Friday, April 28, 2006



Speed and destroying and quitting language studies etc…

Many years ago I asked one psychologist I knew why some people destroy things around us. One of the answers I got was that they like to see the result of their “work” immediately. It took me many years until in my mind several phenomena of human life joined and got linked together. There are many activities where the speed can play important role, negative as well as positive.

Here I will try to describe several phenomena in which speed seems to play a large role. One of them is the so called “constant beginner”, which is a term used for people who study a foreign language and never get over the beginner’s level, because they always stop being interested in the language after six months or so, then they make a two year break and star again from scratch, and their vicious circle repeats again.

Where is the speed here involved? It is in the speed of expected returns for invested effort. This sort of people stop studying foreign languages because they are not satisfied with the speed in which they acquire the knowledge. They would like to be able to speak foreign language in 4 or six months, some of them are prepared to sacrifice a year but not more. But studying languages and advancing to the practical level, or working level, where one can work and live in the foreign environment and is able to communicate with the other native speakers, takes much longer time, usually many years.

The reason for this amount of time needed to be invested into the studies of foreign languages is hidden in the way how speech is stored and organized in the human brain, and how our brain works in general.

In general the reason for these “constant beginners” to always stop studying is that they are not satisfied with the speed of proceeding in the studies. And they do net get awarded in the way of being able fluently make use of the language.

The same reason, the slow speed of positive returns, if we speak of studying languages can be observed in many students of vocational schools. They are trained by their parents that everything must be fast and even the reward must come fast. If it is not they are unsatisfied, which they then demonstrates in sentences like:” I do not like the language, it is too boring!” Bit it is not the language which is in fact boring, but these people feel unsatisfied because they do not get the award for their invested time as quick as they would like to, or as they are already used to.

In many respects parents give their children false signals by awarding them immediately. It is much better to be aware of time as the specific upbringing feature. If children get used to the fact that certain awards come later and must be deserved then such children are more probable to be better students as they are prepared to wait for their reward.

Another example showing how this works in real life was a story one mother of a daughter told me: Her daughter wanted to ride a horse which the family had but there was some work to be done in the garden, actually a lot of work as the family constructed a new shelter for the horse. Her daughter had a girl friend, a school mate, and both the girls wanted to ride the horse so they were told to clean the garden totally. They came on the first day full of eagerness to work and then ride, but the amount of work was so large that they did not finish it in one day. The next day the worked only a bit and half so eager. The next day the even did not show up.

Again this is an example of the discrepancy in expected speed of award and the real speed of award, which leads to dissatisfaction and seize of action, excused mostly that the stuff is too boring, sometimes other excuses come.

The role of TV

I believe that a certain role in this respect plays TV and film. These two sorts of media supply us with extremely fast rewards. We get the point, the whole meaning of the film story in less than two hours, sometimes even much faster; sometimes it takes few minutes more to get the whole film. This is too short time. It is much better to read books, not only because of the vocab and other stuff connected with the way of expressing oneself, but also as far as the speed of award is concerned. Reading books takes longer and it trains humans to be a bit more patient and do not expect the awards come too fast.

Of course it is not only TV which speeds the award getting feeling in humans but other things too, speak of cell phones and sms, speak of emails and other electronic communication devices and systems.

All these modern ways of getting information are based upon speed, then when used in excess this can have “self-upbringing” or “self-domesticating” effects upon us, humans. The effect is as described above, we get used to faster satisfaction of our expectations, and then if there is some kind of action which requires more time we get unsatisfied and pretty often quit that action before completion.

Memetics and getting used to something

I am still not absolutely sure but I would say that this effect of getting used to something, in this respect getting used to fast award, is a part of memetics. The meme of fast reward can be trained and passed over by manifold repetition, and be copied and make a certain mood in human groups. I also believe that there are different people, and they have different approach to time in which they expect being awarded.

Students in vocational school usually prefer much faster award than students in grammar schools or universities. Why is that so I am also not quite sure. It might be that the children who become university students are being brought up to higher patience, by being awarded after reaching some higher goal. And maybe they can find substituting satisfaction in something else, so that they do not get too much disappointed when the promised award comes later, as their life is filled with other types of satisfaction.

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