For all my gamer friends out there, I think you will appreciate this analogy because it is the only one that comes to mind when explaining how learning a second language is. I was once told this, my friend Maura told me that learning French would be very much a stop and go type of learning process. You have this character in a video game or a tabletop RPG game, you start at the bottom and work up that character. You put them through battles, trials, various experiences to gain points and those points buy you new things, skills, levels, armor… etc. But it takes time, it takes effort and it takes work to gain that next level. Characters who are ridiculously powerful didn’t just magically become that way… generally. Most of the time the people who work up that character put hours of work into it. Likewise, a person trying to learn a new skill. In my case a second language… you have to put in hours of work.
It is the process of hitting a wall… a mental block that seems insurmountable. It is during those times you question yourself…you motives, decisions… and frankly your life. You look at the other language learners and compare yourself to them… feeling stupider by the second because you Just Don’t GET IT. Then out of nowhere… something clicks and it all makes sense. It is like a switch is turned on in your brain, a connection that was missing… is filled in and you wonder why you didn’t understand it before, why this was such an obstacle. It is the most incredible thing to experience… that AHH HAA moment.
At this point you feel on top of the world, you look at the other students struggling to understand and feel every so slightly superior to them… then the cycle repeats. It is one of the most humbling types of learning you will ever do because you have to get rid of preconceived notions. You have to empty yourself of this idea of how it should be and just embrace the language as it is.
But the most important thing is to understand that you will naturally progress faster in certain areas of the language learning progress than in others. For me, the greatest growth I have made in French is my Oral Comprehension, Reading Comprehension, and Speaking. Grammar and Writing will be the last things I am comfortable with because even in English those are things I struggle with. I love to write but when it comes to the technicalities of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I am lost… in English… so in French it incredibly frustrating because their sentence structure differs significantly from English sentence structures and words can be used to replace words that could repeat. But they change if the verb is direct or indirect. Where something is place changes, the negations change, the feminine and masculine, plural, formal or informal… all of that in French is necessary and changes EVERYTHING. For other people in my class, this stuff makes sense to them, is easy for them. But speaking… or listening comprehension is harder.
Once I not only accepted my natural limits but found some courage I noticed a Level Up in almost every area of French comprehension. My confidence fed my understanding and my understanding fed my confidence. During the last term of school, I felt like I was at the bottom of the class in every aspect of Language Learning. Understanding very little and seeing very little progress. But each time I went North to see family they marked my progress and I finally began seeing it myself. This term I realize I understand SO much more than I was giving myself Credit for. I don’t understand everything but I can follow a conversation if I focus. I can communicate with others easier and without much hesitation. The best part is… over the next several months I am sure I will experience several other Walls that will feel insurmountable until… they just aren’t.
It truly is about level though, we are placed based on our level in the language so it’s not far off from having a character in a game that you work rigorously to gain experience… with that experience you can buy new options, new skills for the character. It takes time, effort, and sometimes “near death” experience for that character to gain the necessary points to level up. In my case, I don’t have near-death experiences but rather I experience the death of another sort, it is the death of a fear that held me back, the death of an ideal I held on to that prevented me from just learning, the death of a preconceived notion or the death of my pride… It is the letting go of the things you Know to be true and instead, just freeing yourself up to just Understanding things are they are.
I now understand that Hitting a Wall is actually just a sign I am ready for another Level Up and I just have to keep working because soon… that wire that is missing in my mind will fill itself in. It is just a matter of patience and work.