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Episode 18 Transcript

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Hello, I'm Jacek Olender and this is PoLoop Angielski podcast. For more materials for learners of English and the transcript of this episode, go to my website


I've been actually meaning to record this episode for a while now, and I'm really happy that I finally got round to it. You know, I'm a bit of a procrastinator. I told you that in my last episode. In this one, I want to share with you my thoughts about a lie that I hear repeated again and again. It is often spread with good intentions, but it is a lie, nevertheless. It is supposed to boost your motivation, but in my opinion, it does the exact opposite. The lie I'm talking about is the claim that learning a foreign language is easy. Let me say this straight away, it's a big fat lie.


Learning any language is hard. Your native language skills required years to develop, it was a tough job. Now doing the same in a foreign language is even harder. If you're a football fan and watch in amazement the skills of football player at the ongoing World Cup, remember that the skills that you are admiring in the best players are nothing compared to what you can do every time you speak. Every time you open your mouth to produce a comprehensible sentence, that is a sentence others can understand. multiple processes take place simultaneously. Your brain needs to come up with a message. In order for the message to be understood by others, it needs to be encoded using the words and structures already embedded in your brain. Then the signals must be sent to the muscles in your lips, tongue, throat, cheeks and jaw. Apparently it takes about 100 muscles to speak. All these muscles need to move, tense or relax at exactly the right time while you breathe out the air, which passes through the vocal cords, causing them to vibrate, and thus creating sound waves in the pharynx, nose, and mouth. Sorry for all these technicalities. But it's very important that we are aware how complex speech is. It's nothing short of a miracle that we can actually produce it. I think, to imagine the complexity of the process, we might compare it to the music produced by a symphony orchestra, a large group of musicians led by a conductor - your brain. Through years of practice of using your native language speaking seems effortless. Just like for the best orchestras performing even the most complex symphony might seem to be a piece of cake - seem - because in reality, it does require absolute mastery. And what happens when we are starting to learn a foreign language? We are confronted with a completely new piece of music. On top of that, our instruments, muscles, are not tuned. And as if that was not enough, musicians and the conductor, our brain, don't even know how to read music. No wonder the task is daunting.


So anyone who says that learning to speak a foreign language is easy lies through their teeth. But you might say that maybe the lie serves a purpose. If learners knew how hard learning a foreign language would be, they might never want to take on the task. It could demotivate a lot of learners from trying. Well, I would say that there is a higher risk that a person gives up learning a language when he or she expects the process to be easy, and quickly realises that it is not. This happens to a lot of learners who are promised quick results and believe that they can master a language within a couple of weeks. They try and they give up seeing that instead of plain sailing, the process of acquiring a foreign language is far from being smooth and easy. The waters turn out to be pretty rough.


A lot of learners believe so firmly that they can learn a foreign language in an easy way that they never give up trying, and they jump from one superduper method to another, hoping that finally they will uncover the secret of how to learn a foreign language the easy way. Many of them would rather blame themselves for the failure than give up on the myth. After all, they look around and see plenty of people speaking foreign languages. But what they don't see is thousands of hours of practice, grit, and perseverance that lies behind the success of all these people. Having been exposed to the lie that learning a foreign language is easy, hearing this message from producers of all kinds of language learning apps, and even teachers, you might quickly start blaming yourself for your failure, questioning your language, aptitude, and even your intelligence, something I mentioned in the episodes on choking.


Finally, let me move to the most important consequence of believing that learning a language is an easy task. This consequence is connected with the engine that fuels our passion for doing things -the motivation. Do you remember the last time you felt satisfaction from doing something easy and simple? Something everyone can do without, so to speak, breaking sweat. Most of you probably can't. And it shouldn't surprise us. Doing something easy, doesn't give you satisfaction. Doing something challenging does. And that's why the myth that learning a foreign language is easy kills our natural ability to find pleasure from studying. Our internal dopamine reward system, which should be activated when we are putting effort into something that is challenging doesn't work in this case. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine explains this in more detail in the video on motivation. The link to this video you can find in the notes accompanying this podcast. But the lesson we can learn from Andrew Huberman's Insights is this: learning a language is a hard task. And in order to motivate yourself, you need to embrace this fact. You need to embrace the fact that it is hard, and you need to find a way to get a reward from doing it. In other words, don't think about the goal, the ultimate goal, don't think about the future rewards of being able to speak a foreign language fluently. But rather, start focusing on getting the reward from the pleasure and satisfaction from doing something that is hard and difficult. Develop a growth mindset. Enjoy the fact that you are getting better at something that is tough. When you get satisfaction each time you put effort, you will join the group of those people who succeed in achieving the final goal. And you know what? You might soon realise that it doesn't matter that you might never master this skill on the level of a symphony orchestra musician. You might have a lot of fun playing music to yourself, or with your friends at jam sessions. You might realise that it's not the destination but the journey that matters most. Thank you very much, and keep on playing. Hope to speak to you next week.


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