Thursday, November 6, 2014

Why You Cannot Be Taught a Foreign Language. Part 18

Counting Crows In Life

The brain is constantly seeking newer and newer irritants. That's the way we are wired. But that's just half the trouble. What's worse is that we can't focus our attention on anything for very long. Or at least it's awfully difficult to do so. Like a lewd man chasing any new skirt, our brain is uncontrollably drawn to new or just fresh impressions.

While sitting in class, the teacher's loud voice will hold our attention for a time, but then any random distraction begins to predominate. A fly shows up in class—our attention is drawn toward it. Someone sneezes—our attention goes toward that. There's some movement outside the window— our glance, like a magnet, is drawn to that place where crows, the inescapable companions of every student, are doing their thing. We think for a while about them... but even the crows don't hold our attention for long. We abandon the crows and their fussing and return to the buzzing fly, then to the buzzing teacher, then to the sneezing, the sniffling or creaks and again back to the cawing crows outside the window. Often, our eyes meaninglessly cast themselves upon the posters and charts and various scientific propaganda covering the walls, causing to well up in us a perplexing light nausea. Our attention grabs on to one thing and then another and then a third, not focusing on any one thing very long. It continues on its customary circle, otherwise known as boredom.

Yes, sir and my dear friend! This is your primary enemy! The main problem that needs to be dealt with when studying a foreign language is the quandary of your attention being scattered; of overcoming the difficulty of prolonged concentration on any task, especially on those endeavours that require significant intellectual effort. Focusing your attention is by far the greatest difficulty you face, much greater than difficulties with memorising words or grammar rules. Compared to this central strategic problem, all other problems and difficulties—in essence, tactical difficulties—take a back seat. If we can manage to deal with this problem, all the remaining tasks will fall into place.

In what way will we deal with this problem of our wandering attention? Thank you for another interesting question, my thoughtful friend! I will attempt to answer it succinctly and to the point—as always.
In the first stage, we will solve this problem through a merciless assault on our brains with endless repetitions of the matrix dialogues pumped through the headphones. Attempts by our brain to sabotage our listening by lulling us to sleep will be neutralised through walking or some similar type of physical activity. Subsequent reading in a clear, loud voice is undoubtedly a form of physical activity, and as a result, the problem with our attention will not emerge.

The problem with our attention most often takes place while reading or watching films. To some degree, this can be resolved by choosing interesting materials to read and view. You must only read books and watch films that ignite in you a genuine interest. If you enjoy detective books and films, read detective books and watch detective films. If you like reading romance novels with muscular hunks on the cover, read them! Yes, ma’am!

No one has the right to tell you what you should read in your studied language! If you have a weakness for stuffy, high-minded literature, then read stuffy, high-minded literature! If you have a tendency toward gutter press of the lowest level, then read it! Just don't tell anyone! Just read it! We'll just let it be our own little secret! There's just one rule here: read a lot and enjoy it!

The key word here is ‘mileage’. You must read miles and miles of pages in your studied language! All that I have mentioned above goes for films, too, thanks to the fact that a large number of films can be obtained (regular films and documentaries) according to your interests: war, history, religion, fantasy, geography, nature, science, etc., all in your target language, of course...

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

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