The reality is a lot more nuanced

I came across this article on learning languages through apps such as Duolingo, Memrise, and Babbel — and while you can definitely learn a lot of things from the apps (the amount of time I have made new friends in Istanbul by asking them in Turkish how many cats they have, as what I have learned through Duolingo, is astounding) but it wouldn’t be enough if you want to become fluent or conversational in these other languages other than your own. The entire point of languages are so that you will be able to communicate with other people, so the best thing is to upgrade your lessons where you could speak to others, or preferably the locals. This was the very same lesson I had while learning conversational Turkish by spending countless hours conversing with grocery store owners, simit sellers, and the kids who had been playing football by the streets (who in return, wanted me to teach them English) while I was in Turkey.

Also TIL, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (or CEFR) as a widely-accepted standard for approximating fluency:

The six CEFR levels are necessarily broad and can overlap a bit, but here’s a (very) brief overview of what each means:

At level A1, learners should know basic phrases, be able to introduce themselves and ask simple personal questions, and understand basic interactions if their conversation partner speaks slowly. Level A2 includes understanding common expressions, communicating about routine tasks, and describing simple aspects of the speaker’s background. Together, these two levels make up the Basic stage.

Level B1 starts to introduce more complex ideas like explaining their opinions, dreams, and ambitions, or handling complex tasks while traveling. Level B2 expects speakers to be able to speak with native speakers of a language without straining, and have complex technical discussions related to their field of expertise. These two levels make up the Independent stage.

Finally, a level C1 speaker should be able to communicate flexibly in social, professional, and academic settings, understand a wide variety of topics, and recognize implicit meaning. C2, the highest level, expects the learner to “understand with ease virtually everything heard or read,” and summarize information from different sources. Levels C1 and C2 make up the Proficient stage.

One sentence which caught my interest in the article was when the author mentioned, “The reality is a lot more nuanced than that” in reference to the effectiveness of these apps in order to pick up new languages.

Full-disclosure: I can be very impatient when it comes to the progress of my own learning. I have no idea where I have internalised this tough mindset on my own practice, but what I have noticed if I am learning something new and I haven’t gotten good enough in a few months, I’d feel demotivated and worse, I’d abandon the project. This is very funny as I am always advocating people that “Rome is not built in a day! Track your progress! Cherish every little achievement!” yet here I am. I am not sure if it’s due to my Asian upbringing, or previous tough work/study environments, or the fact that every day I am exposed to successful people doing successful things on social media — that I forgot, underneath all these facades were hours and hours of failed attempts till they got good. It’s easy to often forget that, so I need to learn to embrace about being bad for as long as it takes (but do I have that privilege — that’s another question)

Jason Segel in his interview, via Austin Kleon:

I’m willing to be bad for as long as it takes, until I’m good….I don’t have a sense of shame. I just don’t. If I’ve hurt someone’s feelings, if I’m mean to somebody, I’ll lament over that for days. I’m that dude. I’ll lose sleep over mundane stuff. But I don’t really have the thing of, “Oh, I’ve embarrassed myself.” I just don’t understand why I would stop trying to play piano even though I’m not good at it. I want to be good at it. So why wouldn’t I keep playing?

More good ones, from the same post of Austin’s (please also visit his blog, it’s delightful). This one is from David Wong’s piece:

Every adult I know — or at least the ones who are depressed — continually suffers from something like sticker shock (that is, when you go shopping for something for the first time and are shocked to find it costs way, way more than you thought). Only it’s with effort. It’s Effort Shock.

We have a vague idea in our head of the “price” of certain accomplishments, how difficult it should be to get a degree, or succeed at a job, or stay in shape, or raise a kid, or build a house. And that vague idea is almost always catastrophically wrong.

Accomplishing worthwhile things isn’t just a little harder than people think; it’s 10 or 20 times harder.

And finally, by Sarah Manguso in her book 300 Arguments:

It isn’t so much that geniuses make it look easy; it’s that they make it look it fast.

I also love this part on this guide by Ilia Blinderman of The Pudding about how to make data-driven visual essays — which is more than working with data (which I am also interested and want to learn!), but also of being patient of your own progress:

It’s worth noting here that this first stage of data-work can be somewhat vexing: computers are great, but they’re also incredibly frustrating when they don’t do what you’d like them to do. That’s why it’s important to remember that you don’t need to worry — learning to program is exactly as infuriating and as dispiriting for you as it is for everyone else. I know this all too well: some people seem to be terrific at it without putting in all that much effort; then there was me, who first began writing code in 2014, and couldn’t understand the difference between a return statement and a print statement. The reason learning to code is so maddening is because it doesn’t merely involve learning a set number of commands, but a way of thinking. Remember that, and know that the little victories you amass when you finally run your loop correctly or manage to solve a particular data problem all combine to form that deeper understanding.

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