Learning the Right Way

At the start of this year, I was practicing two languages – French and Spanish – and mainly used Duolingo to keep on top of my daily studies (I’ve since dropped French and have been focusing solely on Spanish).

While my Spanish to begin with isn’t too bad – thanks to many years of language class in school – it still helps to keep up with it. However, as the days drag on, I find myself more focused on “getting it out of the way” rather than truly taking in the language. My vocabulary is extensive. My practical grasp on the language, one the other hand, is not.

Once you get into a certain habit, it becomes second nature. Unfortunately in a lot of cases, that also means you’re just going through the motions. You do it because that’s what you do. It’s a simple matter to open up a phone app, reach your (or the app’s) goal, and carry on about your day. It becomes second nature in a bad way, and instead of absorbing it all, you’re doing it with no real useful outcome. In some ways, you’re making it harder on yourself because you need to go back and re-learn it.

I’m not saying that practice is bad. Far from it. At times it can be very helpful and in this particular situation, my vocabulary has grown, and that’s not a negative. But to blindly follow along with something just because, you forfeit (and often forget) important critical thinking that allows you to truly learn.

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, we were taught (lol) about the dangers of rote memorization, or “chalk and talk” as it was so lovingly referred. Practice is fine. Blind practice is not. You learn nothing but how to hone your short-term memory, how to pass a test, and how to forget whatever it was immediately after. This is a lesson I have to remember with myself and my personal goals, and not just when it comes to learning a topic like with Spanish.

With that in mind, I (we) need to take a more proactive approach to active learning. In order to escape the tedium of blind practice, it’s important to step up and step out. How else are we to learn if we don’t give ourselves a chance?

 

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