How Can a Zen Approach Help Us Learn a Language?

How Can a Zen Approach Help Us Learn a Language?

How Can a Zen Approach Help Us Learn a Language?

Step 1: The Beginner’s Mind

Zen philosophy prompts us to live as though life were a straight line made of dots: it is essential that the dots be one after another in order to draw the line between them. But what do we do? Being worried about making mistakes, we live in a future moment instead of the present, consequently losing focus of each dot, and of the line itself.

 

How can we create the line?

 

In Latin, they used to say Guttatim pelagi defluit omnis aqua – meaning drop by drop, even the sea will empty. Step by step, dot by dot, we draw the line. Zen suggests adopting a beginner’s mindset, as though we were kids. Living each moment as the first one, not the last one. This way we would be spurred on to nurture our curiosity.

Let’s say you’re a child and you want to learn how to ride a bike. Imagine your dad is standing there on the side, making judgments, rather than helping and encouraging. Would you feel like pedaling without inhibitions? I wouldn't. What if your dad just stood still and gave you a “come on” when needed? Or perhaps he just doesn’t say anything at all. I would be willing to pedal then.

 

To be clear, the gist is: do you want to cycle? Pedal regardless of any judgment. Or in the case: do you want to speak a new language? Speak, and disregard any judgment.

 

Yeah, I got it, you say. Still, why should I risk ridiculing myself?

 

If I don’t fall from the bike, I don’t know how to pedal properly. If I am not aware of how not to pronounce a certain word, I will never pronounce it properly.

 

Sure, but why risk exposing my flaws?

 

Situation number 1

I want to learn how to pronounce „supercalifragilistichespiralitoso” in Italian. I say it out loud, but it’s wrong. I feel uncomfortable, but at least I tried. Maybe I’ll try more than once. At a certain point, my brain will remember both the bad impression I made and the funny situation that occurred. Therefore, it will suggest the right pronunciation accordingly, for the sake of survival. Meaning, I will not make the same mistake again, because I don’t want to appear ridiculous twice.

 

Situation number 2

I want to learn the aforementioned word. I repeat it in my head many times and then I say it out loud, but it’s wrong. I feel uncomfortable, but not for the situation itself. Rather because I committed and strived so hard that I was not expecting to fail. I try a second time, but I am even more stressed, because of the disappointment I’ve just experienced. Additional stress doesn’t help learning.

I remember podłoga in Polish because years ago I mixed it up with sufit, creating a hilarious moment that I still remember. It cannot happen for each word, of course. However, striving and not taking ourselves so seriously over the learning process, might not be so bad and it can actually stand us in good stead at the time of memorizing vocabulary and lexicon.

 

Mistakes are opportunities, not failures.

 

***

 

This blog post was written by Adriano Jacanos, our English and Italian teacher. Check out Adrianno's profile and schedule a trial lesson with him to learn more about his unique learning philosophy!

 

Categories: Language Learning Life, Posts in English