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Steve and Alex discuss various English proverbs and how they can be applied to language learning.
Steve: Hi Alex.
Alex: Hi there Steve.
Steve: How are you today?
Steve: I’m back from Japan.
Steve: Two weeks there, great trip.
I met some of our nice “LingQers” in Osaka, in Nagoya and in Tokyo.
Alex: Yeah, there were quite a few LingQ meet ups in Japan, right?
Steve: Yeah, there were three and it was great.
The one in Osaka was very interesting.
Hirohide came all the way from Kyushu.
That’s three hours on the bullet train to join us.
Now, Hirohide has asked us if we would do a podcast about proverbs that might help motivate us for language learning.
Have you any ideas about what those proverbs might be?
Alex: Well, on our own we did not.
So I think what we’re planning on doing is we have a big, long, list of English proverbs and we’re going to go down and pick out some of them and see whether or not they’re applicable and what we can do with them.
Steve: All right, let me grab one here.
The list is in front of us and we’ll take turns grabbing them.
Steve: Here’s one.
“A little learning is a dangerous thing.” Now that’s kind of interesting, because it is true that if you can only say a few things in the language but you can say them fairly fluently people might have the impression that you speak it well.
Steve: So you could get yourself into trouble, but really, how much trouble.
In a way, I never worry about making mistakes when I’m speaking.
Although, as you know, I do prefer to invest a lot of time and effort in input so that I understand what people say back to me.
Steve: If I say hello and they come back blah, blah, blah, blah, yeah, I can handle it.
So that’s one.
I don’t think it applies really though to language learning — a little learning is a dangerous thing.
What catches your fancy here on this list?
Alex: There are so many to choose from. Let’s see. Okay, here’s one.
“A rolling stone gathers no moss.” This is actually a pretty common proverb.
Alex: I think this one can be applicable in the sense of moss grows on things that are sitting still, inactive.
Alex: And so in my mind it promotes the idea of being active in your language learning.
Steve: Because you don’t want to have moss grow on you.
Alex: Exactly and it’s one of those things where the philosophy of doing a little bit each day so that you’re constantly moving and you’ll actually make more progress and have the language more fresh in your mind.
Steve: All right, here’s one.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I don’t think that applies to language learning because if you leave the language for too long you sort of lose your routine and those good habits that you have developed.
I always stress in language learning that it’s important to be consistent, to stay with it, to do it every day or almost every day.
So, absence makes the heart grow fonder if you are already in love with someone or with a language.
I guess in that sense I miss the fact that I don’t have time to spend on say Chinese because I’m busy learning Russian.
Steve: But, no. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
No, it doesn’t apply.
Steve: Okay, you choose one.
Here’s one that says “Accidents will happen.” I think this one makes a lot of sense, especially in language learning where especially at the beginning of your journey in this language you’re going to make mistakes and, you know, say stuff incorrectly, write incorrectly, make spelling and grammatical errors and pick the wrong word and all sorts of things.
But that’s just the way that it is, you know, and if you accept that and are okay with making mistakes you’ll be fine.
Steve: Okay, here’s one. “As you sow, so shall you reap.” That’s definitely the case in language learning.
Steve: If you put the effort in, if you listen daily, read daily, find opportunities to speak.
Or, in the case of LingQ, if you put the effort into creating links you’re in effect sowing seeds, because those links will then show up highlighted in the text that you read later on in the system, they generate the statistics, so that that investment in sowing the seeds enables you to reap the language later on.
Steve: So I think that applies.
Alex: Yeah. Here’s an interesting one too.
“An army marches on its stomach.” I think in explaining this proverb it means that, you know, they march with a hunger.
The hunger is what drives them.
I think with language learning you have to be passionate about it and it’s your passion that has to drive you to continue to pursue that language and learn more about it and grow in your knowledge of it and unless you’re driven by a passion I think success is a difficult thing, especially in language learning.
Now mind you, my interpretation of this is that you have to feed the army or it won’t march.
Alex: Ah, interesting.
Steve: But, I agree with you about the passion.
Steve: Definitely agree with you about the passion. Here’s one.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Definitely applies to language learning.
I hear people say, you know, I don’t like this language.
I think such and such a language, you know, doesn’t sound nice or whatever.
Different people have different reasons for studying different languages…
Steve: …and once you start in a language, even if you are sort of lukewarm about the language and I’ve had this experience before, the more you get engaged with the language.
Korean is a good example.
I mean Korea is not the biggest country in the world and it’s certainly not the best-known culture in the world, but the more I get into Korean the more I can’t let go because it starts to grab you.
So to someone who’s not involved with Korean, Korean may seem an insignificant language, maybe not a particular beautiful language, but as you get engaged with it then you get turned on and so beauty is in the eye or the ear of the beholder or the listener.
Alex: Well put.
So here’s another which says “Better late than never.” I think this is really important and it’s the idea of you can learn a language whenever.
Like you don’t have to be seven years old or four years old or 14 or anything like that.
You know you, as an example, Steve.
Now you’re 65 and you’re continuing on.
Steve: I’m not getting any younger.
Alex: Exactly, but continuing on just as you were before.
Steve: Oh, yeah.
Alex: But I think, you know, as an encouragement to people who may be in their adulthood, midlife or even older that it’s better to learn a language late than to never learn it at all.
Steve: And I say that I’m a better language learner now than when I was 16 or 17 years now old and that’s, of course, because I have had all this experience in learning languages so I have more confidence.
I have a better sense of how to go about it, but I don’t sense, I don’t have the feeling that my brain cells are starting to atrophy yet.
Steve: Other people may think so, I don’t know. All right, here’s one.
Yours was “Better late than never.” There’s another one here, “Better safe than sorry.” That does not apply to language learning.
Alex: I agree.
Steve: Go for it. Get it wrong.
You have to get it wrong in order to improve.
It’s when we come up against situations where we didn’t understand or we had trouble expressing ourselves or we know we made a mistake.
So often we know we made a mistake or we’re pretty sure we did.
Therefore, we’re not worried about being safe, but it makes us aware and it makes us notice and it makes us want to go back to our language and learn more.
So, I think you’ve always got to be willing to throw your language, whatever state it’s in, you know, into the opportunity and nothing very bad can happen to you.
Alex: All right, so going down the list again.
One here is “Carpe diem”…
Alex: …which is Latin…
Alex: …which means “Seize the day.”
Alex: I think this one is great because it gets you off your feet.
Alex: It gets you active in doing stuff.
Alex: It says don’t sit around and just, you know, try and kind of put it off until later but do it now.
Alex: You know, listen to that or speak to that person or take that opportunity and learn.
You know, apply this to language learning.
I mean to life itself, but to language learning as well, where you’re not passive in the sense of you don’t do anything…
Alex: …but you’re actively listening, you’re actively reading and actively speaking and writing.
Steve: Yup. Okay, that’s a good one.
“Don’t change horses in mid stream.” I agree with that and the relevance to language learning is that I think that to learn a language, to achieve significant progress in a language, you have to focus on it for a while.
So there’s no point in starting Spanish, doing it for three weeks and then switching over to, you know, German and so forth.
I think it does take a fair amount of concentration.
People often ask me do you recommend studying more than one language at a time and I say well, yeah, but I guess people are made differently.
Steve: But in my own case, I always feel I have to have maximum two and a major focus on one at a time.
So I might go 80% now on Korean and still 20% in Russian, but certainly if you go one month here, one month there, one month somewhere else you won’t achieve very much.
It does take a lot of dedication and commitment, so don’t change horses in mid stream.
Alex: Yeah, interesting.
Actually, just another story; that has been my experience as well with Chinese and now I’ve focused more on Korean, as I’m headed to Korea in April this year, but it’s totally true.
I tried to do 50-50 between them and I found it really difficult to focus on one and to actually grow and it felt like a lot of just upkeep rather than progression.
Alex: So, let’s see.
Steve: It’s your turn now.
Alex: Yes. “Don’t rock the boat.”
Alex: I’ll try that one.
I think this kind of applies with what you said earlier, Steve, about “Better safe than sorry.” I think it’s the opposite of this, where you kind of do have to stir things up and you do have to step out on a limb and take chances and be willing to risk maybe the proverbial sinking as you’re continuing to learn this language and grow in it.
Now, just to provide some balance, I’m going to take another one here that says “Empty vessels make the most noise.” And where it might have some relevance is, while we encourage people to talk and that’s been our experience too, that you have to just not worry about it and talk…
Steve: …but you also have to put the effort into improving.
You can’t just say well, you know, I can say hello and I want a cup of coffee and say that.
How often are you going to say that, you know?
So I think it’s important, unless you want to give the impression and get the reputation of being someone who just says a lot but has nothing of any consequence to say, which I’m sure we don’t want to be, then you do have to invest in a lot of this sort of input-based activity so that your vocabulary and even your familiarity with the culture and all of these things grow so that when you are in a situation where you’re interacting with natives that they actually consider you to be worthwhile…
Steve: …talking to…
Steve: …not just an empty vessel making a lot of noise.
Alex: Yeah and that’s a practical tip as well, because there are a lot of international students here in Vancouver and a lot of the time locals here will not want to speak to them because it’s this, you know, concept of I’m trying to improve my English which is why I’m talking to you and we can see right through that, you know?
Alex: It’s not valuable conversation, but it’s, you know, how much time can I get to speak with a native speaker?
Steve: Yeah. I mean that’s a very important point.
I mean language is for communication, so if I’m genuinely interested in you as a person and then I want to communicate with you then you might become interested in me as a person and then we have meaningful communication.
Steve: But if I just walk up to you and say can I practice my, whatever, Russian on you, that person may say well, actually, you know what?
I’ve got other things to do.
Steve: So, yeah, that’s an important point.
Alex: So, let’s see.
So there was one up there, it says “Every little helps.” I think “Every little bit helps”…
Alex: …may be a more appropriate form of that.
But it’s totally true that putting in five minutes before you leave for work, you know, to read that little article or on the bus you listen for 15 minutes, like every little bit really does help.
Steve: Absolutely. Absolutely, I do that all the time.
Every little bit, five minutes, three minutes, 10 minutes, it all adds up.
Steve: And, of course, nowadays with your iPod and with the Internet or even just carrying a little book around like that every, you know, so-called dead minute can be utilized.
Steve: Now, let’s see. Oh, here’s one.
“Familiarity breeds contempt.” And the idea there is that if you’re too familiar…I think one of the references there is to the idea of danger.
Like if you’re so familiar with a certain situation you may become careless, so you are a little bit contemptuous of the dangers that are there.
With language learning it’s the opposite.
You want to build up familiarity and that familiarity with the language it’s just a gradual process of constant exposure.
And I always encourage people like when you are reading or listening and maybe you’re not focusing 100% and maybe you don’t understand it all, it’s all contributing.
It’s all making the language more and more familiar to you and the more familiar you are the more you take it easy.
Steve: So I’m not saying you have contempt for the language, but you have contempt for the difficulties of the language because you’re so familiar with it.
Another spin on this proverb is…well, the way that I would interpret it is with family members.
Say you’re so familiar with them that you start to instead focus on the negatives, you know, things that bother you about them rather than the fact that they’re good at this or they do that well or they’re gifted in this area.
But I think with language learning it’s, you know, as you say, the more time you spend with it really the more interested in it you become and the more enveloped and enraptured by it.
Steve: Yup. Okay.
Alex: So we’re already a little bit in, so we might do one or two more.
Steve: Well, we’ll do one more each.
Alex: We’ll do one more.
Steve: So you grab one and then I’ll grab one.
Okay, here’s one that says “First impressions are the most lasting.” Now, I would say with this one it actually does make a big difference with language learning because, for instance, if the first time you experience a language, we’ll take Spanish for instance, the first time you experience it is there’s some Spanish guy and he’s running after you screaming in Spanish, you know, angry at you, you did something wrong, but it’s not a pleasant experience then you probably won’t be as motivated to learn Spanish.
Alex: But at the same time if you’re sitting at a café and you see a nice Spanish “señorita” or something, you know, maybe that will motivate you more because it’s a more pleasurable experience.
Steve: Right, a person and/or music and/or different aspects of the culture.
I mean we know people who are motivated to learn Japanese because of various aspects of Japanese pop culture.
Steve: So there are all kinds of ways that that first impression can be what drives you to learn the language.
Let’s end on this one here.
Steve: “Genius is one percent inspiration, 99% perspiration.” It always annoys me when people say well, Steve, yeah, you’ve learned a bunch of languages because you’ve got this ability but I don’t.
Steve: I know that you work hard on your Korean.
I work very hard in learning my languages, very hard.
Not hard in the sense that I don’t like doing it, I do.
It’s very enjoyable and I think that’s important that you enjoy it, but I put in a lot of time.
Steve: And if people would put in the time and if they have the attitude, some of the attitudes that came through our proverbs of being positive and interested.
But if they put in the time, the effort, the perspiration, they’ll be geniuses.
Steve: So I think we can end on that.
Genius is one percent inspiration, 99% perspiration.
It was nice talking to you Steve.
Steve: Hirohide, have we covered the ground for you?
I look forward to getting feedback.
Please give us feedback.
Alex: Yeah, we look forward to it.
And any other recommendations or requests that you guys have please send them to us and we’d be glad to make a podcast about them.
Alex: Thank you.
Steve: Bye for now.