Language Learning: Banana Festival

(I’m resurrecting this from the comments section from a reply I wrote on my post about Pflaumenkuchen:  How to Own Vocab Without Studying).

Making mistakes (and learning from them) is so important. My friend E and I called it “idiot learning” and said that that certain words were “idiot learned.” The reason why was because we had made idiots of ourselves learning them.  Here, I blogged about idiot learning back in the day.

Once I was describing what Christmas was like in the USA to my Hangzhou roommate; after my long description, he asked me if we ate a lot of bananas.

That’s all nice, he said, but don’t you eat bananas?

Bananas? I looked at him like he was a freak show and thought, wow, he must be very confused… but then soon we realized that I had been constantly (and mistakenly) referring to Christmas as 香蕉节 xiāngjiāo jié, which does not mean Christmas at all.

Christmas in Chinese is 圣诞节 Shèngdànjié (literally, Feast of the Nativity).

But what I kept saying was 香蕉节 xiāngjiāo jié (festival of bananas).

What an idiot, right? Worth it: I now own the word 圣诞节 Shèngdànjié.

Here’s the post I wrote on the day of the original Banana Festival debacle.  There was a lot of interesting stuff going on back then.

This minor misunderstanding represents a huge fear that monolinguals have when talking to native speakers; they’re afraid that there will be a miscommunication and that they will die of embarrassment.  It is a deep and paralyzing insecurity.

Anyway, nobody died of embarrassment:  my roommate and I had a huge laugh.

I know a lot of people… a LOT… especially when the target language is an Asian language.. a lot of people who seek out some kind of intermediary step to language learning that involves study rather than humans.  Let me just study podcasts first, or I start with some flashcards, or I’ll learn to read first, and THEN I’ll talk to humans.

All of these are coping strategies to deal with fear of humans… especially ASIAN humans.  Nobody ever tries to postpone talking to Italians.  Think about it.

Anyway, that fear is false in language learning.  It’s not helpful.  Find a way to overcome it, because the rewards are countless.

Human communication is a non-negotiable in language learning.  What happens when you talk to other humans?

  • You negotiate for meaning, which sticks in you head better than studying.
  • You learn in context, which your brain was built to do.
  • You make mistakes and learn from them.  
  • You make language learning allies.
  • You have a good laugh every once in a while.
  • You can buy yourself a months’ worth of meals from all the money you saved by NOT buying Rosetta Stone.

Worth it.

7 thoughts on “Language Learning: Banana Festival

  1. All of these are coping strategies to deal with fear of humans… especially ASIAN humans. Nobody ever tries to postpone talking to Italians.

    🙂

    Soooooo worth it! Besides, the kinds of howling deep belly laughs that accompany mortifyingly embarrassing mistakes are hard to come by in life! One should really be proactive about seeking them out and trying to foster those kinds of environments as much as possible. If not for themselves, at least for the rest of us. Nice post.

  2. JP wrote:
    “I know a lot of people… a LOT… especially when the target language is an Asian language.. a lot of people who seek out some kind of intermediary step to language learning that involves study rather than humans. Let me just study podcasts first, or I start with some flashcards, or I’ll learn to read first, and THEN I’ll talk to humans.”

    Let me comment with a quote from the movie “Whatever Works”:
    “I did have a few drinks.
    But can you blame me?
    Hanging out with those inchworms?
    I mean, they actually think that love is the answer to everything.
    I told them about Jethro Paige from back home.
    He got caught doing it with a sheep.
    Making love with a sheep.
    And they were all laughing and everything,
    but I just looked at them and said, ‘Folks,
    as Boris would say, whatever works.’ ”

    Happy New Year. 🙂

    • The no-human, no-real language communication intermediary steps DO NOT WORK. They are a waste of your time, money, and effort.

      Trying to learn language with a non-human intermediary step is like starting with one chopstick instead of two.

      Learning to ride a bike is too hard, so I’ll start with a bike that has only one wheel, then I’ll be ready for two wheels….

      When are the going to put out a Rosetta basketball program? Because that to me makes as much sense as Rosetta Stone for language. It’s “whatever WORKS,” not “whatever feeds your insecurities.”

      • Right now, I’m happy with my levels of language proficiency in English, Spanish, and Danish, thank you. No doubt that I could have reached higher levels faster with more real, human communcation but my personal experience suggests that non-human intermediary steps do work for me to a certain degree.

        I haven’t tried the thing with the sheep though.

      • Ok, Martinillo, I’ll take your word for it that non-human intermediary steps worked for you, and that your language learning success is due to those steps, rather than IN SPITE OF those steps.

        In spite of your testimony, however, I will also continue to emphatically discourage the use of learning methods that do not involve real language practice (listening, speaking, reading, writing) in sentences and paragraphs with real humans involved. The day I concede to any of those artificial practice methods is the day the world has to stop taking me seriously as a language teacher.

        It’s true that people have different learning styles and preferences, but when it comes to language everyone learns and acquires in exactly the same way: with communicative practice.

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