Swimming at the deep end of an adverbial phrase and the challenges of learning something new

When was the last time you learned something new? Jumped in at the deep end, went in completely blind, arms open, eyes wide, to learn something you had no earlier knowledge or skills in?

I’m doing a new ba now, and I’m struggling. Not to the point of wanting to stop or give up, just to the point where I have to work harder than I have in years. It feels like I’m back in school, learning definitions by heart and practicing phrases and rules again.

This got me thinking about how I haven’t actually learned something completely new in a very long time. My last BA was definitely challenging, and I certainly got to develop new sides of myself and my “craft”. However, those sides were to some extent already there; they just needed honing, practice, to be cared for, seen and worked on. Now I’m studying grammar and politics and intercultural communication. Every day I’m learning new phrases, new words, new concepts and ideas that I’ve never heard of before. That is exciting! It’s difficult and frustrating but also so so interesting.

As kids we learned something new everyday. Even better, when we were kids, we were great at learning. We hadn’t yet gotten into the arms race that are having better marks than everyone else, we had no concept of always needing to be the best, there was so much less fear of failure. A scraped knee from learning to ride a bike, only hurt until mum put a plaster on it and kissed it better. A glossary test gone wrong only meant going back over the words and nailing it next time. But as we grow older a lot of us lose the ability to look at learning as a process, we want to be the best at everything the first time we ever try. There is this notion of being a natural, we want to be great without needing practice, because practice is difficult and more so, practice makes you look bad, like you don’t know. This is of course not right at all. Practice doesn’t make you look stupid, it makes you look determined. And no one can know anything, unless they’re taught. If we were only ever supposed to do what we learnt as kids, so we never had to practice and “look stupid” as adults, we’d have a very small array of skills and experiences to pick from in our lives, and that, in turn, wouldn’t make us very well-rounded and happy people, would it.

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Yesterday I spent five hours at my dining table, pencil in hand and notebook in front of me, trying to make sense of in-depth sentence structure again. Subjects, adverbial phrases, demonstrative determiners, I know I’ve got it somewhere in my brain. I know a teacher from maybe eight or so years ago managed to lock it somewhere safe in my head, but it takes so much coaxing to get it out, to get those words back down on paper. Some of what I read was also completely new to me, linguistics on university level isn’t something I’ve got a lot of experience with. It took time, a lot of reciting out loud to myself, and a lot of tea.

But the feeling when I got it right! When I could highlight my answers, recite the rule and reason, and tell myself that I properly understood it; that was such a good feeling.

It’s a feeling I haven’t felt in years before this BA, but that I’ve been experiencing a lot these past couple of weeks. The feeling of being able to swim when you jump in the deep end, of keeping your balance when you go in blind, of seeing all the wonderful things the world throws at your open arms if you only widen them a little bit.
(Yes, I know I’m only talking about grammar right now, but the feeling still applies, haha)

I hope you learn something cool today!

-Andrea

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