John Jang

John Jang

· 4 mn to read

Growth pains in language learning

Language immersion can be incredibly effective and fun, and yet on many occasions, it can be painful and even utterly humiliating. What is the best way to properly navigate the language immersion experience? How do you ensure you are sustaining growth pain and not suffering potential injury?

We spoke previous about the benefits of language learning via immersion, and about the fundamental conditions that create an effective immersion experience. One of those conditions mentioned being an open and unrushed attitude to learning. However, even with the most open attitude, going into immersion can be like going into battle. That is, a battle with one’s own ego.

One of the reasons that language learning is so difficult is how often a positive experience of understanding or responding correctly in the target langauge is accompanied by a negative experience when not being able to understand or when what you say is not comprehended. Negative experiences can produce a feeling of incompetence, and if repeated often enough may result in loss of motivation.

The motivation to return to an immersive environment is obviously vital to benefiting from it, since its fruits are only realised by long-term engagement. This is why living in the country where the language is spoken has its advantages in that there is a lower threshold of motivation required to continue learning the language. However, even in such cases, a lack of motivation can mean never reaching fluency.

A good way to distinguish healthy growth pains and potential injury is to conceive of a growing plant. I recently learnt of syntropic farming which creates sustainable cultivation of natural produce by leveraging organic processes of forests. To begin such a farm, resilient trees must be planted and pruned. The trees respond to pruning by growing deeper roots and ultimately exhibit accelerated growth. After a while, pruning is unnecessary because the tree naturally reaches its mature stature. Mature trees then become a supportive structure to other plants within its boundary.

In the same way, we can conceive of the pains of growing in language immersion as being pruned. One reason why language classes are so popular is that you find yourself with students of similar level and it is a comfortable place to be. Immersion is for the ambitious, who truly want to reach fluency. Infrastructure is required to ensure injuries and more sustainable growth. A vital aspect of the analogy of pruning to growth pains in language learning is the importance of the one who does the pruning. A benevolent, gentle pruner is critical to the tree’s accelerated growth. A violent cutting of branches will do more harm than good.

In your immersive journey, you will benefit from being accompanied by a native speaker who is like the good pruner, who corrects you with the right intention, in a non-judgmental way. Someone who is patient and willing to help you. The pain of embarassment associated with making mistakes, whether it be grammatical errors, the wrong vocabulary or improper pronunciation, is mitigated by a friendly pruner.

At the same time, overreliance on patience and friendliness is not sustainable. We wish to enable a sustainable growth environment by creating an ecosystem where native speakers, fluent speakers, intermediate speakers and beginners can interact in a way where everyone flourishes. This is where syntropic agriculture helps to visualise how one native speaker acts as the emergent supporter of various other levels of learners who grow around the native speaker and down the levels where each learner helps other learners.

The environment that Pengguin wishes to foster is not only a place to communicate with native speakers, but an environment where all community members are supportive of each other. In this way we want to create a sustainable ecosystem where native speakers and learners interact in a way that maintains the motivation of the learners and assists them to engage with language learning frequently and for a long time until self-sustaining mature stature is reached. Mature language learners can then help others and keep the cycle going. We’re coming together to make polyglots of all people. Let’s make the best language learning immersion environment for everyone, one immersion game at a time.