Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why You Cannot Be Taught a Foreign Language. Part 25

Guilty as Charged, or Did You Wash Your Hands Before Dinner?

Many people have successfully overcome the standard, flawed and dead-end system of foreign language learning, and as a result, they know their foreign language very well (or even a few foreign languages). Nevertheless, they do experience some residual guilt over their successes.

Misconceptions about the proper approach to the study of foreign languages is so deeply ingrained in us that we feel that such unusual success is somehow wrong, that we’ve cheated, that the path we intuitively chose and followed only brought us success by accident. In some strange way, we feel that we have broken some sacred laws.

Most likely, this takes place because we simply do not have the mental fortitude to face the truth and understand it clearly. The standard system of learning foreign languages has been built on unspoken half-truths, lies and outright deception (I'm not talking about foreign language schools, which, for all their flaws, do quite a good job).

Those of us who speak foreign languages usually choose to blame ourselves unfairly (despite our obvious successes) and refrain in cowardly fashion from accusing the entire gargantuan system with its legions of representatives. That would be too difficult for us. We prefer not to pit ourselves against the system. After all, you and I were taught for so long that we must behave, wash our hands before eating, sit quietly and not make any noise and not disturb the order that was established eons ago. We were taught that the majority is always right, that our minuscule individual interests must be pushed aside in the interests of the countless others. We blame ourselves, and therefore we are so willing to believe in the arbitrariness of our success in learning a foreign language that we even want to convince ourselves of this. We want to convince ourselves that we have mastered the language not in spite of the system and not by challenging it. We want to convince ourselves that we really did do as we were told: we sat quietly, diligently doing our homework, continuing to behave, always fast in raising our hands to answer our wise teachers’ questions, so we have nothing whatsoever to be scolded for.

We, who beat the system, quite sincerely think that others—as if we could redeem our imaginary guilt through them!—must humbly take these useless, traditional courses, foolishly gazing at their grammar books (the ones that make us yawn—how could they not?), mindlessly completing mountains of endless, idiotic grammar exercises, memorising things pulled out of thin air, listening to recordings with ‘secret signals’ produced by charlatans, that is, to do exactly what is necessary for achieving complete failure in learning a language.

From the very beginning, we’re inclined to doubt the strength, will and common sense of beginners who have just embarked on studying a foreign language. We are almost certain that they will suffer a crushing defeat in their collision with the mighty system. We even want that—as if their defeat will somehow remove any guilt from our ‘incorrect’ successes!

By the way, why am I saying ‘we’? I do not consider that you, my friend, are weak or incapable of a good fight. I believe in you! Otherwise, why would I be spending our precious time in conversation over two cups of lotus blossom tea? I believe you will find the strength within you to tear off those sticky, tight shackles of the rotten system, brush away all the blinders from your eyes, those deceptive ideas that try to force you to kneel before those false idols that have been moulded from the rattled phrases and rotten threads of pseudo-logic and multi-coloured candy wrappers from the ranks of ‘authorities’ sprinkled throughout the system. I'm sure you will be able to identify the omissions, to distinguish truths from half-truths and outright malicious lies. You, my friend, will have enough youthful energy, persistence, self-discipline and intuition for the task at hand!

I am confident that you will certainly, without any feelings of guilt, emerge from the worthless, mouldy system, into this still new and unexplored world—a place of originality and freshness, the world of a foreign language...

[Via Language Tai-chi, or You Cannot Be Taught a Foreign Language, by Nikolay Zamyatkin]

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