Several weeks ago, I was reflecting on my long list of to-do’s and wish items for the 2014 year. I have written down on this long sheet of paper things like learn to sing, take part in at least one dance class for a month, and start learning a new language. The more I look at the list, the more far-fetched and ridiculous these goals seem. How am I going to learn anything? I’m over 24 years of age. Clearly, I’m beyond the mental limit for learning new and complex activities.
Then I give myself a good shake and looked at the issue in a new way. In our culture, it is assumed that children learn ‘better’ than adults; many people brush off their lack of interest in learning as an adult because they assume it cannot be done. Although a 12-year old child can indeed perform certain tasks faster and with more ease than adults, the process of learning for children and adults is simply different (E-Learning Resources, 2004; Kuhn & Pease, 2006). Andragogy is a collection of teaching strategies for adult learners, and considers past experiences as having an influence on a person’s ability to contextualize and comprehend a concept (E-Learning Resources, 2004). Pedagogy, in contrast, does not consider prior experience and tends to focus on creating the groundwork for individual mental processes in children (e.g. analyzing, reflecting, creating, etc.). As adults we tend to have certain set ways of gathering and interpreting information – breaking down those habits to form new habits becomes more challenging as we age. Thus, learning can be difficult.
If I were a child again, I would also have fewer pressures impacting my mental processes and would likely be better at retaining and recalling information. With all the stresses that adults undergo on a daily basis – including everything from paying the bills to remembering to pick up milk at the store – it’s not terribly surprising that learning new activities or concepts can feel like a daunting challenge. But that’s no excuse for avoiding learning entirely – or so I tell myself.
Thankfully, Tyler Tervooren of Riskology.com agrees with some of these thoughts. In his blog post entitled Is This The Bible of Rapid Language Learning?, he speaks with Benny Lewis, the Irish Polygot. Benny wrote a book called “Fluent in 3 Months“, which suggests that people can master a new language as an adult from their home in just 3 months. My favorite quote from Tyler’s interview with Benny is as follows, and nicely summarizes this article’s perspective on child- versus adult-learning:
“Children learn their mother tongue through playing, using it all the time, and making mistakes naturally. […] A friend of mine once said that “babies aren’t better language learners than you, they just have no escape route.” When you keep going back to English, is it any wonder you don’t learn the language? What really helps is if you can spend several hours uninterrupted using one language that is not the one you grew up speaking” (Tervooren, 2014).
So, to learn that new language, Benny recommends that you spend dedicated time completely immersed in it (and, if applicable, in the culture related to the language as well) (Tervooren, 2014). This process does not have to be expensive – italki, for example, connects you with native speakers for cheap lessons and Google’s Language Immersion Chrome Extension allows you to translate certain text on any given webpage for an ‘immersive’ experience free of charge. Benny also suggests that you use keywords to learn phrases and words within a language – websites like memrise can assist with this activity (again, free of charge).
Although I use the example here of learning a new language, there are many complex activities that adults can master through specific self-learning techniques. As Maria Popova wrote in her article on life-long learning (see my related blog post here), sometimes the best forms of learning can come from being a self-motivated and individual student. So I encourage everyone to repeat this mantra when they fear they are beyond a point of learning new things: “I”m over [blank] age and still learning!”
You can do it!
Is there anything new that you would like to learn? Is fear of the complex learning process holding you back? Leave a comment on this article and I will assist you in finding strategies to reach that learning goal!