Learn a language.
I don’t mean a programming language (although the theory probably still holds). I mean a bone fide foreign language like French, German, Japanese or Mandarin.
By going outside of your comfort zone, you stimulate your brain into new realms. But more importantly, you experience once again what it’s like to be a novice learner.
Now YOU are the one on a steep learning curve.
It’s daunting. It’s awkward. And it’s humbling.
As a teenager I developed a fascination for the German language. I think it stemmed from my love of history and my desire to understand what the enemy soldiers were saying in the movies.
Over the years I dabbled by doing a class, listening to tapes, buying an English-German dictionary and reading a few language books.
However it wasn’t until recently when I planned to revisit Germany that I made a conscious effort to give it another red hot go. I didn’t want to be one of those tourists who’s first words are inevitably: “Do you speak English?”
No, I wanted to understand – and be understood – auf Deutsch. At least enough to get by.
And I did all right. But in no uncertain terms I reminded myself of what works and what doesn’t in the learning process.
All those fundamental pedagogical principles that had faded into the background came flooding back with avengeance…
Instructivism and formal learning
When you’re a novice in a domain, the guidance of an expert is golden.
For example, the teacher at the front of a language classroom already knows the grammar, vocabulary, phrases, habits and customs that you need to know. He or she is in a prime position to provide you with a programmed sequence of knowledge.
In my opinion, there is no other way of getting up to speed so quickly.
Constructivism, connectivism and informal learning
While instructivism and formal learning are valuable, they comprise only one piece of the puzzle. Anything else you can access is invaluable – whether it be a copy of Der Spiegel, an episode of Inspector Rex, or a Twitter buddy in Berlin.
The motivated learner who extends the learning process beyond the formal curriculum is destined for mastery.
You can learn about a language until the Friesian cows come home, but to acquire the skill you have to actually do it. From simply saying new words aloud, through role plays, to full-blown conversation cafes, the objective is to practise.
Make mistakes, improve your pronunciation, get the vocab front of mind.
OTJ, PBL and job aids
Developing a skill is a waste of time if you never apply it in the real world. At some stage you need to immerse yourself in the environment (in my case, Germany) and actively participate (eg order food, buy train tickets, ask for directions). In doing so, you continue to learn.
When you are in the moment, job aids – especially mobile job aids – become indispensable. I gave Google Translate a beating!
Use it or lose it
Repetition is key. I’m not referring to rote learning, but rather to the continual application of the knowledge.
When I was overseas, I must have looked up the same words six or seven times each; they weren’t very common.
On the other hand, other words were everywhere. I only needed to look those up once; they were naturally reinforced thereafter.
Now that I’m back in Oz, I know that I’ll lose much of my German unless I find ways to keep up the reading, writing, listening and conversing.
Of course, I realise I’m not telling you – a fellow learning professional – anything you don’t already know. But honestly, when was the last time you consciously used the concepts and principles I have just mentioned to inform your work?
During the daily grind it’s easy to slip into production mode and put your brain into hibernation. As a profession, we need to shock ourselves out of that state.
It’s time to put some skin back in the game, so why not learn a language?
Wer wagt, gewinnt!