Culture | Language | Learning

Breaking the Norm

I’ve been skimming the surface with the French language for eleven months now. Eleven months of daily lessons on the Duolingo app, making sure I hit the bare minimum and some days a little bit more. And as you might expect I’ve learned the basic words that they repeat in their lessons, struggle a bit with the same hurdles, and plod along in language limbo.

I’ve noticed a similarity with the writing, where I write the blog and a little bit more most days, but then switch off to my job or chores or some distraction like computer chess. As with learning French I know that the writing would benefit deeply from immersion, but when you stack up other things that draw your attention you remain in writing limbo.

It seems to me that there’s never been a better year for deep work than 2020. We’re all stuck here in this strange, socially-distanced limbo. Home improvement projects have skyrocketed. Hiking and biking have become hugely popular, and pool and hot tub sales have broken records. Binge watching programs took over where going to the movies left off. There’s never been a shortage of distractions in 2020, the only shortage is focus.

If immersive, visceral experience triggers deep learning, then wouldn’t it make sense to place yourself in an environment where this can be achieved? Well, sure. I’ve watched my nephew become deeply proficient in Spanish through immersion after years of studying it and now teaching it. There’s no doubt that immersion is better than independent study. But what if you don’t have the time and agility to pluck yourself out of your current life into another? Are you doomed to living in limbo with the thing you wish to master?

I think the answer comes down to commitment level and grabbing the opportunities that come your way. Break the norm! Don’t skate through life. We let many opportunities slip away in a lifetime, don’t we? But when we really want something we find a way to get it. When the student is ready the teacher will appear. Being open to immersive and visceral experiences while investing more deeply in the experiential track we’re on seems the answer. Do the work necessary to get where you want to be. Make methodical progress with an eye towards diving in the deep end when the opportunity arises.

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