Steve and Alex – Language Learning Proverbs

Study the transcript of this episode as a lesson on LingQ, saving the words and phrases you don’t know to your database. Here it is!

Steve and Alex continue their discussion on how various different proverbs can be applied to language learning.

Steve: Hi Alex.

Alex: Hi there, Steve.

Steve: You know, one of the types of podcasts that we did that seemed to be quite popular was when we talked about different sayings and how they might be applicable to language learning and we got a fairly good response.

Alex: We did.

And I think one of the things about it is it’s nice to hear native speakers talk about native expressions and explain them and relate them, so we’ll continue on with that today.

Steve: Okay.

Well, here’s one that I see that has a real application for language learning; perhaps, more so than anything else.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day.” And that’s great.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: First of all, what does it mean?

Alex: The City of Rome, it wasn’t constructed in a single day.

It took hundreds of years.

Steve: Right. I mean that’s at the very, very literal sense.

But, it means that things take time.

Alex: Right, yeah.

Steve: Things take time and, almost, it means anything worthwhile.

Like Rome is this wonderful city or maybe it refers to the Roman Empire.

At any rate, it was a grand project, whatever.

It wasn’t built in a day.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: So, anything that’s really worthwhile takes time.

Would you say that’s the case with language learning?

Alex: I would say that’s the case.

Steve: If there’s one thing, it takes a lot of time.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: It takes a lot of time (A) in terms of the intensity of the time you put in.

Like if you do once a week, forget it.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: You’re not going to get anywhere.

Alex: Right.

Steve: And in terms of the number of months and years that it takes to achieve a high level; to achieve the equivalent of the Roman Empire in your language learning.

Alex: Exactly.

Steve: Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Okay, your turn.

Alex: Here’s another one here.

“Talk is cheap.” This is one that’s used in very many different circumstances, but I would say in this there can be a lot of people who say I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that and not stick to it.

They say well, today I’m going to read a chapter in this book and they get tied down or bogged down or distracted by something else and don’t do it.

I think that’s big.

It really comes down to how active you are in this.

You have to make an effort.

You have to spend the time to actually get something out of it.

Steve: Absolutely, yeah.

Yeah, there are a lot of people, in fact, for whom in some ways the talk isn’t so cheap.

They go into a bookstore and they buy a book on how to learn Swahili, take it home and never open it.

Alex: Yeah. I’ve been there.

Steve: Yeah. Okay, how about “Revenge is sweet”.

“Revenge is sweet.” I mean, we understand the sense here that some people…I don’t think that’s so widely spread, that everybody is looking to get revenge.

It’s a bit like “He who laughs last laughs best”, right?

Like the tortoise and the hare type of thing, which isn’t quite revenge.

Because we always sort of stretch these around to make them applicable to language learning, I think what is true here is, maybe getting to the tortoise and the hare analogy, it is amazing, the feeling you have when you eventually do achieve some degree of fluency in the language.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: So, in a sense, you’re getting revenge on the language, because when you first start out the language is the winner.

You’re the loser.

You know, you can’t figure it out.

It doesn’t make sense.

It sounds like a blur.

Why do they say things that way?

All the words sound the same.

The grammar rules are impossible.

So, it looks like you’re getting beaten up by the language.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: But if you stick to it, continue to listen and read or do whatever you like to do, eventually, in fact, we do end up beating up the language.

We end up domesticating — taming the language — and so, in that sense, revenge then is very sweet.

Alex: Yeah. Cool.

Here’s another one, “Strike while the iron is hot.” Speaking from personal experience, there are moments where I feel super motivated to do something and there are moments where I feel completely unmotivated to do it.

But the idea of “strike while the iron is hot”, I think this can be applied in the sense of if you’re motivated to do something, at that moment you start.

You do it.

You make your best effort to make that a habit so that then when maybe your motivation is staring to kind of dwindle that you still have this as a habit.

You’ve set it in stone while you were motivated and you can continue on even when you don’t feel motivated.

Steve: I fully agree and I would add two comments.

One is that when you are motivated, because our motivation does fluctuate, then you should just go at it until that motivation peters out.

If it means three hours, four hours that day, just go at it.

You’re in the mood.

The other thing is, as you say, if we take advantage of when we’re motivated, we can develop some good habits which will tide us over when we’re a little bit less motivated.

So, in both senses we’re taking advantage of a situation and we’re striking while the iron is hot.

Here’s one here, “Seek and ye shall find.” Okay?

In all languages, I think there are a lot of sayings like this.

There’s one “God helps those who help themselves.” In other words, you’ve got to go looking for it.

You’ve got to want it.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: In the case of language learning, I’ve often felt this was very important.

I know when I was studying Mandarin in Hong Kong I was constantly at bookstores looking for a new reader that might have some new interesting stories, because in those days we didn’t have LingQ.

We didn’t have online dictionaries.

We had to buy books with glossaries because I sure wasn’t going to use a dictionary, in Chinese especially.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: And so every so often a new book would come out.

It was maybe literature of the 20th century with glossaries or the sayings of Chairman Mao, whatever it might be.

So, I was always seeking out content and I think you also have to seek out the words that you want to learn.

So, if I listen to something and then there are words that I don’t understand then I’m keen to learn those words.

I want to seek out those words.

Whereas, if stuff is given to you, study this.

Yeah, but I’m not interested in that.

Study that.

It’s not something that I sought out.

It’s less effective and, similarly, if I just get a word list.

These are important words, learn them.

I’m not going to learn them.

But, if I’m interested in the subject and these are the words I need to know, that whole idea that I’m going to seek something out, to grab it, to make it mine, is a very powerful sort of learning paradigm.

Let’s put it that way.

Alex: Absolutely. I absolutely agree with that.

Okay, so here’s another.

“The end justifies the means.” As we discussed, very often I would say language learning is a process.

It’s not something that happens overnight.

So, in this same way, the end for most people I would say is fluency, to some degree.

Steve: Yeah.

Alex: Some may say mastery or whatever, proficiency in the language.

And so even though we may achieve that in various roundabout kinds of ways, there are difficult periods where we struggle through it and stuff.

I think the focus on that end of proficiency is what really makes it all worth it.

Steve: Right.

And I agree with you there that whether we use the word mastery, fluency or proficiency, they are somewhat vague terms.

We’re a bit like the proverbial rat on the treadmill, Sisyphus in the cave, we never quite achieve what we think we should achieve.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: I mean that’s the other thing.

The carrot is always out in front of us as we’re trying to get there, but that keeps us going.

I guess, as we’ve said earlier, if you can enjoy the process then you don’t mind being the rat.

Maybe a rat is happy running on a treadmill.

Have you thought of that?

Alex: Maybe.

Steve: Maybe. What else have we got here? “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.”

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: Okay.

I think this gets back to this idea of sometimes we get a little down on ourselves, but with any luck that’s followed by a period where we suddenly feel that we’re doing very well in the language.

Because there are moments when we really think wow, didn’t I do well there, right?

We have moments when we think we’re struggling and we’re not making any progress, but then all of a sudden you run into a group of people who speak the language you’re learning and you have an interesting conversation with them and it lasts for 30-40 minutes, an hour.

You’re exhausted at the end of it and then you say wow, I didn’t do too badly.

So, sometimes when you feel down about your language learning that might just be the darkest hour — just before the dawn when things start to brighten up for you.

Alex: Yeah. Cool. So, maybe we’ll do one more here?

Steve: Sure. I’ve got time for a couple I think.

Alex: Okay. Sure.

So here’s one.

“The boy is father to the man.”

Steve: Okay.

Alex: So, my interpretation of this would be, just in a general sense, that first you’re a boy and then you’re a man.

Steve: Right.

Alex: You have to be a boy before you’re a man and so in language learning you have to be a beginner before you become intermediate or advanced.

Steve: Right.

Alex: That’s a necessary stage, everyone goes there.

So, I think there’s nothing to be embarrassed about being a beginner, having no or very little proficiency in the language, no fluency or not being able to speak off the cuff and stuff like that because everyone is there.

For someone like you, who has knowledge of a dozen languages, if you start up in a language that you don’t know you’re just there.

You’re a beginner, right?

Steve: Right, absolutely. Let’s see now, I’ve got a choice here.

“The fruit does not fall far from the tree.” In terms of language learning, I’ll use an example from my own family.

Of course, my wife speaks five-six languages and I speak a few languages, so we were quite keen that our kids should learn languages.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: And so we tried, especially French.

We’re in Canada.

We tried to get them into French.

They resisted.

Whatever we did to try to get them interested in languages was counterproductive.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: So, in that sense, the fruit did in fact fall far from the tree.

However, Mark played professional hockey, as you know.

Alex: Right.

Steve: He was in Italy and Austria and Switzerland and Japan and so then he realized that in fact speaking languages is quite handy.

He had a real reason to learn these languages because he wanted to talk to his buddies on the team.

They were together all the time and so he then got interested in languages.

And, of course, he’s key in our whole project here at LingQ.

In preparation for his trip to Japan, he’s worked on his French.

I was amazed.

Alex: His trip to France.

Steve: What did I say?

Alex: Japan.

Steve: Oh, sorry.

Sorry, his trip to France, yeah.

So his French is amazing and I know that he was working very hard on his Japanese for a while.

He was reading Harry Potter in Japanese.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: I’m just amazed that with all the resistance we got in trying to get them into languages that now because he’s interested, of course, he’s doing very well.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: So, I guess what I would say there is, just because you’re interested in something doesn’t mean that the people close to you or your children are also going to be interested in it.

Alex: That’s true.

Steve: So, sometimes forcing them can be counterproductive.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: However, if they see a reason and they become motivated then they’ll learn on their own.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: So, I think we’re done with this.

Yeah, we’d be interested in knowing how you liked this.

We’ve got lots of these nowadays.

Just go to a website and find a bunch of proverbs.

Alex: Right.

Steve: So, let us know how you liked this or anything else you’d like to hear about.

Alex: Right. We hope you enjoyed this and we look forward to your comments.

Steve: Thank you, bye-bye.

Alex: Bye-bye.

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