The importance of context in learning

“You can only learn what you already know,” Sufi Proverb.

In preparation for my trip to Sweden, I added “Carolus Rex”, the 32 CD audio book of Ernst Brunner’s biography of Charles XII of Sweden, to iTunes, and downloaded it to my iPod. I thought of taking the book “Karl XII”, a 440 page biography of the king by Bengt Liljegren, which I had bought on a previous trip to Sweden,  but knowing that I would inevitably buy books on my trip, I left it behind. I did start reading it, though, and found it a little tough going.

When in Sweden, I listened to quite a few chapters of the audio book, understanding most of it, but missing a lot. I also bought a new book, a biography of Carl Piper (Charles XII’s closest adviser) and his wife Christina, (“Christina och Carl Piper, En biografi”) by Svante Norrhem, which I read quite a bit of on the plane back, looking up words in a Swedish-English dictionary I had downloaded for my iPod Touch.

Now I am back home, and as I try to read Bengt Liljegren’s book, “Karl XII” again, it is much easier. It is not so much that I have learned more words. It is that I am more familiar with the context, the time, the place and the people. I think that much learning is a matter of grazing around and then returning to our original grazing patch and enjoying it more.

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