Language learning and golf

There is a well known book on golf called “Golf is not a Game of Perfect” by Bob Rotella (available from Amazon) which points out that striving for perfection in golf will simply make players too nervous and uptight to really improve. If players enjoy the game every time out, they are more likely to improve. Language is a bit like that as I pointed out in my book, The Linguist, A Language Learning Odyssey, also available from Amazon.

In golf most teachers emphasize using the large muscles of the back, hips and thighs, rather than the small muscles in the wrists and hands. The large muscles are more stable, easier to control and give stability to the golf swing. The wrists and hands can come later. In many cases they take care of themselves if the big muscles work properly.

Language is similar.To me the big muscles of language learning are the important words and phrases. The key words that describe people, things, and actions. The small muscles are the details of articles, prepositions, verb or noun endings etc. Unless you have the big pieces in place, the little pieces do not matter.  You can communicate well with a big vocabulary of words and phrases without knowing much about the smaller details.

Many textbooks, however, focus on the small details. My Russian text starts right in with talking about the genitive and dative case and when they are used. The book introduces different tenses and other rules. I just ignore them. If I can learn the words for the key people, things, and actions, that is all I need for now. If I learn the nouns and verbs as parts of phrases that I start to recognize, the little pieces will slowly fall into place. If I read and listen a lot my language will become more and more natural.

But I need to continue listening, reading, observing the language and reviewing words and phrases. I must not just think I have reached my level of competence in the language and then stagnate in the  language as so many people do.

If I keep listening and reading and learning I can continue to ignore the rules, drills and questions and still improve, all the while enjoying my studies, without any pressure to be perfect.

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