Just like the Friend Zone the Comfort Zone is something you want to escape in language learning. It’s like an overprotective mother who really cares about your wellbeing, but at the same time terrified to let you out into the real world. Trust me you guys, I know. My mother sheltered me for the better of 17 years while my brother and sister literally did whatever they wanted…but that’s a different story.
What is A Comfort Zone & Why You Need To Escape It
Put simply a comfort zone is a space in which you only allow yourself to take certain actions because you’re unfamiliar with the other actions which are possible. Picture a box loaded with familiar words, grammar, and sentences. In this box, there are also social interactions, conversation scenarios, people, food, and cultural phenomenon. Oh, I forgot you’re also in the box, right in the middle and these things are constantly banging against you; bouncing back and forth in the closure.
Outside of this box, there are other things too, but until you manage to escape that box or at least expand its bearings temporarily you really don’t know what those much about those “things”. When it comes to language learning you need to permanently escape the comfort zone. The reason being is that there is so much juicy stuff in one’s journey, restraining yourself to a small space/comfort zone would be a crime.
You will only learn new information when exposed to old things. Repeating the same input may grant you some level of mastery over that specific area of the language, but you won’t learn anything outside of that if you continue to be exposed to the same stuff.
There is also the added benefit of being on high alert once outside of your comfort zone. With this level of awareness, you may experience a kind of sensory overload, but this is good. All it means is that you’re more likely to absorb new things faster.
Outside The Comfort Zone
The Zombie Apocalypse Scenario:
If there were a zombie apocalypse and you were locked inside a supermarket with some other survivors you’d feel safe. You’ve got food, water, medicine, weapons, etc. You’d be safe until somebody decides that the supermarket doesn’t have enough resources for everyone. As a result, a widespread panic happens and you’re forced out of your comfort zone for the sake of survival. You step out into the open for the first time in months, the clouds are red, buildings have collapsed, and out in the distance, you can hear the low growl of zombies.
What will you do? Answer this scenario by shooting us an email.
You wouldn’t just stand outside waiting for the zombies to get you, that’s obvious. Your only plausible option would be to get your shit together and get used to the new life in the apocalyptic wasteland. But just how do you do that?
Step 1 – Your Comfort Zone is your Skill Level until it isn’t….
If you were to think of language learning as a matrix, the comfort zone would be the reality while your skill level would be artificial. We fool ourselves into thinking that our skill level is a direct correlation of our studies. That’s only a half-truth. Our skill level is a direct reflection of our experience. Especially in such a complex field like language learning.
Imagine you were planning to break out of a prison, you’d be needing several supplies, resources, and strategic tactics. You won’t just start plowing through the cell walls that would be absurd.
How can you improve if you don’t know what your weak areas are? The comfort zone holds the same logic, in order to escape it, you have to be aware of it.
Step 2- Devising a Plan
So, you’ve marked the size of your comfort zone, that’s great. Now you need to devise a detailed plan in order to escape your old comfort zone. This part is easier than it sounds. It’s as simple as:
If you need to do more of something then you do more of that “something”.
Depending on the things which are keeping you in the comfort zone, your workload may be greater or lesser than that of others. Your plan should be as detailed as possible. It’s possible to be jutted into the comfort zone at the beginning of your journey without warning, but escaping it isn’t so sudden, and takes a grand amount of energy, effort and time.
Example Plan For A Chinese Learner
- Go to a Chinese Opera
- Shop at a new mall, and talk to the vendors
- Visit local history museums
- Talk about topics you’re not familiar with people who are familiar with those topics.
- Enroll in a fitness class in your target language country
- If you’re tri-lingual translate everything you learn from your second to your target language.
This plan is lightweight compared to others I’ve seen, but hopefully, you’ve got an idea of how it needs to be structured.
This won’t be easy, but good thing we’ve got science to explain things a little bit.
When a rocket is leaving Earth’s atmosphere it needs a speed of over 6.84 miles per second to do so. This is considered the escape velocity, and it applies for any object leaving the gravitational pull of Earth. Can you see how this relates to leaving the comfort zone?
Step 3- Execute The Plan And Escape
A plan is nothing without action.
But, before acting you need to have a realistic enough plan. If your plan isn’t something you can see yourself actively doing on a regular basis, stop here and go back to the last step. Alright, now that you’re back, to make all of this a reality I suggest you find a kind of anchor to keep you grounded to your plan. This anchor can be a friend, money, or a simple promise, but it has to have a kind of backlash if you fail.
For example, if I made a promise to my friend that I was going to escape my comfort zone then I’d say something along the lines of:
“I’ll record myself speaking to one native every day for one hour. At any point, if I fail to do this, I owe you $5.00.”
The anchor is my $5.00. I’d rather speak to one native for one hour a day than lose $5.00. This example is strict as can be but don’t feel obliged to punish yourself too much. Start with smaller anchors and work your way up.
If the whole friend ‘thing’ is out of reach for you and you have a respectable level of self-control, determination, and willpower, another option is to make a personal contract. Using the same example above instead of giving $5.00 to your friend you would donate $5.00 to “Save the Zombies” charity, but MAKE SURE you actually donate!
The taking action part is where things get tricky. It’s easy to start something, but hard to finish it. I’m sure some of you have heard the phrase “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” Taking action requires to know what you’re getting yourself into, predicting the paths you’ll take along the way. Whatever the steps in your plan may be, testing your boundaries should be the main focus here. Instead of thinking “How much can I learn?”, think “How far can I go until it’s too much?”
The Comfort Zone Is Always Present
Yeah, I know we just did all that blabbering about escaping the comfort zone but the truth is … You’ll never escape the comfort zone completely. Everyone has their limits, morals, standards, etc. Whenever you escape the comfort zone you enter another one; the only difference is that this one is bigger.
In language learning, the comfort zone is there as a mentor, not an enemy. It wants us to grow, but it wants us to grow ‘comfortably’ no pun intended. A good teacher will never give their students something they aren’t prepared for. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t want their students to excel and develop in their own unique ways.
Make The Escape Today!
Escaping your comfort zone will do you a great service in the long run. You open yourself up for more communication, friendships, and experiences. It’s your choice whether or not you wish to learn your target language within or outside of a comfort zone, however, I am telling you now to do the former.
Remember that language learning isn’t one dimensional. You need to be pulling information from multiple sources in order to make the whole thing ‘work’. So, don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone, don’t be afraid to put in the extra work in order to make it happen either. In the end, you’ll be better off and more prepared for future language learning journeys and other endeavors as well.
The Zombies are waiting for you! How will you greet them?