Language Learning, Article 14: Inertia - how it can help you... or ruin you! By David Bolton
Learn a Foreign Language by speaking




Inertia - how it can help you... or ruin you!

You probably remember the definition of "inertia" from high-school physics class. But just in case you don't, here it is:

"The tendency of a body to resist acceleration; the tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest or of a body in straight line motion to stay in motion in a straight line unless acted on by an outside force."

    What applies to a body in space can also describe our own tendencies in many areas of life. The area of learning a foreign language is no exception. Imagine that you are sitting in front of the TV, watching some show. You look at your watch, and realize that it is time for you to begin your daily language-learning session. Yet even though the show doesn't interest you very much, you still hesitate. That armchair is just SO comfortable, and it's so easy to simply stay there where you are, and not pick up a language book! Inertia has you in its grip. You know you should act, and begin to learn, but you tend to "remain at rest", even if it is a waste of time. What you need is an "outside force" to "act upon you" so that you begin doing what you know is worthwhile.

   Don't expect a magical hand to come along and give you a shove - and let's face it, if it did, you'd probably resent it, and resist all the more. The most powerful force at your service at such times is your own willpower. If you tell yourself you will now get your book and start to learn, half the battle against laziness is won; when you then actually get up and act on your desire, you've got it made!

    What often gets in our way in this type of situation is our own inner dialogue. You see, there are times when, although we don't utter an audible word, we are, in fact, "talking" too much!

    The conversation is, of course, an internal one, and may follow a line similar to this one:

    "Yeah, I really should learn now, I know I had planned to do a half-hour every day, and I won't have time if I wait too long, but I am so comfortable now, I really don't feel like it. Alright, I could discipline myself, but is it really necessary? After all, I won't be going to Europe until next summer, that gives me six more months... big deal if I don't learn anything today, I can always do twice as much tomorrow. Oh, that's right, I've got a lot of other things to do tomorrow, but then the day after tomorrow I should have more than enough time. And hey, is learning a lot now really so important? So what if I don't know that much by the time I get to Europe, I can probably learn all I'll need to know when I get there... the less I know beforehand, the more of a challenge my trip will be, and having a good challenge is good for the spirit....blah, blah, blah!"

    In the time it takes you to think of all the reasons why it's not imperative for you to start learning now, you could have easily stood up, fetched your book, and learned a few vocabulary words. Instead, you've wasted time inventing excuses that won't bring you an inch closer to reaching your goal of learning your new language. Rather foolish, isn't it?

    The remedy? Simple: when the time comes for you to learn, take Nike's advice: JUST DO IT.  I always suggest that you keep a notebook in which to keep written track of your daily learning sessions. This way, you will be able to follow your progress, and see whether you really are fulfilling your daily "quota" of language study.

    But the first step is to learn to recognize your "negative inner dialogue", and to silence it through action as soon as you see that it is keeping you from doing what you know you should do. By this, I don't mean you should try to suppress it. On the contrary, when you first become aware of the "conversation within" in a specific situation, by all means, listen to what it is saying - but refuse to agree with it! When it says, for example, "I'm too tired to learn now, maybe I should have a nap first...", respond immediately: "Yeah, first I'll learn some new words, then I'll have my nap. That way, my subconscious mind can repeat the material while I'm asleep." Chances are, once you start to learn, you may see that you weren't so tired after all, and can take in even more information before finally having that nap - if you still need it.

    Up till now, we've only talked about the negative aspects of "personal inertia" - how it can "ruin" your best intentions. But remember that there is another side to it: "a body in motion tends to stay in motion". In our language-learning context, this can mean that once you begin your learning session, you may tend to keep on studying for longer than you had expected. Naturally, this will not always be the case: you may have other things planned, or your mind may become weary. But if, on a particular day, you feel especially motivated, don't hesitate to continue learning. Memorize a few extra vocabulary words, go over some verb forms, read a page or so of text, perhaps aloud to work on pronunciation - whatever comes to mind.

    You will have taken an extra step towards your goal of mastery of your target language, and where foreign languages are concerned, the more you know, the more fun it is - that's reason enough to want to progress quickly, isn't it? 

    Don't let inertia become an obstacle to learning - make it your ally instead, and reach your goal all the faster!


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  Mastering a foreign language: "Automating" your thinking processes

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