The more things mean to you, the greater you become.



Resources, bankbooks and hidden talents


'Resources' are what we call anything you can derive benefit from. They can be anything at all that enables you to realize your intentions and satisfy your needs.

         There are many unused resources around us all the time. Some are waiting to be made visible, while others are already known to us, but we often underrate them or we first need to get into the habit of making use of them.

         Some people live in the belief that nobody gets anything for free in this world. Actually, if they really had to pay for every resource they used, they would go broke pretty soon.

         We could start, for example, by giving them the bill for the air they breathe. This air is all around us and we breathe it in for free. Our sense organs, our abilities to communicate in a language and to come to an understanding with others are also there for us free of charge, as is our reason and our ability to experience feelings, to work up enthusiasm and to laugh.

         In this chapter we are going to systematically seek out and identify such resources – using Bateson's model. We will be particularly interested in those which can help us to achieve our language goals.


1. Environment


Starting at the environment level, we shall present a couple of examples and ask several questions. Questions written in italics should be taken as a prompt regarding your own activity. Answer them as an exercise that can tell you something useful, which you can then note down.    






Better somewhere than everywhere


Imagine that you wake up in the morning to find that your laptop is in the entrance hall, your CD with German phrases is in the bedroom and your phrase notes are in the living room. You still have seven minutes until the time you usually get up. What are you going to do?

         And what would you do if the CD were in the laptop mechanism, and the laptop and phrase notes were within arm's reach? Say both of these situations can happen sixty times a year. How many minutes of time lost or gained for learning does this represent?


How can you change the spacial arrangements and the distribution of the objects around you to help you study and use your languages?


For a long time Dave could not remember what the German word Kuchen meant (cake). He somehow kept confusing it with kitchen. Eventually, he wrote the word with its English equivalent on a piece of paper, which he sellotaped onto his toothbrush, so that he had it in front of him every day. Now he is more than familiar with the word.


Do you have a special place allocated for the language that you are studying? Do you have your books, notes, CDs and cassettes to hand?


Stick up pictures, postcards, maps and favourite quotations in the language you are studying  on the wall at home. Create a little "German corner" at home, in the garden shed or at work. Collect objects, brochures and materials associated with the language and country in question.


Walking around town


Where in my town can I come into contact with the language that I am studying? How can I otherwise make use of the options provided by my environment?


When Petr can choose which side of Main Street he is going to walk down, he goes for the side where the tourists sit out on the terrace in front of the hotel, so that he can occasionally pick up fragments of German phrases as he is passing. A little way further down there is a foreign language bookshop display window. He always has a look at the titles of two or three German books and then repeats them to himself as he is walking.


2. Elementary activities


Some people need to get their sight sorted out, to ensure that their eyes do not hurt when they read for any extended period of time. Others would be helped by learning relaxation techniques to make studying more pleasant.


Which elementary activity needs to be enhanced to make the study and use of languages easier for you?


Let your hearing make full use of its potential to help in your language studies. Use high-quality recordings and if possible high-quality loudspeakers, sound card, radio receiver and player. Be aware that to study German it is enough  to use a device with a sound range of up to 4000 Hz, but to hear English correctly we need a device that attains the higher frequencies up to the 11,000-12,000 Hz band. Also consider how spending long hours with headphones on at excessive volume can permanently damage your hearing.

         Use high-standard textbooks and aids. If you are learning phrases from cards, design them so that you can read them comfortably…and even with pleasure. Train your vocal cords without overtaxing them.


3. Abilities and strategies


A human is a miraculous little learning machine. Learning begins long before we are born. Not a day goes by in our lives when we do not pick up some new knowledge, a new behaviour pattern or a new way of doing things.

         In comparison with others, people who work efficiently have an extra rare ability. They can transfer the skills and habits that they have acquired in one field to other new fields.


Use what has been learnt in new contexts


Consider the skills and knowledge that you have acquired in life. How could you make use of them for studying a language?


For example, if you did karate in your youth, you could revive the old habit of regular training with its associated disciplines, maintaining a correct "mental regimen" and alternating hard work with leisure and relaxed concentration. You can decide for yourself which level of language knowledge would match a yellow or a brown belt and at which level you would be perfectly satisfied and receive a black belt.

         Kindergarten teachers surely know a lot about how to make use of melody, rhythm and rhyme when teaching new material. They know how important it is to vary different types of activities to make teaching interesting. They notice how children imitate general grammatical patterns more closely than adults do (e.g. "think, thinked"). They also see how much practice is required for them to learn the exceptions to these rules and to acquire correct pronunciation.


Which skills and knowledge have you already acquired in life?


Write them down on a piece of paper. For each of them try to come up with at least one way it could be put to good use during your studies.

A former chess player will learn the German word for "queen" more readily than others might. A natural scientist will apply her knowledge of Latin when studying Romance languages. A mathematician will very quickly understand logical grammatical rules. A painter would find it a waste not to take full advantage of her visual imagination during her studies.       


Used and unused abilities


Catherine learnt French at school and university using classic methods. Most of her time was taken up working with a textbook. She learnt the language to quite a decent level but everybody could tell by her accent that she was not speaking her native language. As an adult she began to study German and decided to make full use of her hearing. From the start of her studies she worked mostly with recordings.  She listened to them and tried to reproduce aloud not only the characteristic stress pattern of speech, but also its rhythm and melody. When repeating she could then make use of her auditory memory, which is stronger than her visual memory.


When she speaks German now she talks with an almost perfect accent. Only a native German can tell that she is a foreigner.


More will be said on methods and strategies in the next chapter on polyglots.


Using your foreign language wherever you can


We have already met some study techniques in the previous chapter. One of these methods was the principle: Use your foreign language wherever you can. For example, if you are watching an international football match, you can just as easily watch it on an Austrian or German channel as on a domestic one.


Say you have a family chore of washing the dishes and cleaning in the kitchen every evening. You can either do it at eight or at ten. There is a radio on the table in the kitchen. At nine the news begins in your foreign language. What time should you plan your cleaning for?


How can you plan your schedule in favour of even fleeting contact with your foreign language?


What knowledge can you bring to bear as a resource for studying and using your languages?


Paul learnt Italian quite well and wanted to test out his knowledge in some way. He decided to show round some Italian guests who were visiting his friend. On the way to the rendezvous he was suddenly overcome by fear: "what if I get into a situation where I forget some important word or where I just can't get a word out for the life of me?"

         But then he sighed with relief as he realized that the foreign guests could speak French well, just like he could. So if need arose, he could get by with French.


Another case of transference


Robert had never learnt any Greek in his life. Yet he enthusiastically reported how for all of two minutes he understood what his Greek colleague was saying in his own native language. Robert told him a problem that had been very much occupying him, in English. His Greek friend then immediately described it to another Greek in their mother tongue. "Because he repeated it sentence by sentence as I had said it, and because a lot of international words come from Greek,  I knew what they were talking about in practically every single sentence."    


Let's choose


The number of methods and strategies for studying languages is inexhaustible. Choose those methods that suit you best. Do not automatically choose the first method or course that comes your way. There are even better options awaiting you. Take into account your goals, abilities and favourite activities. Work in a way that accommodates them.




4. Beliefs and values


This is one of the little secrets that gifted people have:


A basic ingredient of talent is the strong desire to make progress in a particular field combined with the conviction that this is achievable.

Gifted people do not say to themselves: "Mr X does it three times faster than me. He's just got a talent for it. I should give up." They say: "How does that Peter do it? If he can manage it then I certainly can."

         Experts have found that motivation to perform a specific activity is effective when two conditions have been met:


1.Performance of this activity is in keeping with your main values.

2.You are convinced that you are able to achieve the goal in question.


How many people give up on their basic goals before they've even started? How many say every day that they are too old, that they are "not up to it" and that others are more talented? But sometimes your value or belief is so strong that it sweeps all obstacles aside. That was the case of a Russian pensioner who began to learn Spanish as her first foreign language at an advanced age. She needed to communicate with her granddaughter, who she was meant to be looking after, and so she learnt to speak the language within a year.


      Another instructive case is that of the schoolboy who was dozing as the maths homework was being given out. When he woke up he quickly copied down two problems that were on the blackboard. Because he had been sleeping for some time, he failed to hear the teacher say that nobody at the school had ever solved these problems. He thought it was ordinary homework. At home he really racked his brains over these problems but he eventually came up with the answers, the first and only one to do so in the entire school!


How to start believing in yourself


One good, simple way to start believing in yourself is to start regularly working and taking pleasure in the progress that you make. Can you remember everything you did not know or could not deal with two or three years ago? If you kept a diary at that time, go through it. You will be surprised!


Even the most difficult journey starts…simply with a first step


The conviction that you will not "up to it" often comes from the feeling that the task you see in front of you is too big. To a beginner the task of reading a German novel may appear impossible. So first choose an easier task. For example, reading the texts of the first five lessons from your textbook fluently and with full understanding. Then just have a glance at a German novel, or even better, the dialogue of a play. Can you find at least one sentence that you basically understand? The chances are that there is one.

         Step back with pleasure and applaud yourself over this – you could even award yourself some small treat. You have taken your first step towards reading German novels. Twenty steps like that will not be so hard, and yet you will have achieved your goal.




Where do I believe in myself and where don't I?


When studying a language, it is good to be able to the answer these questions:


What is my image of myself?


To what extent do I believe in myself and to what extent do I believe in my abilities and my future? In which situations and in which contexts do I and don't I?


Which of my beliefs assist my foreign language studies and which hinder them?


You can work on your beliefs


Neatly list those beliefs and values of yours which most closely relate to language study and use.

         Now have a think about how you could turn a belief with a negative mark into a belief with a positive mark. What would you need to change to make these values and beliefs support your studies?

         For example, take the idea that "I have always been a bad student". Even if this remains unchanged, we can still interpret it as: "I have always been a bad student, so I should use my foreign language as much as possible in a natural setting in real life. When I use it I should free myself as soon as possible from any dry scholarly or academic approach."


Systematically change restrictive beliefs


Sometimes you need the help of an experienced psychological counselor to alter a deep-seated attitude. But in many cases it is enough to look at things simply from a slightly different angle and to comment on them using different words – words that nonetheless fully respect reality. Let us take a couple of examples of such internal retuning:


The belief that "I can't do irregular German verbs" could be usefully replaced by the beliefs that "I need to learn basic irregular German verbs" and "if I learn five irregular verbs every week and do the appropriate amount of practice on them, I will be an expert on verbs in a couple of months". It would be good to back up this new belief as soon as possible with a specific decision: "This Saturday I shall learn the first ten most frequently used verbs – those dealt with first in the Teach Yourself book.“


The belief that "I don't have time to go on a company German course, because I am very busy with work and I'm on the go all the time," can be replaced by "because I have too much work to be able to go on a company German course, I shall get on an intensive holiday course." Likewise you can look at things this way:  "it took the offer of this course to show me how much work I have. What can I do about that? Who could stand in for me for some things? Is there anything in my activities that is less valuable than this course, which I could give up?"


"I'm old now" and "I don't want to make a fool of myself in front of the youngsters" can be replaced by "mental work rejuvenates you", "I'm learning for myself, not for others" and "I have a right to my own time".


"The German lesson is always on television when I go to play with the band.  My music has a greater value for me." In this case ask yourself: "Is anybody else in the band learning German? When? How? Are the lessons on television the only way?"


"It bothers my wife that I watch German programmes, which she does not understand." You can replace this sentence with one of the following:


"My wife looks forward to my company and attention. I'll make up the time we could spend together watching television in other ways."


"And what if I work up to a standard where I could translate the films for her?"


"Thanks to my German I now earn more. There will surely be enough money for a second television given time. Until then we can come to a reasonable agreement."


"I have no talent at all for languages," can be replaced by a range of sentences and statements such as:


"I understand English, so I can also understand hundreds, even thousands of French, Spanish,

Latin and German words."

"When I was learning to swim I had difficulties at first. And I didn't say I had no talent for swimming then."

"I don't need to learn every language. German is enough."

"I'll find out how much study time was needed by those I see as talented. I'll have to devote twice as much time to the language."

"Do I have no talent or do I just not feel like exerting myself?"   

"Maybe I do have the ability to go through the first five lessons in detail. Then we shall see. I might even manage the sixth."

"Above all I need to be able to understand spoken German, to recognize individual words and phrases. I shall work with recordings a lot more."

"I'll give my speech organs plenty of opportunity to practise this new pronunciation that I'm just not used to. I'll get myself tutored by somebody who can teach me correct pronunciation."

"I'll get my memory to retain material by repeating basic phrases every day."

"I need to get into the habit of studying regularly."


And in conclusion, another useful maxim with universal application:


Phantoms fear actions.


The best is yet to come


The attentive reader will perhaps have noticed that in this chapter we have only been through the first four levels of Bateson's model. The other two will be dealt with in Chapter Eight. We can sum up this entire chapter in a single sentence:


The difference between your average dreamer and a successful person lies in the fact that a successful person sets out to find and utilize resources that enable her to fulfil those dreams.


We shall talk about such successful dreamers in the following chapter, which will tell us…