(the following article is a crosspost between Kantan datta! and 1 Habit At a Time)
How many of you are married? Raise your hands! Good for you! But can you remember the rhyme passed on from mothers to daughters essentially pinpointing what items should the bride carry to become a happy wife? Yes, yes…
and a sixpence in her shoe
Let’s break it down and see how this leads to a flawless victory in skill acquisition, taking learning new languages as an example.
Originally it was a symbol of continuity, passing traditions on. In a good self-directed learning system the base is setting up a revision system within it. Each new material you begin to internalize should stem from already internalized knowledge and concepts. This is especially true for learning a foreign language – it’s useless to memorize names of geological layers and then jump to future tenses. The connection between those two is too weak and far-fetched. It’s better to couple words for groceries and the imperative form of verbs – you will be able to follow recipes! A simple and not time-consuming trick is to put a post-it note at the end of each lesson you finish, so that you can write down 5 concepts you have remembered at the beginning of the next lesson – be it 5 words, 5 dates, 5 key concepts, 5 formulas or 5 definitions. It helps you to anchor new things in your memory. If you cannot come up with five items, maybe it’s better to review the previous lesson instead of starting a new one.
Something new was to symbolise hope and optimism in the original rhyme. That always helps, but I want to stress something very important here. Building a lesson around solely new material is of no use. In language learning this was voiced in the 80s by Stephen Krashen and his set of hypotheses, especially the Input Hypothesis (if you are unfamiliar with the work of Stephen Krashen – here is a nice summary) which says we need so-called comprehensible input (n+1 where n is what we already know) to acquire language properly. It might be especially tricky if you learn something seemingly for scratch. Please be sure to center beginner lessons on your existing knowledge – like comparing sounds across languages you know or looking up a list of internationalisms (similar words in different languages – e.g. metro, computer, democracy, stop) and false friends. In disciplines like biology or geography it’s even easier to do as you can always compare across different organisms and countries.
Borrowing something means the bride can depend on others and their luck is carried over to her. It’s the same in learning new things. There were others on this road before you (even if you are a Thai person learning Wolof) and in the Internet era, finding them is easier than ever. Connect with people, find mentors, ask questions, consider setting up a study group (yes, online as well!), motivate each other, and above all – don’t forget to reach out to those who are following you! Other people will want to “borrow” something from you too!
What’s more, “something borrowed” connects to the preceding lines of the rhyme – you should rely on what you already know, like other foreign languages, but not too heavily. After all, it’s just one line among five of them.
The meaning of the blue item is widely disputed, but it’s believed to be a symbol of modesty, fidelity as well as love. It’s good to be modest and love what you do, but let’s actually change the meaning here. You need other senses to learn the best. Even if you are not predominantly a visual learner, add color, diagrams, movies to what you learn. Engage other senses if possible. If you learn Japanese, take your textbook for a date to a sushi restaurant (or a cozy tea house if sushi is a luxury good where you live). Munch on some nuts on long study sessions, they allegedly improve you memory. Organise one study session of history in a room filled with faint incense stick aroma. Utilize your touch not only by fiddling with your pen and highlighters, but by handling the core of your study. Have you ever touched paper made in China, or made an origami crane out of it? Did you actually go outside to touch and smell the flowers when you were learning about pollination? Use your imagination to discover “something blue” in your area of study!
SIXPENCE IN THE SHOE
Although sixpence is not much, that was a minimal representation of future wealth and financial security for the newlyweds. For me it’s a small sum of money that allows you not to let a chance pass. Sometimes, out of the, er, blue, a chance to boost your learning appears:
- bumping into a particularly open foreigner that speaks your L2 that you might invite for a drink
- an indie movie being shown in 15 minutes in the cinema you’re passing on your way home
- huge price cut in your local bookshop or in your favorite online store
- a silly lottery with something useful to have (like a pretty notebook, a pocket dictionary or a fun cup covered with chemical formulas to look at while you drink tea)
Of course you want to save up for a new microscope, this very expensive Java textbook with over 1000 pages and a trip to Greece after you finish your modern Greek course, but jumping at a chance when it happens isn’t anything bad, especially when you are provided with so many free resources on the Internet. It’s worthy to have a few bucks at your disposal, anytime, anywhere.
OK, so now you became true to your learning goals in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health… what will you do right now?