Friday, December 12, 2014

The Necessity of Necessity (the reprise, part one of two)

So we're just working our way into this new blog. Check out our other endeavor here. When that one got started, it was super rough, but now it has taken shape and I've gotten into a routine with it: when to post what and there's even entire series of posts and quite a history over the past year or more, and there's tons more to come. 
This one, on the other hand, is still in the early stages and is yet to grow into its full form; it needs arms and legs and other appendages, like sections for links and series and sections and patterns, but we'll get there eventually. For now, posts will probably be on Wednesdays and Fridays, the days that FFT isn't getting its posts, but that could change. Who knows?
Anyway... 
It's often said that necessity is the mother of invention, but she also makes pretty good language students too. 
Ages ago, there was this project. 
It was a failure, for a number of reasons, but it was quite interesting still. I still like the idea, and I'd like to try it again under more ideal circumstances. 
The issue with that statement, I suppose was that the project was meant to be difficult and inconvenient and complicated. The three participants (me and two others) decided on Hebrew as a language equally unfamiliar to all of us, one that wouldn't provide much opportunity for speaking, and was generally understood to be difficult. And it proved to be, in just about every way.
This post was the very last of that project, and I'd like to address the idea again here. 
The greatest disadvantage in that project was that I'd recently moved halfway around the world and was spending most of my time with day-to-day things and dealing with getting more comfortable with Chinese and my new environment.
While I've settled in here in the past four or five years since then, I have also gotten
much busier. I don't know that I could take on a project like that these days without good reason, a reason aside from "that would be fun," or interesting or challenging or different. 
In most cases, you need to need it.
And sometimes that isn't even enough. I know people who have lived in Taipei for a decade or more and just haven't gotten around to learning Chinese. 
On the other hand, there are people who are just incredibly self-motivated and make a good, steady, consistent habit of learning and studying and latching onto a language and the culture, and they do well. But let's talk about necessity. 
It does a few things, quite obviously. It gives you pressure, puts you on a deadline, and gives motivation, which is obviously more important for those who are less self-motivated. It also gives focus and direction to your study. Obviously, not every phrase book or textbook you pick up suits your needs, so if you know where and why you'll be speaking, you can target those areas. That's pretty obvious. What I believe (or have found to be most difficult for me in the past) is finding or keeping that motivation. 
Before trips to Italy or Thailand in the past few years, I'd been able to spend the few months prior to departure brushing up on Thai and Italian. The latter comes much easier to me, as I suppose it would for any westerner, but especially so for me because I took five years of Latin starting in middle school. Thai was much slower going, but I have to say that perhaps the greatest motivation the second or third time around is anticipating the sense of accomplishment you get from successfully communicating in a foreign tongue. And if you're there for long enough, your daily progress is palpable. It's thrilling. 
But then, as ends the relaxing and refreshing vacation, so do the ideal circumstances for the study of your target language. Then it's back to the real world and the daily grind and it's easy to let all your hard work and all that satisfaction fall by the wayside and get drowned out by life. That is why as of now, I can barely speak a word of Italian or Thai. In contrast, I speak Chinese more often than English these days, and my Chinese has therefore done nothing but steadily improve. 
I use it every day, not just to buy breakfast or greet neighbors, but at work, in meetings, or in conversations with one of my closest friends here about physics or classical music or cooking or anything. I took piano lesson for a couple of years in Chinese. But as soon as I come back from traveling abroad, it's done. 
I've wanted to get back on the horse with another foreign language lately. In the past, I've almost always had a language project in some stage of progress or development, but not really now, and I want to change that. It's part of the reason I finally got this site started. I'd been thinking about it for a while, and here we are. My biggest challenge, though, has been creating, or fabricating, necessity, and that's what we'll talk about next time. 

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