THE TRUTH ABOUT FUN AND EASY LEARNING
People often want to learn Russian the fun and easy way. This is the promise that many language learning apps and language schools give.
It sounds attractive: most people prefer enjoying over suffering.
But the problem is… this promise is misleading and, if you’re ambitious, you may not get the results you want.
Let’s see why (and how to change that).
If you buy into the promise…
…you risk ending up like Mark or Tom:
Mark decided to learn Russian and started using a fun and addictive app. He was moving from level to level and earned a lot of points. He felt like a champion. He’s accomplished so much! At level 20, he decided to demonstrate his skills and have a conversation with a real native speaker. This was when he realized he can type a sentence like “A tortoise eats cheese” but he can’t even introduce himself.
Tom bought an audio course which offered him to learn Russian without the pain of grammar (he was going to deal with that later, someday). He memorized lots of sentences. He finished his 4th CD and felt like a hero. Yet when he met a real person, a simple question about weather made him confused. He realized he had scattered knowledge with many gaps and couldn’t support a simple conversation.
What happened? Both Mark and Tom had a lot of fun. And it was easy, too! But they wasted their time.
Why the “fun and easy” promise is misleading
Let’s look closely at these words and see what they actually mean.
fun: 1) amusing, entertaining; 2) enjoyable.
Many language learning products or schools prioritise entertainment. The key words in their advertising are: “friendly atmosphere”, “coffee”, “games”, “fun and easy”, “addictive” and the like.
They usually don’t say much about results because they focus on the enjoyable process. It looks like their business is to help tired overworked adults relax and have some fun while also learning Russian (even if as a by-product).
There’s nothing bad in amusement and entertainment itself. The problem starts if you want results beyond mediocre, and preferably fast, and still choose such products/schools as your main learning source.
But if you are aware of your ambitious goal, you can choose the means to reach it wisely.
Your core activities should be result oriented, and they don’t all have to be entertaining! Entertainment is a spice in your Russian learning dish. You only need a pinch of it.
Result oriented activities have a direct impact on your progress. When you do them, you gradually start speaking more confidently and fluently and can express yourself better. And these new things you can DO, bring you enjoyment (which is another meaning of the word “fun”).
The language apps/schools who help overworked adults relax, don’t want to force them to make an extra effort. First, their clients are tired anyway, second, they don’t need it, they are mostly entertaining themselves.
But both the research and the experience tells us that effort is good for your learning.
When we make an effort, we remember better. It’s because then our brain is active and our attention is sharp. When the brain works to overcome a challenge, it perceives an activity as important and the bits of information involved worth keeping.
Effortless learning means superficial learning. Of course, you might pick up some words and phrases unconsciously, but for this, you need to either consume lots of content (to have enough repetition) or come across a word in a striking or emotional situation to remember it. This is a long and unreliable strategy.
There’s a term in psychology and education – “the zone of proximal development” (introduced by a Soviet psychologist Vygotsky).
“The zone of proximal development is the difference between what a learner can do without help, and what they can’t do”.
It’s your current level plus one step that requires some effort or help. If you’re not making that extra step and always doing what’s easy for you, then you might be wasting time.
If your goal is serious, you must step out of your comfort zone and embrace the challenge.
You can do hard things.
When you overcome a challenge, the reward is satisfaction and enjoyment, i.e. it’s fun in the second meaning of the word.
Stop chasing “fun and easy” –> choose the new productive mindset to transform your results
Prioritising entertainment and effortlessness over challenge and growth when learning Russian is like:
- only eating cakes and sweets and neglecting substantial food,
- consuming social media content all evenings instead of doing hobbies that are based on your values,
- picking only entertaining/easy activities in the gym and ignoring the rest, even if they are more impactful.
So, if you…
- like me when I was starting out as a teacher, think learning Russian should be “fun and easy”;
- but at the same time you want to speak amazing Russian (without making learning it your life-long hobby);
- you’re ready to work on your own, you’re ready to work a lot, and you spend hours and hours of your time moving from one level to the next one;
- but you still can’t hold even a basic conversation in Russian –
then think again. You might be investing your time in the wrong place.
Insanity: doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.
If your goal is not pure entertainment but developing a new skill, here’s what you can reflect on right now:
1. Are the activities you do helping you grow in the direction you want or are they only entertaining you?
2. Have you been avoiding hard things and challenges? Are you happy with the results you are getting? If not, what could you do to make one tiny challenging step in your learning?
3. Have you been ignoring some “boring” things that can have a huge impact on your Russian?
It’s easy and fun to listen to a CD with Russian and English phrases on your way to work. It’s harder to learn to create your own sentences based on the grammar patterns and words you know.
It’s easy to do grammar exercises. It’s fun to collect badges. It’s harder to transform your grammar knowledge into speaking skills.
But when you step out of your comfort zone, start mastering this skill and experience your first success, it’s so much more rewarding than completed levels or finished CDs.
It’s not just an empty badge demonstrating that you’ve been busy learning Russian. It’s also a real life skill that you have developed and that you can grow further:
- you feel that you’re in control of what you want to say
- and you CAN say things and be understood, even as a beginner.
So I suggest: let’s ditch the “fun and easy” and embrace the “challenging and enjoyable”!
P.S. The photo was made in Dombay, Russia by Eugene Fedorov.