Creating a sense of accountability in your learning
We have started a “myths about learning Gaelic” section in this blog now, and you are going to find it discussed there (and elsewhere in the blog) that you should be sceptical of people trying to convince you of anything that sounds like The One True Way to Learn Gaelic. In fact, the very concept of there being One True Way to Learn Gaelic is one of the most tenacious and insidious myths of all. So, while I have no desire to weigh in on the general One True Way to Learn Gaelic nonsense with yet another One True Way, I will insist on this: if you want to learn Gaelic, the single most important thing you can do is create a sense of accountability in your learning.
What do I mean by this? I mean that you must find a way to achieve two things: (1) ingrain learning habits and (2) check your progress against your goals.
Let’s focus on the first point in this two-part post and return to the second point at a later date. Learning Gaelic is going to depend on you forming certain habits. Many people have the ambition to learn the language, and they will start off strongly. They’ll go out and sign up for a course, or they’ll bookmark LearnGaelic, or they’ll buy a book, or they’ll arrange a week-long short course holiday at Sabhal Mòr, etc. These are all good options, and there are many other options, too. The problem is that a language is not learnt in these initial bursts of enthusiasm and excitement. A language is learnt in the ‘hard yards’: a language is learnt in the hours and hours of forgotten time that you put in over months and even years. How do you force yourself to go back, time and time again, and open the books or arrange the next Skype conversation or attend the cearcall còmhraidh?
The answer is: you don’t. Most people can’t force themselves repeatedly to do a thing that requires effort and takes so long to get anywhere that you almost never notice your progress. Instead, you are going to have to trick yourself. What? Yes, you read that right. Trick yourself. You are going to have to find a way to create a sense of accountability in your learning, so that you get that regular learning done even on the days when you don’t feel like it; you get it done even on the days when you are quite busy and you would rather just go and have a nice bath and listen to music; you get it done even on the days when you are so distracted that the very idea of Gaelic barely even occurs to you. You need to work on your Gaelic even on these days, because there will be a lot of days like these: they will all be different, but they will all come along with their reasons, their excuses and their problems. Sometimes, you might be stronger than the reasons and the excuses and the problems, especially while your excitement at the idea of learning this language is still fresh and new. But, when it gets to the point where you feel like you are progressing much more slowly (believe me: this point will definitely come eventually, if you keep learning Gaelic for long enough), this is where it will get easier just to put your learning off for the day. After all, you could always come back to it tomorrow, right?
If you let something get in the way of your learning today, you will certainly let something else get in the way tomorrow. Before you know it, three or four days will have gone by; and then it will be a week, a month… Soon, it will feel like you have lost more than you ever learned. Soon, the effort of getting back to learning will be so overwhelming that you can hardly face it, even though you still love the idea of being able to use Gaelic.
So, how do you trick yourself into dealing with all of this?
It must take tremendous willpower, right?
If you have to rely on willpower, you are going to lose the battle (unless you are one of these very rare people who can eat a jam doughnut without licking their lips). Instead of willpower, rely on the power of the routine. The beauty of routine is that it takes away the need to spur yourself on to do a thing that you would otherwise conveniently ‘forget’ to do. It is especially important in getting you to tackle those bits of language that you don’t enjoy as much. We all tend to prefer certain bits of learning a language over certain other bits. If you are a chatty person, you probably really look forward to your Gaelic conversations and tend to get lazy when it comes to reading or getting your grammar done. If you are a linguist, you probably drool at the very thought of memorising your noun cases, but maybe you feel a bit shy about booking a conversation on italki or through LearnGaelic. If you are into Gaelic for cultural reasons, maybe you are all too willing to learn those song lyrics off by heart and then play your favourite Gaelic song on repeat, but maybe you ‘forget’ to pick up any of the vocabulary and idioms you need for actual conversations. Is it wrong to have one bit of the learning process that you love the most? Nope, definitely not. Literally the best possible reason to be learning this language is that you love something about it. However, you are almost definitely going to get frustrated with your progress at some point if you neglect some of the language competences and always focus on others.
So, the first part of the answer is: trick yourself into being accountable by creating a routine. In Part 2 of this entry, I will explain to you how you can go about doing that...
(don't forget to come back for Part 2 of "Creating a sense of accountability in your learning" next week)