The Basics Might Seem Boring, but Getting Back to Them is the Way!
Someone suggested that dreaming in a foreign language is a sign of fluency. I don’t know if that’s true, but the fact that I’ve never dreamed in French even though I’m proficient in this language is a little disappointing.
Learning French has not been particularly easy for me. Even though I have been learning the language since 2014 and I’ve been living in France for two whole years now, I can’t claim to be fluent, one of my goals in moving here. The work required to master something new can be tiring and frustrating at times, but there is something we sometimes overlook that could ease our way.
Learning something new and being successful takes a lot of things, including discipline, confidence, desire, commitment, and the ability to do something new poorly. And I’ve been all of these things when it comes to learning French. But there is something else that is also important that can help us move through the difficult periods of learning more easily: go back to the basics and you will move ahead.
Last week, I went to an English couple’s house for tea. They are working to become proficient in French. Although they have lived in France for some time, it’s been difficult for them to reach the level of competence they desire. Being surrounded by other English speakers creates a challenge to being fully immersed in French and mastering the language. This has been the case for me as well as for them.
During our conversation, I shared other challenges I faced in achieving a satisfactory, though not quite fluent, competence in French. And I recalled something Sergey shared with me.
Sergey is my Russian friend who I met in French class several months ago. He speaks, reads, and writes impeccable English. His French isn’t too bad either. We were talking one afternoon after and I was trying to express myself to him in French. He saw me struggling to put together my thoughts and stopped me saying, “What I’ve found helpful in learning new languages is to think and speak in simple sentences. Break down what you want to say in a more basic way.”
I thought about what he’d said for a moment. The image of a young child communicating came to me. They aren’t speaking with compound sentences or even with words that mean what they are describing. Instead, they talk in short, simple sentences. They don’t have the vocabulary to use big words or even some small words that they don’t yet know, so they describe that to which they are referring, in basic syntax.
The light bulb went on for me. I was trying to talk in French at the level at which I speak English after more than 50 years of doing it! I started to break down what I wanted to say. I stopped needing to know the exact word in French. And I began speaking more simply. The result was, I felt less stress and pressure when communicating in French and more confidence. As a result, my progress seemed to quicken.
Realizing this allowed me to change course, even if I was in the middle of trying to say something and I recognized I’d fallen back into intricate thinking-speaking patterns. I now stop and think about how to put it more simply. Then I start again going back to the basics. Refreshingly simple.
As I think of this concept, I see how it has applied in other areas of my life. I picked up my flute a few weeks ago, and I tried to play a simple song, but I’d forgotten so much of what I’d mastered years earlier — how to finger some of the notes, what the notes were, even musical notation. I decided to refresh my understanding. I printed out a fingering chart and then started to relearn the scale in the key of the song I’d attempted.
After a couple of days practicing notes and the scale, I tried to play the simple piece. Though it was far from perfect, in fact, far from good, it felt more natural. Going back to the basics and breaking something down into its simplest form can speed your progress, even when it comes to something at which you’d been good at one time or in some similar realm.
Have you skipped the basics (or forgotten about them) as you learn new things, inadvertently infusing unnecessary complexity or stress? Then go back to the basics, and you will move ahead!