Steps to Learning a New Language

Taking on a new language can be very difficult. If there is one word to describe the feeling, the word “frustrating” comes to my mind. This is especially true when you are giving yourself a time frame to learn and grasp the basics of the language. Now, of course there are plenty of books and Youtube videos available that preach various techniques on how to learn a language. However, one important aspect of language learning is often forgotten, which is:

/// We learn best when we are not under pressure or stress.

That is to say, our brains are generally more receptive to new thoughts and ideas when there is peace of mind. I will give you an example. Last year, around this time, I decided to seriously try to learn another language. I have an interest in languages, cultures, behaviours, rather than mathematics and fields of that nature. So, since I live in a bilingual country, in the “Great White North”, being Canada, I dedicated my time and effort to learning French.

At first, I did not like it. It was becoming more and more frustrating as I had to start from scratch. I began translating almost every word from French to English using the website Google Translate. But I also noticed that as I kept translating 10-20 words a day, I was retaining very few of the very words I had studied only a day before. This made me feel more frustrated and stupid.

HOWEVER, I kept reminding myself of the fact that I speak another language since childhood (my mother-tongue) besides English and I only learned its grammar at the age of 17. More importantly, I remembered how I gave up studying it, even though I was receiving free tutoring from my father. I remembered how frustrated and hopeless I had felt.Yet, I still pushed through, and within a few years, I had learned to read and write in my native language.

The point I would like to emphasize is that it WAS a long process. Contrary to popular belief, there is not such thing as learning a language in a course in 6 months, unless you are a savant. The fact is, it takes plenty of patience, dedication, but also lowered expectations and the elimination timetables to learn a language.

So, with all that in mind, one must know that there are three phases of language learning:

1) Grammar Learning Phase – One must learning the very basic vocabulary of a language. Try to learn enough without pressuring yourself. This means, you may learn 10 -15 words in one day, but you should NOT try to learn another 10 -15 the next day. The reason is simple: our brains are not bags you stuff things into. Think of words like concrete, but before it dries. You need the words to dry before you coat another layer of concrete along the way. Once it dries, then it sticks.

2) Listening Practice Phase – The transition to this phase is probably the most difficult. This is especially true if you are learning a language that does not pronounce every letter in each word, like French, for example. This is something I had trouble with for some time as I became well capable of reading news articles in French, yet unable to listen to the news in French. Therefore, in this case, I realized, it is okay if you do not understand everything. Just be persistent and confident in yourself and bare in mind that even when you think you are not comprehending everything that is spoken, your brain is still adapting itself to the language subconsciously. I will give you an example. I began to watch a French talk show where I could barely understand anything that was said, and everybody seemed to speak very fast and incomprehensible to me. Then, I went back to listening to more basic and slower-paced conversations, and I understood the normal-paced conversations a lot better. I had noticed that my brain had worked faster and much more quickly at defining meaning, among other things. So, listen and listen often!

3) Speaking Practice Phase – This phase is difficult but has less to do with knowledge of vocabulary and sentence structure, and more to do with confidence. If you are at this phase of your language learning, be aware that making mistakes will not get you in jail. So, there is no harm in trying. If you are too shy, or fear that your friends you speak to in that language will judge you or make fun of you, then try other techniques. If you do not know anyone who also speaks the language you are trying to learn, then try “acting” in front of the mirror when you are alone as the interviewer and the interviewed. This is a great exercise as you are not under any pressure to be 100% correct, and more importantly, you can be creative!

For example, you can act as though you are an actor or an actress in a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival, and you are asked simple questions like: “How did you like working on this film?” Then, you can try to use basic words or phrases that you have learned to explain basic concepts.

Be imaginative! It is the only way one can learn new things and become open-minded. So, never pressure yourself, enjoy the process, and be sure that you WILL improve!

Politics: The Most Underappreciated Artform

God, I love politics, not for the backstabbing, smear campaigning, double dealings, or its general propaganda. No. I love it because it is about intelligence, and as much as it is about emotional insight. It can be about how you raise an issue or word a phrase, to being about the science of presenting one’s image to possessing emotional gravitas.

To make it in politics, one must have more than one or two sets of skills. It is essential that one be masterful in a wide variety of areas in life. It is essential that one have high self-esteem and self-confidence, utilize their interpersonal skills, have fluency in language to convey a clear message to their audience, and be cognizant of impromptu questions that may lead to mistakes. Those are just the basics.

A political figure must be on a mission. The politician must have a goal. In this realm, therefore, it is not enough for one to attain all the aforementioned skills without a motivating factor. One must work with a motive in politics, like in life itself, in order to reach their audience and achieve a purpose. In essence, if we put aside the negative sides of the prism of politics, think of the best political statesmen, we can see: charisma, motivation, leadership qualities, fluency in language, and courage.

To me, politics is a form of art, and the politician is the painter. If you like their politics, chances are, you like their art work. A politician must paint a good picture for their audience, regardless of the scenery. With their words, the politician must portray an image with subtlety and detail yet render it abstract and vague in the end. A great statesmen possess all the skills I have mentioned and more, to paint an image as though it exists for real, though it may not be so.

What Is The Social Bank Account?

As I was listening to the doctor in the middle of a psychotherapy group session, I was reminded of the importance of attending these classes yet again. The weekly classes are deep thought-provoking discussions about life. Specifically, at its core, it puts emphasis on our thinking process, our relations with others, and more importantly, our relations with ourselves. Every week, the leader of our group discusses something called ‘Mentalization’ – in general terms, it is the process of mentalizing or thinking about a situation or an act from a perspective OTHER than your own. This process requires practice and patience in order for one to adapt to his or her own environment without constantly personalizing events and seeing life through a narrow lens.

The doctor in our class argues that IF we incorporate the practice of mentalization in our daily lives, we will live more stress-free lives and have more understanding of others and their points of view. A simple example he uses is a scenario where you are walking down the street and you ask somebody for directions, then they respond by saying: “Go to hell!”. The doctor argues that you should not take it personally or think about it for the rest of your day asking yourself questions like: ‘Why did I bother asking a question?’. To some of us it may very well be our response to think this way, but according to our therapist, it is wrong because we haven’t thought about what that person may have been thinking and feeling at the time you asked the question! They may have been having a very bad day, or maybe they were insulted by another person just minutes before you asked your question.

So, each week our discussions surround core concepts such as mentalization. However, this past week we came across a new different concept. This new concept was called the social bank account. The term came into discussion because we wanted to know what it would mean if we abandoned our family and friends and tried to make new connections with people. How would that affect us, if at all? Well, I did not understand the concept because I always thought that what we were, and who we were, was a result of all our previous connections with family and friends. And of course, the firmer your connections were, I thought, the more it marked your identity. So, in effect, if you grow up in a family for most of your life, by weakening those connections, to make new ones would probably poke holes on your “identity wall”, so to speak.

I guess I was wrong, because according to the doctor, we are always making new connections, and are not technically “replacing” our parents or relatives with other people, but merely adding to our social bank account. Thus, the more we invest our time and energy, with meeting and strengthening relationships and connections (like “networks”), the more we can withdraw from that social bank account when we are in times of need or when we are feeling lonely.

Regardless of how close or distant your previous relationships were, the “investment” of building more relationships with others is not a threat to past ones. It is merely a healthy social lifestyle that prevents one from becoming socially and emotionally bankrupt.

Great Football Managers and Film Directors: The Similarities and Differences

On this day, I would like to discuss the blatantly dissimilar yet fascinating overlap in nature of the art of filmmaking or film directing, and the role of a Football (soccer) manager. The essence and fluency of a great film generally lies in the vision and imagination of its director. Likewise, the flow and fluency in a tireless team’s effort on a football pitch reflects the vision and demands of the manager in charge.

Every little detail on a football pitch is planned, defined, and refined for players to orchestrate and execute. The role of a football manager is to make sure each of his players knows his role. When conducted with under the right direction of a manager, the game will inevitably display sheer talent and an elevation of skill and precision, at least on their side of the pitch.

Like a football manager, on a movie set, a film director must prepare a game plan for the movie. The director must rehearse (training/practice), storyboard the script (detail a strategy formation), work with each actor and help them understand the character more clearly (motivate the players and clarify their role on the pitch with each step/run), and finally hire the best and most suited collaborators aside from the actors to make a good picture (hire the best assistant managers/training staff and medical support staff).

In major North American sports such as: Hockey, Baseball, Basketball, for example, the job of acquiring/trading players, signing contracts, dealing with cap space (salary cap), or scouting young up and coming players is delegated to a “General Manager”. However, a football manager, unlike the aforementioned sports and their respective leagues, must oversee every aspect of a football team, aside from producing the finances for the club.

Likewise, in the process of making a film, a good director does not always need to produce his own films, but must worry about the finances at times, including a tight schedule and the input of investors (producers). Thus, the film director must be equipped with a high form of competence and intelligence to oversee many aspects of the job and exercise restraint and zen-like qualities in spite of these pressures and demands in order to transform not only his vision onto the screen, but also to maximize the performances of the lead actors, the supporting cast, and the numerous other collaborators on the set. What we see in a film is essentially what the director has imagined and put together, little by little, in careful collaboration with those working under them.

It is in this light that I see the best directors and football managers having very similar qualities and extreme sense of work ethic, of which they demand of themselves and those who work for them. It is an essential requirement to be meticulous, driven and to have a remarkably acute awareness of challenges and potential setbacks. Each must also be a masterful mind reader as well, in order to manipulate those around them to work for them and want to work for them.

In order to give examples of great film directors and football managers, I can only think of one name for each. Although this may be controversial, I think the two men are arguably the two most detail-oriented artists of their craft. In the world of football there is a man named Jose Mourinho a.k.a. “The Special One” who emphasizes a strong work ethic from everybody around him, but that is not all. He is a highly motivated individual, and has reached the border of arrogance at times, but is generally a man who is highly confident in his abilities. He has a strong attention to detail for each minute of every game and most important of all, has a Machiavellian approach to football in order to motivate his players and unleash psychological warfare on his opponents.

In the world of film, those who are movie buffs will probably already know who I am nominating, and you would be right if you thought it’d be none other than, David Fincher. This acclaimed film director has passion for filmmaking. His style is unique, and his attention to detail, also relentless. Many actors, if not all, speak of this director fondly of elevating their performances, and maximizing their strengths.

To conclude, it is worthy to take note that the amassed responsibilities of these two roles is unlike little else. It is one of the hardest things to achieve, which is to become a great film director or a great football manager. And of course, so much is riding on your hands, and if anything goes wrong, it is your fault. Major decisions must be made quickly, and swiftly before, and after the words “action/cut” and likewise, before the kickoff and final whistles. Furthermore, unlike other major sports, in football, there is no stoppage or break on the time clock. So, time is of the essence, along with everything else.

We have arrived inevitably to the part where I entertain the idea of whether Jose Mourinho could direct a film or that David Fincher could manage a football team. Although I don’t think it is possible for them to succeed immediately, I do think that the two do have the ability to bring out the best in people.

However, I have just realized I’ve done a disservice to myself, because now I can’t relinquish the thought of Jose Mourinho as a film director! I wonder what kind of director he’d be. I’m sure he wouldn’t be much different to David Fincher. Except, Mr. Mourinho would then probably call Ridley Scott a “specialist of failure”.