Tag Archives: Inspirational

Patience and The Linguist

One of the biggest problems with the approach of formal language education is that there seems to always be present a growing need for the students to learn faster. Faster. Faster!

The pressure to absorb information quickly is an on-going issue. Because so much of learning is about digesting information, actual learning takes time.

However, those in charge of educational systems around the globe seem to think that large quantities of information being, quite literally, shoved down a student’s throat is productive. And when the student can only retain about 50-70% of what they have learned, long-term, and they can only use that information with moderate accuracy, it somehow becomes the student’s fault.

But I have some thoughts…

  • Why do we require language students to learn the same amount of content in one year that a native speaker would take 2-3 years to learn?
  • Why do we not acknowledge that a brain that has already adopted and been shaped by a native language is not going to be able to learn a second language at the same rate as native speakers of said second language?
  • How do we not see that the filter of one’s native language is used to process information about any subsequent languages? (This filter adds additional steps for the language learner to think through, if true mastery is to be achieved.)
  • Why don’t we acknowledge that memorizing vocabulary and grammar constructs is not the same as actually learning a language?
  • Why aren’t we allowing language students the time to digest information before requiring them to learn more information?

I am two years and nine months into my Chinese language journey. According to native and non-native Chinese speakers, the consensus would be that my Chinese level is lower than the level of my peers who have learned Chinese in a formal setting. The chart below demonstrates how my language skills compare to those of my peers.

HSK Level (1-6) 2-3 3-4
Pronunciation Skills Intermediate Beginner
Amount of Grammar Memorized Beginner – Intermediate  Intermediate – Advanced
Ability to Use Known Grammar Advanced Intermediate
Speaking Skills Beginner Intermediate
Reading Comprehension Intermediate Intermediate
Translation Skills (Chin. to Eng.) Intermediate Beginner
Listening Skills Beginner Intermediate
Writing Skills Intermediate Intermediate
Dedication/Consistency Extremely high Varies
Motivation Extremely high Varies
Joy Extremely high Varies


SnailI learn slowly, but I learn well. I review often and compare Chinese grammar constructs to those in English. Slowly, but surely, I am starting to actually FEEL Chinese. The language no longer just abides in my head. The language is starting to become a part of my being. My goal is to one day speak this beautiful language from my heart – not from my brain.

This is the difference between memorizing aspects of a language and becoming one with the language. Language is a living and breathing entity. Approaching it as such, while giving it the respect that it deserves, I believe will ensure exceptional success with the language in the future. So, I am in this for the long haul. I may be moving at a snail’s pace right now, but the benefits of learning with patience with show in the future.

In regards to my current Chinese level, I may not be able to communicate in the language as well as my peers at the present time, but I fully expect to catch up to my peers within two years, and to surpass them within four years. My goal is to speak clearly, to use grammar naturally, and to comprehend spoken and written Chinese more like a native speak with each passing year.

In summary, by many accounts, I am not performing up to par. But, I believe that my patience and my attention to detail will pay off in the end. This is the ground work for the linguistics research that I expect to be a part of in the coming years.

Tags:, ,

Little Lera

We  are pleased to announce a new addition to the Towajo student family.  She is itty-bitty (very small) and comes to us from Russia at just two and a half years of age.  Her name is Lera.  Her mother has been one of my students for a little over 1.5 years and she has made tremendous progress in that time.  And so, we thought that it would be wonderful to get my student’s daughter started with English as soon as possible and help her to achieve results, as well.


Currently, little Lera has 15-minute lessons each week, via Skype.  Today, she made it to 12 minutes and decided that she had had enough. So, she abruptly hopped out of her mother’s lap and said, “goodbye.”  But little Lera’s mother and I are absolutely thrilled. She is becoming more used to me and she is becoming more accustomed to sitting still for short periods of time.



Lera’s brain is like a sponge.  She stores large quantities of information, and she does so quickly.  Apparently, after her previous 12-minute lesson she went running to her mother to show her the “bee” on her drinking cup.  In her lesson that day, we had gone over the English alphabet and in a picture slideshow, I had shown Lera that the letter “B” was for the animal “bee.”  Not only did she store the information, but she also was able to apply the lesson to real life.


Little Lera has a great mom who is deeply invested in her English education.  She supports Lera outside of class with bite-sized reminders of the things that she has learned in her brief English classes with me.  Lera also has access to lots of movies and games on her tablet.  And so, we work together like a small team.  Little Lera’s mother and I communicate openly about Lera’s English lessons.  She gives me feedback that helps me to create more effective lessons for Lera.  In short, Lera’s mother and I work together to develop the best system possible for her daughter.  And Lera seems to be blessed with natural learning ability. She is extremely bright.  This young child of just two and a half years of age is firmly on her path to learning English – and learning it well.


Nicely done, Lera!  I am proud of you and I am honored to play a role in your education at such an early part of your journey.  The sky is the limit for you.  It is clear that with your natural intelligence and with parents who love and support you, you are going to be successful in this life.




(Note: Updates for Lera will be provided approximately every 3-4 months.)