I think that the concept people talk about it poorly defined.  Insecurity is defined as uncertainty or anxiety about oneself.  It is the lack of confidence to purposefully, openly, and honestly expose your thoughts and emotions to people.  

I just recently started going out at nights more with friends.  Never being into the bar scene myself, I still oftentimes feel uncomfortable talking and interacting in situations when there is alcohol involved.  For reasons I do not know, drinking brings out strong feelings of insecurity I have about myself and I find myself doing things and participating in conversations in which I would normally not engage.  This results in me entering into uncomfortable social situations in which I ‘chug on forward’ even when I feel awkward.

Many times the day after feels like I made a mistake because I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and somewhere that feels strange and unknown.  I would ask some of my friends for feedback and whether or not times were good or things went well, and many times they would provide support.  But I must have been asking a lot, because the other day a friend of mine asked me a question that rang into my ears and reached deep into my gut to tear out all of my feelings of self consciousness and lack of confidence.  

I asked him whether he thought that I do well going out and whether I’m fun to hang around with in those situations.  He asked me, “Are you really that insecure?”  I thought about it for a second, struggling with rising anxiety and uncomfortability, and came to a resounding conclusion.  I am insecure about this particular aspect of my life, and it’s ok.  The acceptance of my temporary feelings of insecurity set me free from the vicious cycle of avoidance and fear which plagues everyone who refuses to enact change in their lives.

Insecurity is avoided in our culture.  People attempt to cover it up, avoid places, experiences, and new things which could bring up these feelings, and do everything in their power to stay within their comfort zone and think and do things that feel comfortable and familiar.  People tend to be more willing to verbalize their dreams and categorize them away.  This method seems easier to accept for people who are not willing to throw away their pretensions of themselves and their ‘abilities’ and go for broke.  A quote from a member of a trio of individuals who started an extremely successful youtube channel involving picking up girls models this issue perfectly:

So to answer your question, how did I make that "leap" it's quite simple:
Once people become aware of something it can propel them to change. So the fact that I'm telling you that a LOT of people won't do anything will be enough for many of of you to actually take action. It's a weird but effective truth.
When I realized that most people didn't do shit with their lives, I made it my fucking MISSION to not be part of that crowd.

So be like Jesse from Simple Pickup and multiple other successful achievers and ‘doers’ throughout history: push yourself out of your comfort zone to and accept insecurity.  You’ll be glad you did in the future.

2014年8月15日 星期五



I had a conversation with a roommate yesterday, and I was enlightened to an interesting fact.  In the English language, whenever tragedy happens or something emotional from our past is unrooted most people in the affected party’s support group encourages that individual to ‘get past’ it or ‘move on’.  

What does this move on really mean?  And why does it seem so visceral and picturesque.  Can we really ‘move on’ from tragic events or lost loved ones?  My roommate doesn’t seem to think so, and deep in the middle of our past-midnight conversation when I used those words he was adamant in his disagreement.

He said that moving on, getting past, and getting over all imply that there is an endpoint to the pain, tragedy, and loss which accompany traumatic experiences.  But in reality, he continued, there is no end.  It appears the phrase ‘Time heals all’ is not entirely true.  At least not in the particular light which most people see it.

Time allows for reflection.  It is only through reflection in which we have the ability to see the previous situation in a different light than what it appeared as before.  Throughout all of the events that I have experienced in my life one concept is important and deserves rapt attention: good and bad are determined subjectively.

My roommate continued by saying that he thinks we do not ‘get over’, ‘get past’, or ‘move on’.  We simply accept the fact that at that time we did not have the control or insight we have now.  

The past is the past.  Some events suck, and some are blissful.  Regardless of the nature of our experiences, the simple act of participating in them at the time and reflecting on them renders any occurrence in our life useful.

Ensure that your tragedies fuel the fire for future success.