Language Learning More Like a Meal or a Shake?

Shake1 Language Learning More Like a Meal or a Shake?I once knew of a young guy in his early thirties who was a former college baseball pitcher.  He was obsessed with being fit and was always working out.  As an outgrowth of his obsession with being fit, he eventually came to the conclusion that what was most efficient and convenient for him diet-wise was to treat the necessity of eating more as a problem to be solved rather than something to be enjoyed.  In his final analysis, he concluded that not only was cooking a waste of time, but eating in general was a waste of time.  Why, he reasoned, should one waste his time eating when science had evolved to a place where there existed an abundant supply of meal replacement shakes that were precisely formulated with all of the nutrients the body needs to function physiologically?  Not only was it more efficient but it was much more convenient.  I suppose my question is, do we really want to reduce eating to being nothing more than nutrient intake?

As I’ve said in a previous blog entry, I am a foodie and an epicurean in that I truly love food.  Eating great food is almost a therapeutic experience for me.  I enjoy not only the eating aspect of it but I love preparing and cooking it.  I love the subtlety of flavors and textures that come with not only the immense variety of food but the innumerable ways it can be prepared.  To subsist on a diet of shakes is unfathomable to me.  Subsisting on not merely shakes, but any type of “diet” based form of eating transforms our relationship with food from one that is incredibly substantive and deeply enjoyable into something that is quite the opposite.  The relationship we have with food subsequently devolves into something that is unenjoyable, unsustainable (how many people out there can sustain diet-based eating?), and outright combative in some cases.

I wonder if our relationship and typical experience with learning language has perhaps devolved in a similar fashion.  It’s very interesting to me to observe the typical approach employed by most language organizations and institutions with respect to teaching language.  They often attempt to reduce it down to being just a collection of dry grammar rules and vocabulary words.  As a result, the language student’s experience learning language is often incredibly dry, tasteless, and unstimulating in terms of both the standard classroom experience and even more so with the proliferation of computer-based language learning platforms like Rosetta Stone.  The reality is that language is much more than a collection of words and grammar rules.  It is tethered to a culture and culture is the collective expression of a group of people.  Language is that binding agent by which we can connect to one another and connecting to each other is an innate drive within all of us.

In part two of this four part blog series, I’ll talk about how understanding what motivates us to want to learn a particular language can inform us in how to approach creating an engaging learning environment.

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