Julia started learning Greek about a year ago.
It was “love at first sight”: she loved the musicality of the language, the expressive gestures people made when they spoke, the openness of the people she met.
Julia couldn’t wait to chat in Greek. To indulge in the sounds and expressions she had learned. To have a nice, warm conversation with a friendly person.
“Next trip”, she told herself “I’ll be chatting in Greek”.
But words wouldn’t come so easy. They seemed to get tangled in her tongue.
Julia felt that every time she was trying to start a chat with a local, her own brain sabotaged her.
Why couldn’t she keep up with the conversation’s pace? Why couldn’t she reply fast enough?
“It’s impossible” she thought.
Nothing she did was helping her to speak the way she dreamed.
She found herself fed up with grammar.
She blamed herself for not having a good memory to remember enough vocabulary. “After all, I’m not a school girl anymore”, she thought.
She felt discouraged. And often, ready to give up.
Why, oh why was this so hard?
Wish I could learn faster
Have you ever wished you could learn faster and then blamed yourself for taking so much time to speak Greek?
When I was learning Spanish, many years ago, I took an intensive course. 3 times a week, 3 hours each.
(I wanted to learn Spanish fast, that’s for sure.)
I loved Spanish and I still do. The sounds, the rhythm, the similar expressions to Greek and of course the people and the beautiful country. Maravilloso!
I expected to speak “fluently” within 6 months. I bought books, a new notebook, a shiny dictionary. I never missed a class and religiously did my homework.
What happened instead is, halfway down the road, I quit.
There are many reasons why I did that (the lack of a specific goal is one) but the frustrating feeling of not speaking as “fluently” as I wanted, as quickly as I wanted, was something I could not accept.
I was absolutely not OK with a slow process. The expectation of “fluency in 6 months” had ultimately cut my wings.
But, as much as I wished to “get there” faster, the process itself seemed to have a timer of its own.
And no matter how much I pushed, having a meaningful conversation with the locals wasn’t something that needed pushing.
In hindsight, not accepting a slow learning process means that:
1. We start having negative feelings towards the lesson, the language, the teacher
2. These feelings prohibit us from keep progressing
3. Sadly, we quit.
It’s not laziness and it’s not a race either
Like Julia with Greek and like my impatient self with Spanish, we sentence ourselves to a race.
Learning Greek can be love at first sight, yes, but as in real life this love might blind us. So much so, that expectations can be as high as getting married after the first date.
This is what we don’t realize:
A slow process doesn’t mean lazy, never studying between lessons or never keeping yourself on schedule (then miraculously expecting to speak).
Slow doesn’t mean lacking consistency, therefore taking months to progress over a single thing (then blaming yourself for not being as intelligent as others).
Slow doesn’t even mean focusing very hard on the aspect of the language that is irrelevant to your goal (for example grammar instead of practicing speaking).
On the contrary.
It means realizing it’s a process that needs its time, like a journey from place A to place B.
And in this journey, there are many things involved: motivation, effort, persistence, consistency, focus but also failure, mistakes, embarrassment - and you still need to move forward.
Above all, slow means permission: Give permission to yourself to learn step by step, every day, even if your steps are tiny.
What happens when you accept slow?
The fact that most of us live in a culture that appreciates fast and easy learning over slow and meaningful is something that you might have experienced too.
But do we realize what this idea is doing to us?
It turns us into competitors of our own self.
It creates unreachable expectations.
It fills us with sadness when we can’t enjoy the process anymore, the one we started in the first place out of pure enjoyment, enthusiasm and a mysterious, deep connection with the language we loved (and the country, and its people…).
So, what happens when we accept slow?
What happens when instead of putting on our fancy running shoes, we choose our most comfortable, the ones that allow us to walk miles while looking around and enjoying the view:
Overwhelm turns into anticipation.
Disappointment into acceptance.
And frustration into fulfillment.
It seems to me after all, that when we learn a language, we are not either fast or slow learners. It’s a completely different idea:
When we realize and accept how slow the whole learning process is, when we embrace it, this is when progress happens.
It is a miracle, isn’t it?
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