As I begin a new year and look to continue to improve my Turkish, I realize that the number one barrier to seeing real results is my own commitment to work on the language. I am in that dangerous place as a language learner: there is not much I can’t do with the language, but not much I do really well either. I am able to accomplish everything I need to do to live in Turkey, but I realize I still have a long way to go to be where I want to be with my command of Turkish. I am interested in getting better, but am I committed? And this brings me to one of my favorite quotes and one I have shared before is:
If you are interested you will do what is convenient. If you are committed, you’ll do whatever it takes.
There are few things more true in life and we see this principle in action all around us in the people we admire. We see this kind of radical commitment in:
- Seth Godin writing a blog post every single day and writing amazing books at record pace.
- The Beatles playing 1,200 live concerts before they ever became a known name.
- Hall of Fame baseball player Mike Schmidt who surprised new rookies every year by showing up early everyday of the season to take extra batting practice even in the midst of multiple all-star seasons.
- Novelist Orhan Pamuk sitting down and writing 10 or more hours every day.
These are all examples of people whose commitment has lead to success on the worlds stage. Were they gifted? Certainly. But more than that, they were committed enough to work harder and put in more time at their craft than anyone else.
Commitment coupled with genius leads to amazing results.
We don’t all have the genius of The Beatles or Seth Godin or of Orhan Pamuk. Nor do we have their commitment. And while I haven’t yet learned the secret to improving genius, I do have a better idea of how to improve commitment. All endeavors, if we are to see them through to fruition, will require your commitment. Without it you will not reach your goals.
I’m In Trouble
But if Seth Godin sized commitment is what is needed to reach my goal of improving my Turkish, then I’m in trouble. I am interested. But committed? If that is how you are feeling, you’re not alone. Very few – including all those on the list – are born committed. And in this fact we can take heart.
Gardening for Commitment
My wife and I are avid gardeners – or at least we were. It’s a bit tough living in an apartment in the concrete jungle of Istanbul, Turkey, but we love to raise our own vegetables and grow beautiful flowers. Commitment I have found is a lot like our garden plants. It can grow. With the right conditions it will grow and in the end, produce fruit.
The Right Conditions
Our plants needed two conditions to grow and produce fruit – time and nutrients. Without these two key elements, they would not grow. Commitment is much the same.
We could do very little about the time needed for our plants to grow. If the seed packet said that our green beens would need 80 days to produce a crop, then 80 days it was and there was little we could do to speed that process. But with plants, 80 days means 24 hours a day in the soil for 80 days. It is not something that you can control.
But we can control the amount of time we commit to learning another language. If you sporadically interact with the language without putting in consistent time it is going to be difficult to increase the amount of commitment you have toward learning the language. If however you set regular times of study, of listening, of review and of interacting with the language on a daily basis, your commitment will begin to grow. It takes time to build commitment and if you can stick with something over time, you will grow committed to it.
Knowing this I am going to try and do a few new things this year on a consistent basis:
- Do one thing in Turkish everyday. I am going to borrow Clarence Oliver’s “Unbreakable Chain of Language Learning” idea, print out a little calendar and do at least (but of course not limited to) one activity every day that will promote my Turkish growth.
- Turkish Only iPod days. I listen to a lot of podcast and books on my ipod. I want to set aside 2-3 days every week where I wipe my ipod clean of everything English making my ipod a Turkish only zone. This way anytime I want to listen to something, it will have to be in Turkish – I won’t even have a choice.
- I am going to put the link to the BBC Turkish News on my browser bar so that my daily news round up will be in Turkish.
While we can do little to compress time and shorten the growing season, we can do much to improve the nutrients our plants receive. I remember one year building two large window boxes for our home in South Dakota. Someone had given us a bag of Miracle Grow Planting Soil and so we put it in one of the planter boxes. It was not enough for both though so the other box was filled with soil from our garden. We planted the same varieties of flowers in each box, but within weeks knew that the outcome would be entirely different. The Miracle Grow box overflowed with a lush forest of plants and flowers that made the other box look a sickly pigmy version in comparison.
Commitment – like plants – will grow faster and put down deeper roots with the right nutrients. Nutrients like high interest level, a high level of purpose, a bit of success and good old fun. These are things you can control. And if you do, if you fill your language learning journey with topics that you are passionate about, if you have a clear purpose for learning the language, if you have fun and put yourself into position to experience success in the process, your commitment to learning will increase.
In thinking about these ideas, in 2012 I’d like to try and:
- Watch more of my favorite movies in Turkish.
- Commit to giving a few seminars on language learning to Turks in Turkish. I do this informally all the time, but having a few official seminars ought to raise the bar a bit and increase the purpose behind the learning.
- Continue to read my favorite novels in Turkish.
As I wrote Monday, my one goal for the year is to know like the back of my hand the 2,000 most common words in Turkish. I am going to need to build my commitment to Turkish if I am going to accomplish this. So as a new year begins and you too begin to ramp up for a great year of learning another language, I would encourage you to take the necessary steps to grow your commitment to the journey. Think about ways to create more time for “nutrient rich” interaction with the language. Because if you are committed to learning another language, you’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done.
What ideas do you have for increasing your own level of commitment to the language learning journey this year?