11 Things to Let Go: Forget the Old Ways

Written by Yuri Karabatov | Follow me on Twitter

This post was inspired by Reverb10.com, where you are encouraged to write 750 words (or about 3 pages) every day on a given topic which allows you to reflect on the year 2010 and manifest your expectations for 2011. Seems a great idea to me!

Today the topic is “11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011”. It won’t be only about me, but about you too, and many others who start on a new language and, to be true, sometimes fail miserably. Here’s to our success!

1. Wasted time

We spend dozens of hours a month doing nothing worthy. We are checking Facebook and Twitter, reading news or, the worst, watching TV hour after hour.

Instead, hang a sign right above your display (or put a wallpaper on your desktop) saying “Is this worth doing?” Ask yourself this question as often as you can. If what you’re doing at the moment is not worth your time, drop it immediately and start doing something meaningful.

In fact, you can use every minute of your day to practice your target language. Take Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 Months: he usually checked flashcards or read through a list of irregular verbs while standing in a queue or a lift. Remember: every minute is important, and you will be impressed at how much time you can squeeze out of a day if you don’t waste it.

2. The word “Boring”

You know it. Boring exercises, boring grammar, boring rules, boring dialogues. Boring study won’t take you anywhere: you’re bored because you have to pay attention to what you’re not interested in.

So, what to do? Make what you’re studying interesting! Use the most interesting material you can find. The best one is one which you would be reading anyway — even in your native language. The rule of thumb here is to use anything that you’re keen on: if you like drawing, read drawing lessons in the target language; if you like cooking, find recipes in the target language.

Most people’s hobbies are not rare, so there’s almost a 100% chance of finding the material you need in the language you’re learning.

Studying this material, which you’re passionate about, will never be boring, believe me.

3. Silence

Silence, or inability to speak, is the result of embarrassment on account of making mistakes and being laughed at. Don’t worry, everyone makes mistakes!

Fear should be overcome by action, so believe me, once you start speaking, nothing will stop you, and even you will have mistakes, you’ll laugh at them with the person you are talking to, and laughter, as you know, makes friends.

Let’s speak up next year and break the silence. May not embarrassment and fear stop you! No one is perfect, and that’s OK!

4. Poor memory

I’ve discussed this in “The Simplest Way to Improve Memory”, but sleep alone will make your memory only so much better. In order to really pump it up you have to train it, just like muscles.

I believe memory training is the single most underrated way of studying a new language. By knowing how to remember more and how to transfer this knowledge into long-term memory, we can really speed up learning.

So let’s make next year the year of opportunity to learn more than we thought possible. In a short while I will start posting a series of articles on how exactly to enhance your memory capacity and how to remember things more effectively.

5. Inner zombie

This one is about sleep. Most of us do not notice the symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation, which hinders our memorizing abilities, makes us irritable and looking like a zombie. I wrote about it in “The Simplest Way to Improve Memory”.

Next year we will not give way to the zombie! Let’s banish it from our bodies by being energetic and creative!

6. Lack of confidence

A lot of people think when they are learning a new language, that they are not good enough. Not good enough to speak first, or to write a Christmas postcard. Why? Because they are embarrassed.

Next year we will not be embarrassed about anything. Speaking first or writing a postcard won’t kill you, seriously! If you make a mistake, no one will laugh at you! If they will, laugh at them in return, they don’t mean any harm, really.

You shouldn’t be embarrassed about making mistakes, no one is perfect. Did you know that Chinese sometimes forget the simplest hieroglyphs, like “sneeze”? Check out David Moser’s “Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard” for more goodness. The Chinese themselves are not embarrassed about it, so you shouldn’t be too.

7. Thick wordbooks

This is a plague which hits mostly the students of beginner to intermediate level. It certainly hit me when I was just starting on English a long time ago.

When you make a step away from your textbook, you come across lots of new words which you have an urge to write down into your thick copybook.
A thick wordbook is a great device to be keeping a part of your memory in and never use it. You see, you can’t just write down all the words, you have to work with them, which is excruciatingly hard when they are all crammed into a copybook.

Instead, use some computer software or just separate sheets of paper or, even better, flashcards to actually work with words, not store them. They don’t magically appear in your head after you write them down, you know. Only seeing them once in a while helps, and flashcards or separate sheets of paper work best.

8. Stupid goals

The store of motivation inside you which keeps you going is limited, you can’t slice it too thin. That’s why you can’t let your motivation store deplete, because it’s extremely hard to recharge it.

Accomplished goals work wonders for motivation, but only if they’re not stupid. Stupid goals include such as “finish this chapter in the textbook”, “learn this dialogue by heart” or “know 1000 words”. These will not take you anywhere!

Instead, next year remember that language is meant for using, not studying a thousand words of it. So set up smart goals like “have a chat in [target language] with that girl next door” or “understand lyrics for the song of [your favorite musician]”. Smart goals mean measuring the language in terms of the real world. And it’s much more fun!

9. Adapted texts

I’ve always thought of adapted texts like of crude surrogates to the original. It’s like chewing a thin hamburger instead of a hearty steak. It’s drinking instant coffee instead of freshly ground and made in a coffee pot: you get caffeine but no taste. By reading adapted texts you get the information but no author.

I think you should read the original or shouldn’t read the text at all. There are original texts for any level — kids’ tales are written in the easiest language and are a treat to read. Much better than the sterile adapted texts.

10. Translations

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything about translations in general, and I would have missed a lot of books if there were no translations.

I’m talking about getting rid of the middle man when you are capable of understanding the author yourself. For me reading the original texts was one of the most powerful motivators in studying English and German, and I think it will inspire other people as well.

It’s hard enough to understand the author if your command of the language is not good enough, but it becomes easier every day, which will motivate you.

The originals will become a real treat when you know the language at a good level. You will notice puns and wordplay which wasn’t in translations because the translator had a tight schedule, was sleepy and didn’t notice wordplay. You will see wordplay which is untranslatable to your native language. You will notice the rhythm and beauty of the author’s language which was lost in translation.

After that, you won’t look back. Make next year the year of the originals.

11. The word “Hard”

Common knowledge says language learning should be hard. Who listens to common knowledge anymore? The teachers at school made you think that you had to work hard to learn anything — and you really did because of the grind of repetition.

Now that you’re out in the world you know that they were wrong. Learning a language was never hard until the teachers made it so. Now you can make it easy again, and fun.

I don’t say you will magically learn the language in one night, no, you will have to put in work — but to you it will be easy and fun, because you will be studying on your own terms, and using the material which you had chosen yourself.


Do you see how much can be improved without actually studying? Learning a language is a tough challenge and you have to know a lot of things beside the language itself to succeed.

I will help you and myself on the way to greatness and being fluent. New year is on its way, it’s time to make resolutions, and some of those 11 things might just be the one to nudge you in the right direction.

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