Can’t always learn by doing

One frustration for me, in terms of studying languages independently, is how much time I’ve had to devote to language-learning, as distinguished from reading texts.

I had a thought, about a year and a half ago, that perhaps the best way to learn to read in other languages is just to read in them and figure it out as I go along! So I was reading, for instance, Homer, Aristotle, Xenophon in Greek, with the help of dictionaries and translations that I could consult when I got stuck.

It wasn’t useless. If I had done it for long enough, it probably would have borne some kind of fruit. But it was incredibly inefficient and frustrating, I found.

So over time my approached morphed to focusing more on graded readers. With Greek, for instance, I’m working my way through the readings from the Athenaze textbook.

And it is not frustrating in the same way as it was frustrating to try and read real Greek out in the wild, but now it’s frustrating in a different way. I want to be reading the real thing!

It feels like such a waste of time to read these artificial texts when there are books I want to read out there in this language. If I’m devoting so much time to the language, why can’t I spend that time doing what I want to do?

I’m finding myself in a similar place in terms of calisthenics. I have some goals for what I’d like to be able to accomplish in terms of bodyweight fitness, but I’ve hit a wall, where building my muscles can’t take me too much further if I don’t also lose some more weight. And losing weight is a big job, especially when you started off as heavy as I was. It doesn’t feel like what I want to be focusing on right now — it feels almost like a distraction!

Sometimes there’s just preparatory work, a lot of preparatory work, that has to be done before the real thing can really start to happen. It’s not as exciting. But I’ve been thinking lately about how embracing that reality, however annoying it might feel, is sometimes just the best way to get to the goals that really inspire us.

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