I’m doing it. I’m doing that thing bloggers do to get people’s attention: creating a top-three list.
The list is about learning Armenian. You could apply the list to any language, really, but I’ve been lazy about using Armenian in recent months, so this is mostly a self-serving attempt to get myself back on track.
It’s not unlike the countless personal development notes I’ve scrawled in the notebook I carry, written neatly on a sticky note and posted on my wall, or meticulously scheduled in my calendar from day to day and week to week.
As an adolescent, my list often included “get a tan,” but I’ve long since abandoned that objective. Learning Armenian, as it turns out, is easier than negotiating with the genetics of skin color.
I’m starting to sound a little obsessive about things, but I’m really just trying to continue learning and living without forgetting what I’ve learned and lived. They say you become an expert at something once you’ve done it for 10,000 hours. That’s 416 full days. Or 1,250 typical work days.
While I consider myself a real expert in nothing, I’ve put in a lot of days and I don’t want them to go to waste. I spent my childhood playing piano, for example. In adulthood, I’ve turned my attention toward things like studying languages and writing, if only for the purpose of getting better at them.
The challenge with languages, of course, is that once you’re out of an environment of complete immersion, skills may wither. And while I am firmly convinced that the knowledge rests passively enmeshed within some cellular bundle in my brain, I try to avoid even a temporary loss, and so I keep chipping away.
It’s kind of like retirement planning. Even $25 a month adds up when added to an already sizeable investment.
But I’ve become distracted from what was to be a pithy list of advice for learning Armenian. Antsnenq arach.
1. Make a Decision.
I can’t tell you how many people have told me they want to learn Armenian. Some even think that I may be especially gifted because I learned it, but I can assure you that I am not special. The difference between those who have and those who haven’t? It’s simple: Those who have learned it made a decision. And they made the same decision the next day and the one after that and the one after that until one day they no longer spoke of learning Armenian, but of improving their Armenian.
I have an Armenian friend whose name is Gahmk. It means “will” in Armenian. And that’s what you need to learn Armenian.
2. Forget Shame.
Shame is over-rated. It may have some place in the world, but not in this case. Your only chance for success is to release any hope of being immediately conversant in philosophy or veterinary medicine or whatever your field may be. Intelligence is often visible in the eyes and behavior of a person, so trust that most people will not assume you’re a moron because you can’t speak Armenian like a grown-up right away.
Learn a few phrases that illustrate your competence when functioning in your native language. Or, as I’ve said in this column space before, tell them you’re much funnier in your own language. My dad told me to learn that sentence first and I think he’d tell you to do the same.
3. Build on What You Know.
Like a lot of things, learning a language requires discipline, so build on the discipline you developed learning those other things. For some, it may be sports or reading. For me, it’s music.
Many of us recall our childhood piano lessons and how long we were supposed to practice each day and how many times we were to practice each assigned piece.
As I progressed through my piano studies, I was required to practice hands separately so that one hand didn’t become reliant on muscle memory or the other hand’s performance. Later yet I was asked to dissect the chord structures and progression throughout a piece. I chose specific spots in the music from which I could resume playing if I ever lost my place when playing a piece from memory.
The lessons are the same: consistency, repetition, and strategic thinking. Add a dose of creativity and you just might have an interesting conversation.
Learning new things can be challenging. They require us to re-examine our time and interests, our commitment to changing and being changed by what we learn. But I believe it’s always worth it because it brings us closer to who we really are.
In the meantime, say what you can. When it comes to learning a language, “small talk” is not the sign of a deficient mind, but the vulnerable embrace of someone willing to take a chance, to understand and be understood.