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Don’t Be A Murderous Mother Language Learner

So there are two broad “failure modes” for language-learners, whether or not they’re autodidacts:

  • Absentee Father (Deadbeat Dead): Showing up too rarely
  • Murderous Mother (Susan Smith): Present, but violent and cruel and doing everything wrong.

These metaphors are both really dark, but, you already know I’m into that. And if you didn’t know, then now you know. One of my Czech friends from Ohio, Kacy, once said to me (and I paraphrase): “Khatz, you don’t swear, but you actually do worse, because instead of swearing you say all these dark, horrible things and use scary and gross metaphors”. And Kacy was right; Kacy is almost always right. Also, I do swear, I just save it for special occasions because I don’t do it very well; I sound less like Chris Rock and more like a 12-year-old who’s not comfortable dropping eff bombs

So where were we? Oh yeah — homicidal mothers.

This is how it works. Where deadbeat dad language learners are simply absent, murderous mother language learners are present in crucially wrong ways. It’s true that showing up at all is better than not showing up, except it in the cases where it isn’t. First, let’s look at some more specific types and cases of bad maternal parenting, and then figure out what lessons and analogs we can pull from them:

  • Type: “Abusive head trauma (AHT), commonly known as shaken baby syndrome (SBS)” [Abusive head trauma – Wikipedia]
  • Case: “Susan Smith…was sentenced to life in prison…for murdering her two children, three-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alexander…The case gained international attention because of Smith’s false claim that an African-American man had kidnapped her sons during a carjacking.” [Susan Smith – Wikipedia]
  • Case: “Maria Plenkina, 21, deserted her child over her her third birthday in Kirov, Russia…the mother had locked the door on her daughter, turning off the water so she could not even drink, according to the Russian Investigative Committee.” [‘Evil’ Russian mother, 21, left her three-year-old daughter to die of starvation alone | Daily Mail Online]

Learning L2 grammar in your L1 is like shaking a baby to teach it a lesson. It doesn’t work and may actually harm or kill the recipient of the “treatment”. Exposing yourself to boring L2 materials is like drowning your babies — Susan Smith style. And not buying books is like cutting off the water and simply hoping things take care of themselves (“let them drink soda!”) — call it the Plenkina Manoeuver.

The moral of the story is: don’t do those things. Don’t be a malicious mother to your language baby. Say “no” to infanticide (and, indeed, filicide).

  • Only learn L2 grammar in your L2 (before that, just observe the patterns without seeking or really letting yourself be told any “rules”, because I guarantee you those “rules” will only scare, scar, annoy and confuse you).
  • Stop doing boring things as soon as you realize they’re boring. Switch it up. Change the content (what) and/or structure (how) of what you’re doing (hint: the how nearly always matters more than the what — not all the time, but nearly all the time). And you don’t have to stop forever — swimming is fun and good for you, just stay safe (unbored) and come back alive.
  • Buy L2 books. Err on the side of overbuying. Your wallet will hate me now, but love me later.

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