Self-Study and Commitment

Some of my thoughts (that were originally) about commitment and self-studying, even when you are taking a language course from a school.

I'll get the post for the last lesson done soon, but my head hurts, and I've been feeling sapped of energy since Friday. It was pretty bad yesterday. I don't think I am sick (at least not in the usual you-have-a-cough/cold/flu sense), but I did get an MC for yesterday. Today, I'd decided to work from home, since, anyway, I didn't think anyone will want me to show up if I look even a bit sick, with the current coronavirus situation.

1. Self-Study

This was prompted by my chat with 2 of my classmates (not the 2 friends that I signed up with because one of them has a car and they both live near enough that one usually gets a ride from the other) on the way back home. We were taking the same train. (Not really a train if you consider what other countries consider as a "train". More of the metro or subway. I only realise this because of learning other languages. Who would have thought.)

The first classmate is Audrey and the second classmate is Erica. (These are obviously not their real names; I pulled 2 names out of thin air.)

Audrey is about my age I would think, possibly older. I'm not sure because she does act more mature and dresses more maturely, but I always dress as I always have, in T-shirt and jeans. Nothing too out of the ordinary, it happens that I can still wear jeans to work, working in the software industry. Though I usually put on something more formal than a T-shirt.

Erica is older. She's retired, so I'd say she's in her late 50s or even 60s. It's quite hard to tell for sure.

Audrey has learnt Japanese before, first during a secondary school days, and after a break, later again. I get the impression it was after university. And she also did Korean before, around 5-6 years ago. That is how she learnt of this school, because she learnt under this school's current head teacher in a different school back then.

She said that she preferred the head teacher, and not our current teacher. While acknowledging that she doesn't know if it's the case any more, she said the head teacher used to always give a review of the previous lesson, and would engage students outside of class by sending them messages throughout the week on KakaoTalk. (We also have a KakaoTalk group, but it's usually for announcements, and the one time we got a message it was something we were "forewarned" that it was part of our homework.)

I would agree that the exercise felt inorganic since... actually, it came as a surprise, as the teacher told us about it 2 lessons ago, and not last lesson. But she might have forgotten and so did it only after the last lesson. Having the 2 weeks break also meant that it came as a surprise. I gave a scripted answer (in that it was a phrase that we learnt in class). The question was what we were doing at that moment. I said I was working.

The fact was, I was at work, but not at that point in time working. It was lunch, I'd just returned to the office, and one of my colleagues was about to give a presentation. But that's not something that we learnt and I wasn't about to bother with trying to even try at that point. I guess I'm still obsessed with giving the right answer always.

That's something I've yet to fully accept - that in language learning, you are supposed to get it wrong first, then to get corrected and burn it into your memory after. (This applies to other forms of learning - whenever you are learning something new, in fact.) I can do it on my own - I'm fine with failing to get a flashcard right, but if I have to do it in front of others, it becomes a problem. I know it intellectually; I just can't bring myself to do it.

During the lesson itself, we found out (since it was the last class, and we were talking about who was continuing into the next term) that there was another class at the same level, just 2 weeks behind, on another day of the week. But the head teacher was taking that class. It was Audrey's question, both about another class, and who was taking it.

I couldn't interpret Audrey's expression to the reply from out teacher then, but I think it was her that asked the other classmate who'd joined in the middle of our class (and thus doesn't need to pay the fees yet) if she'd transfer. That girl said no.

In our after-class discussion, Audrey followed up by saying that she simply doesn't have time to self-study. Because of her past experience with the head teacher, she had this expectation that there wasn't a need to self-study.

I figured that Audrey very likely wanted to transfer to that other class, on hearing that it was the head teacher who was teaching it.

Up to that point, with Audrey's praises, I was wondering if it would be beneficial to try that teacher, more for the experience than anything else. But once I heard that this was her conclusion, it kind of scared me.

I think it's a common misconception that anyone can teach you a language. You have to learn it for yourself.

People can guide you, point you in the right direction. But ultimately, it's something that you must take charge of. There are so many facets to language. Its breadth and depth. The associated nuances and culture. It's impossible to get everything you need from a class, from a teacher. Part of it is because what each person needs isn't the same.

I said that I signed up thinking ahead, knowing that self-study was required. I didn't know it when I started with French at the university. (Let's not talk about Japanese here because that was much further back, but I doubt any of this would have come into my mind as a 13-year-old - it would have been simply another subject at school that I'd had to study for.)

I don't know for sure what it was that led me to start learning langauges differently. I only know that there was my exchange, and when I was there, I was more dedicated to learning langauges then I'd been before, and when I returned home, that was what I brought with me. Lingvist, Memrise, Duolingo. It was there that my streaks started to grow, that I started to become more consistent.

Perhaps it came about because I felt like I had to do something about my French, being in a French-speaking country, but not taking any French course. (I'd been placed in a B2/C1 course that wasn't a regular course but more focused on a specific humanitarian project, and so intimidated that I'd dropped it after the first class and the first assignment that required me to summarise the presentation that first day.) I was also taking Italian at that point, but I do not think it factored much into my deciding to start doing self-study.

This habit served me well. When I returned and took German, it was different. There were vocab tests that you had to study for. More like quizzes, they were more frequent that the mid-term and end-of-term tests.

Perhaps it's just me now, knowing what I know from my experience, that I can't comprehend how anyone can think that they can learn a language by having - relying - on someone teaching it to them.

Erica said that she does self-study now. Apparently, that student that disappeared just before Christmas? He had asked her (and another older middle-aged classmate) whether they did. They said they had, and that was when he prompty stopped showing up. Thus Erica suspects that he stopped because he couldn't keep up.

She didn't know, or consider, that it would be needed when she signed up. But she realised that it was necessary. She definitely is getting better - I've noticed she's much more fluent than before, back in the foundation class. I'm happy for her.

2. Commitment

The other thing that we talked about was commitment. Erica remarked that she's signing up for a third term. She said she is continuing because it continues to be fun, and that she chose this school after carefully considering a few others because it seemed like the classes would be the most enjoyable.

This even though the journey to the school takes well over an hour. (It takes about an hour for me, so it is not near either, but in my initial consideration, the only reason was to join my friends, so picking another school would not have been a choice.)

I said that once I started this, I knew I'd be in for the long haul. At least 2 years, to get to an intermediate level at this one-lesson-a-week pace.

Strictly speaking, that is not correct. It was when I started Beginner 1A (the second term) that I knew I was in for the long haul. The first 8 foundation lessons were the period for testing whether it was something I'd want to learn, whether the classes would be enjoyable. Once it went beyond that, I knew I would want to stick with it at least until I was at an intermediate level, where I would not lose the language anymore.

Erica said that she would continue as long as she's not bored. She did not plan for anything beyond that.

I think that's a fair position to take, especially if it's your first L2 language, and you don't know what you're in for.

Audrey didn't say much about this, or none that I recall. But instead I'll talk about one of my friends, who is stopping after this semester.

She said that her finances were tight (as she did last lesson), and so she didn't want to continue. My intuition said there was something else, so I pressed. I said she should continue, we (both the other friend and I) offered to pay for her classes. He offered last week when she first mentioned this, and clearly she didn't accept. So I said it could be a loan, because perhaps she didn't want to be in debt to anyone. I said that if she stopped now, she'd be behind us by at least a cycle.

She said that she had a part-time job that is about 1/2 an hour after our class ends, and so it's a bit of a rush. She could always take private lessons in future to catch up. I got the message that she didn't want to continue, for whatever reasons.

My intuition tells me that one of the real reasons is because she thinks that she can't keep up. There's a lot more things (not just what happened in class, but also beyond that, in the past) that leads me to this conclusion. I take the "I can take private lessons" part to be that she's not thinking of continuing. Possibly not for ever.

I wonder how it can be like this, that she didn't plan to continue? Even if is hard, especially if it is hard, is the response to stop pushing forward? She was the one who found this school, who signed up first. It was her who told my other friend about it, and I overhead, and that's why we started taking the lessons.

I hesitate to say that this is fully a commitment issue, but more of a... planning issue.

Beyond counting the monetary cost for taking the lessons, there is also the time commitment. The time commitment is beyond the 90 minutes of class every week. There is travel time too. But as I mentioned earlier, the self-study time has to be accounted for.

Then again, if we're talking about commitment, I don't engage with the culture, so am I really one to talk? These people are learning Korean because they were interested in the culture. For me it starts more as an... intellectual exercise?

But on the subject of commitment, is this now the norm? To start something, but not finish it? Did I read somewhere that this is the result of a culture that accepts only instant gratification thanks to social media, or is my mind now so tired it's piecing random things together?

I know I am guilty of this too. I start learning too many things but never finish them. Books, and online courses especially...

This brings me back to a conversation with a colleague about a year ago. Whether this happened in person, or over our work chat, I am uncertain. Perhaps both.

He was talking about the context of the sailing club that he's in, how it's turned into an old men's club. Why? The younger generation isn't interested in the commitment it takes to learn about sailing, to learn about taking care of the boat, all those things that take many weeks of commitment. They would only commit to the short-term.

That colleague is rather young; he's in his mid-thirties. He is also considered a millennial. He recommended, I believe, that they offer shorter-term commitments, only a month, for example.

The other thing I mentioned in passing above, was about committing when things get tough. I like my comfort zone, but that doesn't mean that I stop when I meet the first hurdle. Learning anything is difficult until you have learnt it.

I definitely have more to say on this, and may revisit this topic again in the future when my head isn't spinning nearly as much. I know the last few paragraphs have started becoming more incoherent, and it's plenty obvious that my mind isn't clear at all. :(

I shall end by leaving a link to a video that the colleague I mentioned above shared when he was talking about millennials. It is a talk by Simon Sinek, titled Most Leaders Don't Even Know the Game They're In.

Edit (April 12, 2020): I found out sometime at the end of March that my friend who stopped was going to start lessons at another Korean language school (with the irony that it's nearer to my house... and very far from hers, while the original language school was much nearer to her place and far from mine).

However, I don't know if she did start those lessons since I've not seen her with church services and other gatherings being banned, and I generally don't text her. I also think that her class was likely cancelled after maybe the first lesson or stopped due to the new measures which is in effect a lockdown where all non-essential businesses are not supposed to operate due to Covid-19.

The point is, I was a little bit hasty to judge for various reasons, it seems that money was at least one of her considerations and should not have been dismissed entirely the way I wanted to. For this other school, she is able to make use of some government-given funds to pay for it, so she doesn't have to pay out of her pocket.


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