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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Drifting in the Wired Age

A few days ago, I had a short but pleasant conversation with an old high school friend who now lives across the country. I haven’t seen this friend in many years, and it was great to hear from her and get a glimpse into her current life.

I asked if she’d kept in touch with any other people we knew from school, to which she replied with, “One or two.”

And it’s kind of weird, once you think about it.

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Stopping vs. Standing Still

Since about March of this year, I’ve been getting back into the habit of exercising. I like to exercise at night, not for any particular reason. I guess it makes me feel like I’m working for my bedtime.

The idea of willingly putting myself through so much torture was, at one time, unheard of. But now, I find myself looking forward to working out more and more. I still don’t entirely identify with people who work out all day every day, but I do set aside about a half-hour five days a week. And, while I don’t exercise a ton, I’m starting to understand how people can get addicted to the feeling.

Sometimes I push myself too hard and too far, resulting in many sore and strained muscles. When I feel pain – not just average “workout” discomfort, but genuine pain – I stop. I have to listen to my body and give it a rest. I don’t give up on exercising entirely, but I’ll allow myself a day or two to heal.

I find this is harder to do with other pursuits; grappling with the idea of stopping versus stopping “for now” can be a challenge. For example, when I’m trying to write something (such as this post), and I’m hit with writer’s block. There are some days where it feels like I should give up completely, but then I have to remind myself: I’m not stopping, I’m just standing still. Stopping implies an end.

It’s okay to take a break once in a while. It’s okay to breathe. There are times when stopping, full-stop, is necessary. There are other times when a pause is all you need.

Just stand still, catch your breath, and keep moving forward.

Perceptions of Perfection

Our standards are higher than ever: we expect the best from everyone at all times, and if one doesn’t rise to the expectations of their peers, they’re criticized.

This is not a new concept. No matter what, people are going to point out what’s wrong with someone else (and will go to great lengths especially if they don’t like you), casually ignoring their own faults.

But what I’m focusing on is this strange air of professionalism that’s permeating everything we do now. This is, in part, because of the internet and how easy it is to scroll through someone’s life. People become so afraid of having their pasts used against them that they erect a massive wall and hide under the shiny veneer of perfection.

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Ink-Stained Hands

I’ve tried journaling by hand in the past, with little effect. Blogging as an activity is easier for me if I’m typing. However, I know the healing power of a good handwritten work (even if it results in an eventual cramp).

There was a time about two years ago when I was at a really low point in my life. I was feeling hopeless and down, and I didn’t know how to approach that. I couldn’t get the angry buzz of negative thoughts out of my head. So, on a whim, I took out a pen and a sheet of paper from my notebook and began writing a letter. It was addressed to a specific person, but in reality I was focusing on myself. The best way I could figure out how I felt was if I pretended I was telling my woes to someone else. Next thing I knew, I had a stack of letters addressed to different people – letters I would never send.

Still, they served as catharsis.

I don’t know if it was a placebo effect and time did the work, but I genuinely believe writing it all out helped me heal faster. I could finally manage a slurry of conflicting emotions I couldn’t vocalize. Attempting to put them down on paper aided me in compartmentalizing those feelings and eventually, moving past them. There are even proven medical benefits to writing by hand versus typing on a screen.

Also, it’s just fun. Picking what color ink you want to use (markers, pen, or pencil?), deciding what type of paper to write on (lined or plain? colorful construction paper or thick oaktag?), or even leaving little doodles in the margins! The act of writing a letter brought me back to grade school in a way, when slipping notes across desks behind the teacher’s back was so exciting and taboo.

It made me feel better just on principle. However, I haven’t given a handwritten letter in a long, long time. I barely even scribble my name down anymore, thanks to technology.

Hmm. This blog is great and all, but maybe I should brush up on my letter writing skills…