How Boredom and Laziness Help With Learning Languages

Written by Dyami Millarson

Being open to the experience of boredom and laziness is good for learning languages. Laziness increases efficiency, for one would not waste one’s limited energy, whilst boredom increases relevance, for one would not waste one’s limited attention span. Humans gain energy from consuming food and drink (grammatical note: it should be “drinks” in normal modern usage, but I am wont to speak and write archaic English where “drink” may be an uncountable noun). This is a very precious source of energy. As we consume, our body ages. In other words, the aging process progresses with each time we consume food and water. This means we have a limited amount of energy we can obtain during our lifetime, and thus our energy – as well as our time – is precious. Much people do, however, not realise how important efficiency is. When one works hard, one ought to be highly efficient as well. Just hard work does not suffice for learning languages fast and well. Our goal is to learn languages as fast and as well as we can.

Aging means the accumulation of damage, and as such, we are sacrificing our body each time we are investing our valuable energy and time in something. We ought to know that we cannot keep investing endlessly, and that is where laziness kicks in. Laziness is our body’s natural response in order to conserve valuable energy. Giving in to our body’s natural response is a way to maximise our efficiency. I am a lazy learner in the sense that I try to minimise how much effort I put in and I try to maximise how much I gain from the learning process. This may sound counter-intuitive to those who believe that they should only put in large amounts of effort in order to yield the best results. Over a longer period of time, I put in a large effort, but my effort has been well-coordinated for the sake of efficiency. My own experience a few years ago with a crippling intestine surgery has helped me to appreciate the value of laziness; energy conservation has been one of my main priorities ever since that operation. My daily energy is limited and therefore I must make quick and wise decisions as to how to spend my energy each day.

While learning any language, I am usually bored by much of the information that I encounter. I have little interest in almost everything, and this helps me to shift between what is relevant and irrelevant. I know that the overwhelming majority of information is not worth remembering. For instance, when I read a grammar book, I skip almost everything while skimming through the book looking for relevant data. I do seldom experience interest in any particular word or grammatical form. I am completely indifferent to much of what I encounter, because that is the strategy that works for me. My memory probably retains much more than what I am interested in, but I have no desire to actively attempt remembering much of the boring information that I encounter. Accepting and coping constructively with boredom is vital to language-learning.

Boredom itself is a powerful tool one can use to optimise one’s language-learning efforts. Almost all information that we are exposed to is not worth remembering, and this is the realisation that drives my strategy to language learning. I do not really have a method, but I have a strategy, whether it be conscious or subconscious, and this strategy is ever evolving as I am adapting to different circumstances. I do not advocate sticking to any particular method, because that reduces flexibility and adaptibility. My goal is to be highly flexible, adaptive and efficient; I would not trade this goal for adherence to a method that promises me “success” but at the end of the day only constrains my possibilities for achieving something much greater by relying on my own ingenuity. It is vitally important that we be free to make use of our impulses and instincts in such a way that we can maximise our potential; we should not limit our own creativity.

Definitely, it is good to take note of how others do things and what methods exist out there, but adaptability and flexibility really are psychological items that are not worth trading for anything cognitively rigid and constraining. To me, it is hard to describe all the processes that are going on in my brain while learning languages; I make so many spontaneous decisions that it would be hard to keep track. What I describe here on our blog are the essentials, yet my daily decisions regarding how to approach learning any particular language are so numerous that it would take book volumes to explain them all. Moreover, I make decisions faster than I can ever write them down; my brain thinks much faster than I can ever speak or write, and so it is hard to keep up. Neither should I forget to mention that I see the complexity of adaptive learning; it has basically no form. We may describe evolution, but describing all the possible forms of evolution is really a complex task; this is why I see talking about methods as a waste of time. After all, we can never cover the whole set of possibilities out there, and attempting to do so would only give the wrong impression, and may even reduce our efficiency and ultimate success within a limited period of time significantly. Methods are actually time-consuming, and that is why I do not rely on them. In my eyes, methods do not exist and I do not consider them further, because they have no benefit to me. However, what I do believe in is embracing our inborn human tendencies, such as laziness and boredom, and use that to try and achieve our fullest potential in language learning.

25 comments

  1. It is usually difficult for me to focus my mind on a particular issue; I only last a few minutes, before something else is beginning to intrude and, without even noticing at first, I drift away in a different direction.
    Focusing appears to be more comfortable when the issues turn up uninvited, then I float along with it and can peruse in my own time. Unless it is a matter of urgency, when my mind is under pressure and energies are being forced onto those issues at hand.
    Then again, I also experienced, when dealing with demands under pressure, those thoughts can take on a circular motion, characterised by obsessiveness, making it impossible to conclude, nor finding a solution. Rather painful!
    So as it appears to me, thought processes are developing on a more linear and sensible path, when the issue at hand is kept in the distance from one’s self-identification, objectivity is maintained, and the passions are held at bay.
    Under no circumstances is this blueprint or a concept and it might only make sense to someone, who is analysing their thought processes and trying to describe them rationally.
    It is a labyrinth “up there”, and it does take a lifetime to find one way around in there, if ever!

    Learning is not so much about the accumulation of factual knowledge that is what books are for. Education is about the ability to understand and to draw conclusions, and using those found solutions to improve our human conditions.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. As a creative being I prefer flexibility too and to be spontaneous and curious. I think these are the things that aid my learning… I like what you have said about boredom and laziness; it is thought provoking.

    Liked by 7 people

  3. Interesting. My professional background was strongly methods based. As a consultant and researcher I invented and developed methodology for specific aspects of business tech development. So I guess you might say I am polar opposite to yourself?

    In the last Covid19 lockdown I set myself the goal of improving my French skills. I have schoolboy level which as we all know is lower intermediate. I started with Duolingo and found this useful if initially too easy for me. The repetition based approach also irritated me, but as an oldie (mid seventies) I grew to appreciate the repetition.

    But as you observe, a single approach is definitely wrong. So I signed up with several other methods used them in parallel with Duo. The alternatives I liked were more quirky, perhaps aimed at a younger audience, and I didn’t find one that caused me to drop Duo. So instead I started to read newspapers, Le Figaro, Le Monde etc. But these were too difficult for me. Then I discovered podcasts specifically aimed at intermediate level French speakers. These together with Duo have proved an effective method.

    I appreciate your efficiency ideas. I also do this – I look for patterns and exceptions; you probably know in French most verbs are regular, so it’s only necessary to learn the irregular ones. However I haven’t yet found a good method for learning gender. Although it’s based on historical language development, it really is mostly random and one just has to learn it. And this is difficult, and increasingly difficult as one’s vocabulary expands.

    At this stage I am almost 60 days into the process; I am now recognising that I will benefit from conversational practice very soon. So I would say that I that we are all different and we all learn in different ways and at different speeds.

    Thank you for your blog, you have prompted me to rationalize what I am doing.

    Liked by 7 people

    • I speak German – three genders! I’ve found the best way to learn the gender of a noun is always to learn vocabulary with the article attached. In other words, you always memorize “le figaro,” not “figaro,” “la monde,” not “monde.” That and listening to the language, hearing the repetition of the noun and article together, I’ve found most helpful. Bon chance!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Good article – here is a resource on aging and repair to cellular damage – cells regenerate every 90 to 120 days – hence “Aging” I have for 15 years taken a supplement that research has indicated repairs cellular damage – not entirely but as I grow older – soon to be 72 – my skin is smooth nails grow quickly as does my hair. Among other things – aging healthy – just thought you might want to know. Take care Tom

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Thought-provoking is right! Have you been thinking of the LAD ( Language Acquisition Device)? Basically, children have an innate ability to learn different spoken languages by exposure to an immersive context. They are able to start seeing patterns in terms of actors, actions, objects of actions. They phonetically have the ability to produce all the phonemic sounds needed for all languages—they are very efficient, fairly proficient oral language learners. Most of us suffer a great decline in those abilities after 5. But that may be because we now primarily learn languages by books and methods. (Hope you feel well today.)

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Interesting, OpX, and makes sense. Essentially, we only remember what we find interesting anyway, so trying to beat boring information into one’s head will not work, or at least not nearly as efficiently as what is made to be interesting (speaking from the point of view of a teacher).
    Thank you for this -also reminds me of Larry Wall (? if I recall correctly), the creator of PERL, who claimed to have written it because he was lazy, and wanted a 5th (or 4th) generation programing language that was easier to use, and faster, frankly, to code in, than C, or PASCAL, etc.
    So, conservation of energy makes sense, combined with use of boredom!
    Thank you, again!

    Stay safe,
    and warm,
    and interested!
    -Shira

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Appreciated this, as I have been back to Duolingo for French lessons as well. I am in my later 60s and decided to see how much elementary French I had retained from school 50 years ago – even with a car accident and brain slosh 18 years ago. I have maintained my Duo streak for more than 4 months now, and I have been amazed how enjoyable the lessons are for me! I often think,”How did I possibly remember THAT????”

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Dear Dyami, I enjoyed the perspective on boredom and laziness, two things that I often criticize myself for. I love language, but have failed again and again to learn anything other than my native English, in any constructive way, so I now stick to English alone. I once spent a year learning Arabic, but although I learned my alif-bah well, I never managed a vocabulary of any size and could only really read phonetic English in Arabic. Loved the script though.

    I thought I would share a few titles that you might enjoy, on the subject of English:

    1) The Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson.

    This had me laughing myself sick, and it was carefully researched as well.

    2) Torn Wings and Faux Pas; A Flashbook of Style, a Beastly Guide Through the Writer’s Labyrinth, by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. Cute, wacky and downright entertaining.

    3) The Deluxe Transitive Vampire; The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed. Also by Ms. Gordon. Hilarious.

    A cure for boredom of a kind.

    Best Wishes, Kiora

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Enjoyed your thoughts on riding boredom and laziness to learn. I’m just starting to find that rhythm versus a more Type A approach. It’s softer and more luxurious. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi! Even if many of us dread the mere idea of boredom i.e. not doing something be it reading, playing with some kind of screen, eating etc, boredom is there for a reason! Boredom can be a really good thing; not only when learning a language, boredom can be the fuel to learning and creativity. Bored kids (and dogs and grownups too) can be boring to others. Yet, give them something they have an idea of but did not master yet and there is a new learning process.
    And if I may say something about learning language or anything at all… learning is a skill in itself and if practiced regularly it gets easier and easier. Learning languages in particular is also a skill (in my experience): once you have learned a few languages, it all starts to look alike (I live, think, speak, write, dream in 4 languages, have 3 more somewhere around in my head, not practicing).
    Have a nice day 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I used to be an avid reader/book collector. Always said I could start my own library. I had enough books of all sorts.

    Books were where I lived. I devoured them, argued with them, wrote all over them, turned over the page corners so I could revisit quickly…..

    Seems I have always written in some form or other. Jots and diaries. Poetry, or my idea of it. Devotional journals…..

    Then came the internet….and a brush with cancer….and a move, which involved downsizing. Misery!!!!!

    Oh the internet! A blessing and a bane!

    I do something similar to my book habit everywhere on the internet (writing and arguing back and forth) but it is a tricky and elusive thing. I try to keep track by saving my writing bits in a note app but it’s not really a reliable method of retention for me. I think about printing out all of my notes but it would result in a mound of uncontrollable paper, so I am defeated, in a manner of speaking, but I plod on.

    I’d like to write a book, but that’s a daunting idea. I have a blog now, for a few years, where I thought to try to preserve some bits and pieces of thoughts and writing, to make a book, and also to read and be inspired by others. The blog is what I call mildly successful (it pleases me), but again, it’s internet and a bit elusive in that sense.

    I enjoyed your post and it has stimulated thought!

    Thanks!!!

    Ann

    Liked by 2 people

  12. *** Almost all information we are exposed to is not worth remembering.*** Sage observation. The challenge is in discerning what is worth remembering. Interesting read. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Interesting post! ❤ It is the lazy people of this world who pioneer efficiency. Rote learning is difficult for creative people. As a teacher, It was my task to reach students of multiple learning styles. I do not have a gift for languages, but I admire those who do.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Like you, I have to have some interest in, and use for, what I’m learning. When it comes to languages, the desire to communicate with a person who speaks that language is the best motivator. As a teenager, I was vacationing on a French-speaking Caribbean island and fell in love (got infatuated) with a French man. I learned quite a bit of French that year!

    Like

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