Tell yourself you're a learner.
EMMA'S NOTES #59
I moved back from India (Hyderabad) to Barcelona exactly a month ago. I think you never really know how culture shocked you are until you move back to a place that feels like home.
Get ready for a few weeks of newsletters looking back on my experience in India.
On today’s edition: the importance of self-identification as a learner.
In Hyderabad, most people speak (some) English. The first official language is Telegu, but many people speak Hindi and or Urdu. So, even though with English I could fix most problems, I wasn’t understanding much of the conversations I overheard in the city.
While living in Seoul I already noticed that our brains are quite efficient: it tries to understand what’s going on for a day or two. But after that, your cerebrum goes into energy-saving mode and just stops processing Korean, Hindi, Urdu, or any other language you don’t speak.
Here in Barcelona, I understand people when they are speaking Spanish or Catalan. Of course, I pick up on Dutch and English. But even French, German, and Portuguese: in general I understand what people are talking about. This makes me engage a lot more with life outside of my apartment.
I have been thinking about what the difference between these two situations is. All languages (especially vocabulary) are mostly learned informally, through tacit learning. This is the type of learning that happens automatically, without you having an intention. You don’t even have to be conscious of the learning process!
But if it’s true that we can learn (a big part) of languages just by being surrounded by them - why didn’t I learn any Korean or Telegu? And why do I pick up on new Spanish words all the time?
It has to do with my self-identification. Because I identify as someone who is learning Spanish - I subconsciously process and make sense of all Spanish I hear. I am convinced that I can learn Spanish. So whenever I hear information in Spanish, I am convinced I am able to understand what is said. I might not in that moment, but I can learn.
In India, I didn’t think it was easy for me to learn Telegu, Hindi, or Urdu. I never identified myself as someone who was learning Korean. And thus: I didn’t learn any words informally. I had shut off the tacit learning process.
This example shows a nuance in growth vs. fixed mindset. We never have/are/use either fully one or the other. Instead, each situation asks for a reassessment of how we talk to ourselves, and how we identify. Thinking of ourselves as incapable of something, or just not that good in something else is so tempting. Take me, someone who has spent years of her life training herself to become the best self-directed learner she can be.
I still tell myself things like:
I can’t learn Telegu, it’s too hard.
I will never be able to do all yoga postures.
I won’t learn how to feel at ease in a society as chaotic as India’s
But luckily, we also have the power to turn the learner back on. Simply by reminding ourselves we are learners - always.
Have a good week,