In my last post, I wrote about how taking 1:1 online language classes with tutors really helped me up my language skills. How exactly does 1:1 tutoring help me learn a language? Well, to be honest, it’s the closest thing I can think of that comes to cheating when it comes to learning a language.
When I envision the “most optimal” way of learning a language, something that’s physically possible when not accounting for practicality, I envision living in a country where your target language is the primary (and preferably only) language that’s spoken, everyone who talks to you slows down their speed and their vocabulary choice to suit your level, and having some person whose full time job is basically to explain everything to you when you have any language problems. Imagine you’re some monarch and you have a couple of language tutors on call who just teach you whatever you want whenever you want to study, or are confused on some grammar point. “Hey, how would I ask that guy if they preferred soft tacos or hard tacos, but in Spanish?” (If that situation sounds familiar, it’s because I basically explained how children learn languages for a good couple years, until they go to school and start learning independently, but that’s more of a topic for my post on comprehensible input) I think, generally speaking, anyone thrown into that situation would be incentivized to become fluent in the language pretty rapidly. Therefore, whatever we can do to more closely replicate those conditions, I think will better serve to teach you in a better fashion as well.
One on one tutoring therefore is coming as close to cheating for me in the context of language learning because you have someone who knows your level and will adapt to it as necessary. You get more immediate feedback. As you take more classes together, you both also get a better understanding of each other and naturally your tutor will also be able to preempt a lot of your questions and catch a lot of mistakes you’d be inclined to make beforehand. You also don’t have to slog as much on boring material you don’t care about, unlike structured formal classes or other resources. You adapt the language material to your specific interests. If you just want to learn Japanese in the context of your Japanese animes, feel free to, weeb. (I can only say this because I am also a card carrying weeb. I don’t speak Japanese though, because this actually makes me more of a weeb – the biggest weebs are white supremacists who only speak English and have anime girl avatars. Strange, but true.)
To a lot of people reading this, this might sound incredible obvious. Getting one on one time with an expert? of course you’re going to improve quickly. Even before I started taking these classes, I would have thought it patently obvious. This begs the question: Why the hell have I so rarely applied this lesson to my own life? This can literally apply to anything. Even my work – in all my time spent as a software developer, the knowledge I picked up in class pale in comparison to everything I learned on the job from my coworkers. Fortunately, I’ve been pretty blessed in my working life to have never had straight up bad coworkers. I can’t think of a single one who wouldn’t have helped me out if I simply asked. However, because I’m such a diligent student, I like to make it a point of learning to really comprehend things by making the same mistakes repeatedly, so that the consequences of these lessons will be continually refreshed in my mind. That is to say, I can’t think of a single time where I’ve had some work and I failed at it due to lack of support from the people around me. I can endlessly rattle off my failures due to me navel gazing, spinning my wheels and never reaching out to others for clarification or help. The turning point for me in 2020. Before that, I always tried to go at things alone and only reaching out to others after things reached a crisis point, or after things had blown up in my face entirely. Now, my first thought is to find someone better than me and pick their brain. After all, what’s the point in reinventing the wheel?
(An aside – getting help from others doesn’t mean I uncritically regurgitate all of the other person’s viewpoints. After all, everyone else has their own flaws, perspectives, blindspots, and biases. It’s like that parable of the blind men and the elephant. Each blind man could only give their own limited perspective of the greater picture, but they were deluded into their their limited view represented the entirety of the whole. Likewise, when I’m absorbing knowledge from others, I try to keep in mind that these are still humans who are limited by their own experiences, communities, cultures and so forth, just like I am. I can only take their knowledge and map it out to try to better perceive the infinite vastness of reality and human experience.)