Tuesday, July 7, 2015

(4th) Language Learning: Some Things Never Change

It’s never easy when you grow old(er). I have a feeling that as I am approaching an age where I can remember more presidents that this generation can remember iPhones, there is a need to continuously stay sharp and “relevant” in today’s performance driven environment. 

Leap forward to Monday, June 30th when I signed up to take my fourth official language class. Oddly enough, I always noticed that I had a keen interest in the art of communication. By the time I was in 8th grade, I had given myself creative license with the task of learning a new language in school (Spanish) and was fully embracing my native language (an unofficial language in the states of Nevada and California). In order to learn my native language, I painstakingly put together my own “native language” curriculum from the local library where my parents would grade me (unwillingly) on grammar and linguistic abilities (If only my grandfather, a former government attorney and Dean of Economics, would have seen my father’s “lack of tutoring” skills, he would be disappointed). I would spend entire afternoons writing my notes, then writing them neater, then indulging in my own cerebral processing of what I needed to say if certain conversations were presented to me. I was not given any direction or feedback, only the assurance that each day was a chance to build on a steady foundation of words and cultural nuances that did not exist before.

It has been over a decade since I had formally been in a classroom learning any language, yet it only feels like yesterday. I remember taking Japanese at university and was perplexed at how detail oriented the Sensei was. Needless to say, old habits never die when you are a student. 

I signed up for the class and proceeded in the same way that I approached school when I was younger. I made sure that I was physically, mentally and emotionally prepared. Books, notebooks and materials were ordered and accounted for. My “first day of school” attire uniform that prompted comfort and would allow the teacher to take me seriously was laid out for me the night before. A “power” breakfast in the morning would prepare me  for my day at work that included a 30-minute lunch period where I would “break out” and review the chapter ahead and delineate through vague/ambiguous terminology. I gave myself an hour block  to reach the office that on a “non-Atlanta traffic day” would just be 20 minutes. I created an environment for myself that relied upon planning, organization, and proper execution because, as you all know - there are more than enough factors that one cannot control. Sure enough, there was.

As I finally walked into the class, I felt like the same little girl who entered 1st grade when I was five years old. I was (and still am) painfully shy and could not muster the courage to do anything but grin at my fellow classmates. I sat in the front seat by the teacher so as to not explain to anyone that it has (and always will be) the best seat for me to learn from. I slowly took out the materials from my book bag and had remembered to put my phone on airplane mode so that I would not disturb the other students. After I was settled in, I observed other students and listened in on their conversation from my window, hoping to join in but apprehensive when the invitation would be sent.

When class started it was just like in traditional school (only with a 2 1/2 hour class at 6pm at night). It was highly engaging and involved the use of a SmartBoard which as everyone knows, can be blamed or praised for it’s effectiveness. Interactions were moderately engaging and I found that there were some people who knew a few basic pronunciation rules and others who probably should have spent a day trying to pick up on some basic vocabulary. I enjoyed the class, the interactions, and felt almost in my element after so many years.

Regardless of who you are and what you do in life, it is hard for some people to turn over a new leaf. We all have individual strengths, challenges, and coping strategies that solidify our true character and make us successful. I know that the only way to succeed is to forecast what your blind spots are: in my case it’s my shyness that I have yet to overcome and my inability to accept failure or mediocrity. Although I cannot speak for anyone else, it’s not such a bad blind spot after all. 

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