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Numbers Aren’t Real: Limits – Creative Language Learning Series

Stop thinking numbers! Start thinking energy! When you’re always asking an online forum how many words is it possible to learn in a day, you’re limiting yourself. Limits are not something you want in language learning, limitation defeats the purpose of learning in the first place. You never stop learning so questioning your mental capabilities of how many words you can learn in the span of one day, one week, a month or year is self-defeating. 

 

I’ll give an example:

Person #1 knows 5000 words, but can’t speak even if his life depended on it.

Person #2 known only 1000 words, but also a few phrases and can communicate easily. 

Example: Guy knows 5000 words can’t communicate, other guy knows 1000 and some phrases and can communicate. Numbers don’t mean much, they’re just another way to measure progress.

Rather, you should be asking yourself 

How capable am I today?
How capable will I be tomorrow?

How capable will I be this year?

Etc.

What Defines Your Limits?

Your language learning limits are defined by one thing, you. Anybody can tell you “you should learn XYZ within a week”, but will you? Some people will, others will attempt to and fail to meet the standards of another person’s limits. It’s not a pissing contest, so there is no need to match up with the standards of others. Now, wanting to be the best ever and blasting through everything in your way is a different story. But, actively working within the limits of another you’re bound to suppress your inner potential

Some people prefer to work within the limits of another whether it be in a language class or public tutor sessions. While nothing is “wrong” with this per se, you could end up being much more productive if you remove the limits from your life. This logic applies to just about anything really. 

There are days when I’m super productive and blast through 100 new words in a day, while other days I prefer to lower my standards and learn 10 words. With that being said you can’t put a limit on your language learning, not for grammar, speaking, and especially not for vocabulary. 

I mention vocabulary in specific because you’ll never know all the words in a language, even natives don’t know all the words in their language. I’ve said at least 50 words in advanced courses that were not recognizable by teachers nor students (I’m in a Japanese graduate school by the way). When it comes to vocabulary it’s essential to remember to the most frequently used words, but that doesn’t mean that you’re excused when it comes to the other infinity plus words there are to learn. 

Numbers are Numbers

Let me tell you language learners something, don’t ever feel LIMITED. Anything in life that requires you to acquire knowledge wasn’t meant to make you feel limited. These things are meant to make you feel powerful. Language learning is one of the many knowledge treasure chests out there. It’s easy to introduce the concept of limits to language learning, there are so many things we can use to measure our own progress, such as vocabulary words, grammar concepts, scores of official tests, cards in our SRS deck. It is SO easy to get carried away by the idea of measurable progress that in reality, it places significant restraints on our language learning.

Person #1 knows 5000 words, but can’t speak even if his life depended on it.

Person #2 known only 1000 words, but also a few phrases and can communicate easily. 

BUT for whatever reason if you’re feeling limited here are some things you can do to remove those limiters:

Stop thinking about it

Over thinking can be our worst enemy in language learning. It’s great to think about an end goal and actually have a plan to get there, but when your end goal becomes all you think about then you’ve gone too far. Limits set in when we believe that we’ve reached our goal or even worse when we lose that goal completely. The best way to avoid either of these from happening is not to think about it. Just live in the language, live using the language and enjoy the learning process every step of the way. 

Environmental Power

No, I’m not talking about saving energy. I’m talking about removing the idea of “I can only progress in certain environments.” This limit is tricky because it kind of has some weight depending on who’s using it. Some people are only capable of learning new information in environments that benefit them. This can be a coffee shop, a quiet room, a student lounge, etc. But this is the trap; when we become too comfortable with the idea of specific learning environments we limit our learning based on our physical location. You’d think that something as insignificant as the location wouldn’t matter in this scenario but it’s the exact opposite. It matters, a lot

When we stop associating a location with our ability to progress in language learning then we’re able to learn anywhere. Whether you’re on a bus, plane, boat or in a church, doctors office or swimming pool there will always be the option to learn, so long as you’ve relinquished the physical environments linked to your language study habits.

Expand Your Options

When I feel limited to one thing, I start to do something completely new. New things don’t have limits, because everything is new – duh! So what to do in this situation?

Well, you can:

Learn A New Language, Again.

Learning two languages simultaneously  can remove the belief that there are limits in your language learning journey. This is no easy task, and the act of even attempting to do so without a doubt affirms a belief that there are no limits in language learning. This is more of a distraction if anything, but it helps you break your limiter because eventually (and hopefully you do) when you return to you target language, you would’ve discovered that you could handle more than you thought possible. 

Change the main study method

Switch from mainly studying vocabulary to grammar, grammar to reading, reading to vocabulary, etc. Just mix it up, and mix it up BIG. Anybody can just say “they’re focusing on grammar instead of vocabulary”, but it takes  REAL language learner to say “ I’m focusing on grammar, by reading classical texts, watching Netflix films, and listening to podcasts.” They say change can’t be forced, but you never know until you try, so by all means try, and try hard. 

The Limits Of Your World

Who defines your limits? If your answer was anything other than “myself”, then buddy you need to scroll up a line or seven.  Your limits are the limits of your world, the moment you allow them to impose on you is the moment your world stops expanding. In language learning the amount of knowledge you can absorb is endless. Don’t allow limits to be the wall between you and your dream language. Climb above them, break through them, dig under them, but never submit to them.

 

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