Who are you?

Today I want to teach you three important lessons about language learning, and we’re going to start with this very simple creation called a Chinese finger trap. You insert your fingers into the ends and when you try to pull them out, well, you can’t.

There’s only one way to get free, but it goes against all our instincts, and it teaches us something profound about learning. But before I show you how to escape, I want to talk about objectives. And get ready because this is going to get a little bit deep.

Let’s start with a question: what is your language-learning objective? For almost all learners it’s something like:

  • I want to get fluency
  • I want to be B2
  • I want to be like a native speaker

Now close your eyes and imagine the moment you reach that objective. Maybe it happens in the middle of a conversation, or maybe one night you go to sleep and you wake up and boom, objective achieved.

But is that really how it works? Is there a moment when you become fluent? A conversation when you move from A2 to B1?

Maybe we are just looking at time in the wrong way. I mean, if I ask you for a moment, or a day, that seems unfair, but what if we zoom out. Maybe there is a month, or a year, or a decade when you become fluent.

But it still leaves us with the question: how do you know when you’ve achieved your goal? And if you don’t know when you’ve achieved a goal then what’s the point of having it?

And this is the first lesson. Learning is a process. Fluency is not something that happens, it’s something that is happening. Objectives in language learning are meaningless.

But, I know what you’re thinking. Christian, how can we learn anything without having an objective? We need them. Christian, you think you’re a revolutionary, but you’re just soft.

You’re helping people to become lazy and pathetic. I mean “A goal is a dream with a deadline.”

A deadline. A date. A time.

I want to read you a quote about time from almost 2000 years ago:

“Perhaps it might be said rightly that there are three times: a time present of things past; a time present of things present; and a time present of things future. For these three do coexist somehow in the soul, for otherwise I could not see them. The time present of things past is memory; the time present of things present is direct experience; the time present of things future is expectation.”

-St. Augustine

The time present. We are so accustomed to viewing time in three ways, past, present, and future, that we forget that we only ever experience time in one way. The present. Time is happening. Your past memories and your future expectations all come together to make you.

And now we get to the really big question: who are you? Or more specifically, who are you, right now?

And this is the second lesson. The only English ability that you will ever have in your life is the ability that you have in the present. If you don’t value it and use it in the present, you will never use it.

I want to tell you a little Zen story. One day a woman goes into a butcher’s shop and says: “Give me your best piece of meat.” And the butcher replies “All of my meat is the best. There is not one piece of meat that is better than another.” And at that moment the woman was enlightened.

Zen teaches that there is no relative value, only absolute value. Each thing is a pure expression of itself. We cannot judge what something is worth by comparing it to something else. And it’s the same for people.

And this is the final lesson. Your value does not come from comparison. You cannot compare yourself to other learners, or native speakers, and you cannot compare yourself to some future you that has fluent English.

And now we are finally ready to escape from the trap. The solution is simple. Instead of pulling, we need to do the opposite of what our instincts tell us, and we need to push. Our objective is to pull, but to succeed we need to do the opposite. The path to success is never clear.

Now some of these ideas might seem like pure fantasy. But they are all based on evidence. Research has shown that abandoning objectives leads to more success, and that pulling too hard leads to failure.

There is only one thing I want for you, and that is for you to understand that your English is perfect now, because you, now, is the only thing that exists.

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