Are we fluent yet? Taking the Zen Road to language learning.

(Image Source: [EZ] Let’s just get this out of the way right now, learning a language takes, well, a while.  If you put yourself into the proverbial language learning car and after 5 minutes ask, “are we fluent yet?” I can tell you right now, this is going to be a long and arduous trip.  If, however, you allow yourself to sit back and enjoy the experience and the process, you might just find that you that you like learning.

Like learning? Like being a student? What?! Language learning, like any kind of learning, is not a one-size-fits-all proposition and certainly doesn’t have to be the same as the traditional school experience that many of us look back on with something less than fondness.  Like anything that inspires and challenges us, the most important thing to know is that you, the student, can define what success means to you, forge your own path, and craft your own personal journey. Here’s some food for thought on how to actively engage in your learning in a Zen way.

Don’t Get Mad, Get Curious!: If you don’t have something nailed down, that only means that you haven’t fully learned it yet. Be curious about that. Take some time to think about why that might be so and get excited about investigating. Maybe it means you need more exposure and practice (fun fact: they say you need contact with a vocabulary word 25 times before you own it). Perhaps there is a piece of information you are missing or did not entirely grasp. If that’s the case, read up on it again or ask a teacher. Or perhaps you are trying to make yourself come up with the answer too quickly. This just means that you might have to slow down and think about it to get to the answer you’re looking for. In other words, when something’s not clicking into place, hang out with it and try to get to know it better.  Every time you are working those paths, you are training your brain and, with practice, it will all get faster and more ingrained.

Focus on Developing YOUR Language: Yes, you read that correctly, YOUR language.  It is so easy to fall into the trap that you are supposed to be adapting to some ideal of language acquisition; a flawless accent, perfectly accurate grammar, precise vocabulary. But what happens if we let go of these highfalutin goals and go for our personal best… today? The first thing you might notice is that learning a language, or anything for that matter, is a lot more fun and interesting when you allow yourself to be exactly where you are and that’s it. Do you need to sound like a native speaker?  Absolutely not.  It’s a nice party trick if you can swing it, but what’s wrong with having an accent? If you are an American speaking French and you sound like an American speaking French, so what? It’s just part of your language. And about those perfectly constructed sentences and razor-sharp vocab?  Sure, it feels great when you are able to get a sentence out and it all falls into place, but make sure to also savor the moments when you are able to actually communicate with someone in a foreign language.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the victories, big and small, you can experience along the way.  Remember, you are never failing and this is not a competition (unless that’s what motivates you in which case, go for it!). This is just an opportunity to be curious about yourself and your process.

Happy learning!

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