Why Don’t You Learn Like You Eat?

The point of eating food is not simply to get full. The point of learning a language is not simply to memorize a really big vocabulary, or even to get good at the language.

Well, unfortunately, it is for most people. But there’s a Japanese aphorism (don’t act like you didn’t see that coming) that perfectly encapsulates the optimal behavior path in this situation:

急がば回れ。
If you’re in a rush, take the scenic route.

Getting good is good. Those things are all good. It’s nice to be full and it’s nice to have a big vocabulary. It’s just that you’re more likely to eat more if you focus more or less totally on making and procuring tasty food than “efficient”, “filling” food. Similarly, if you focus just about exclusively on having fun through the language, while you still suck, while you’re not full yet, you’ll naturally “eat” more of it, and eat more often, and naturally get “fuller” faster.

Sure, you could simply bloat yourself with water, vitamin pills and rice or Calorie Mate (another Japanese thing) and call it a day. And that would get you full and it would be fast. And sad and depressing. So much so that you’d probably just go hungry most of the time. And yet, this is exactly how most smart, diligent, conscientious people approach languages — vocabulary lists, classes, boring words first and last…anything but something real and funny. And they, too, metaphorically starve to death.

If you’re in a rush, take the scenic route. Have fun at now, not later — there won’t be a later with that kind of suffering —  one tasty bite or footstep at a time.

  2 comments for “Why Don’t You Learn Like You Eat?

  1. April 12, 2014 at 01:04

    […] Why Don’t You Learn Like You Eat? […]

  2. JD
    November 4, 2014 at 18:24

    For some reason, the quote “If you’re in a hurry, take the scenic route.” stuck with me for a long time. Mostly because it didn’t feel right. Of course, I tried to compare it to two students on their way to school saying, “Since we’re gonna be late anyways, let’s just take our time.” But that’s not quite the same, because now they aren’t in a hurry.

    Finally, I decided to translate the derned Japanese to my second language, Korean. And now it makes so much more sense.
    “If you’re in a hurry, turn around.” So rather than taking the scenic route and stressing on the way while trying to go fast, you just stop. You stop, turn around, and choose to do something else. Maybe it takes you on towards the place you wanted to go. Maybe it takes you to another place, but the thing is, you’re happy.

    Thanks Cats!

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