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…….