My wife and I are taking Hebrew classes. I haven’t always been the best student, but it’s been worthwhile. After a year, I’m at the point where I can read the language and have simple conversations. It’s made our lives easier here. It’s also taught my throat to do some calisthenics I thought were previously reserved for hacking up phlegm.
Last night was the first class in 2 weeks for me since it has been Passover here and I missed the class prior to that due to a late night in the lab. We spent a good chunk of our vacation taking some friends on a trip through the Golan , and around Jerusalem, and studying Hebrew was basically the farthest thing from my mind. So when I sat down for the class last night I knew I was in for a bit of an ass-kicking.
Sure enough, about half an hour through the class, I noticed that I was feeling:
- a growing sense of frustration at the instructor for the pace of the class, moving on to new things before I’d absorbed old ones.
- annoyance with the smugness of the students who knew the answers and readily participated in the class.
- comraderie with the handful of students not doing well in the class.
- pleasure when the “smart” students got the answers wrong.
- embarrassment at not being able to participate effectively in a group exercise. Even this very well meaning Palestinian guy who was explaining the text to me was getting on my nerves, since I was feeling stupid.
In short, I was having one of those days where I was saying to myself over and over, very loudly, “I hate this goddamn course. Why the hell am I taking it? ”
These feelings gave me flashbacks to all the tough college courses I’d taken, and I had a sudden flash of insight: “This is how a lot of students in organic chemistry must feel!”
I couldn’t wait for the class to be over. Talk about a painful 2.5 hours. When I had some quiet time late last night, I finally sat down and sorted through my feelings about the course.
- I acknowledged my feelings of frustration. My Hebrew sucks right now and I hate failure. Feelings are real and not to be ignored. They are a call for corrective action. Still, this is a data point that doesn’t change the fundamentals.
This is the 14th lesson and the first 13 have been just fine. They are not sufficient grounds for making strategic decisions. I’m not going to drop the course or anything. However urgent feelings may seem, however, they do pass – and we often look back in wonder that we felt a certain way, unable to recapture why we felt so strongly.
- Remind myself why I am taking the course. Q. What purpose does taking the course serve? How does it suit my short term and long term goals? A. I am taking the course because gaining proficiency in a new language – especially one as foreign as Hebrew – has been rewarding for us and helped us tremendously, especially as many Israelis outside the university setting have limited English. The lack of long-term reason to learn the language (we are not planning to settle here) is probably a demotivating factor, but it’s not an excuse not to get the most out of the course.
- I don’t hate the course material: I hate feeling frustrated. Identify the source of the feelings. Q. Are there issues with the teacher, the environment, or other factors which compound the problem? A. I have no complaints. Most nights I enjoy the course. I actually really like the teacher. I love my classmates. We’ve met all kinds of interesting people by taking this course. It’s been a great experience. I feel frustrated because I feel my command of the course material is below the rest of my classmates. Nobody likes being at the bottom of a hierarchy. Although it might be tempting to dismiss the people who are doing well in the class as keeners and find some common cause to celebrate with the other people not doing well in the course, such behavior is self-defeating. The person I’m really frustrated with is myself, because I know I can do much better.
- Being frustrated by not knowing the course material is a solvable problem. The feelings are a call to action to do more work and review in the course, and also as something that I dearly want to avoid in the future. It is obvious that I need to do more work in the course. How would it best be directed?
- Identify major weaknesses. What parts of the lecture didn’t I understand?My major problem last night was in not knowing the most recent vocabulary. I was also a pretty rusty in speaking the language after nearly two weeks off. Those two things set off the Spiral Of Frustration.
Realizing those factors, I decided to take the following actions:
- Set up times for improving my weak points: I’m going to automate my studying more. 1) I set up a quiz for the most recent vocab. I’m a huge fan of Memorize.com for learning vocabulary. The thing I love about it is that it takes about 2 minutes to set up a quiz, you don’t have to sign up for anything, and the program is written very cleverly in that it keeps repeating questions you can’t answer (while mixing up the order) until you finally get it. 2) The second thing I commit to doing is to spend 15 minutes each morning reciting passages from the textbook to improve my comfort level with speaking the language. 3) The third thing is to update the study book I keep for the language [with lists of verbs, adjectives useful connecting words like up, inside, always, etc] with the most recent material and concepts… I also put these on Memorize.com
- Set goals. There are 5 days until my next class. I want to spend 60 minutes encompassing each of those three tasks on 4 out of the next 5 days, somewhere around 7-8 am or so. This won’t be too hard to do right now because there are few distractions in the mornings here.
- Evaluate and iterate. When the next class comes, I’ll see how what further weaknesses I need to work on, and take action from there.
- Review. At the end of this course, I will definitely review whether or not I want to continue taking it. With some major commitments that have come up over the past two to three months, I’m feeling a little overextended. I would be comfortable just stopping language classes after this is over and focusing on my two core goals, 1)finishing up my current chemistry project and 2) increasing the number of hours I am available to tutor.
In general, We all value the things we are good at and dismiss as unimportant the areas where we’re poor. There must be some official psychological name for this tendency but it’s currently escaping me. It’s human nature to place ourselves at or near the top of little hierarchies and often judge the value of whole fields of human endeavor based on how good we are at them. All the “I Hate Orgo” Facebook groups are a part of this. It’s fine to complain about how badly orgo sucks and whatnot, but there’s one thing that’s even better: crushing the damn course because you studied smart.