Monthly Archives: February 2012

Trying not to lose it

It’s been 2 weeks since I complained about losing the ability to speak German.

Since I’m trying to do more than just complain these days, I decided to do something about it. I took out my idea book to write ideas on How Not to Lose It.

Detour: I got the idea to write down ideas from James Altucher’s blog. I can’t recommend this enough. I send links to my college-aged son all the time and say you will learn more reading this than you will in school.

I had a bunch of ideas, but the main theme was to do something in German every day. Write something, translate something, learn a new word, listen to radio, listen to podcasts, talk with someone.

When you start looking at any of these things, it becomes apparent how enabling the Internet is. There are hundreds of German radio stations that stream their broadcasts. Hundreds of podcasts. Online dictionaries. Online language courses — for free!

Detour #2: There is a cool trend now, where universities are making course material available for free. Check out the OpenCourseWare Consortium.

Mainly I’ve been listening to radio. And through repetition trying to master some of the crazy (to me) grammar rules that just come naturally to native speakers.

And you know what? After just 2 weeks, a little bit every day has made a difference. My ear has become better at picking up and understanding the main points of the news broadcasts.

Oh, and I started talking to the cat in German. So far he hasn’t complained. Continue reading



Filed under german, language, learning

Use it or lose it

As often happens, starting to write something redirects me to Google.

First diversion: is “googling” recognized as a real word? Auto spell checkers seem to say no. But it’s there in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.

I googled the phrase “use it or lose it” and the first three hits were:
Keeping the brain active may ward off Alzheimers
Dancing makes you smarter
Erections: use it or lose it?

All worthy topics! And perhaps more related than one might at first think.

This past week I had the experience of seeing a colleague from Germany for the first time in a year or so. He was the person who forced me to speak only German while in Germany. That was the only way to really learn, he said.

It was a bit depressing trying to talk with him this week. I realized how rusty my German has become. I found myself pausing and having to think through everything I tried to say. You really do lose it if you don’t use it.

The thing is, if you don’t have a compelling, practical need to learn another language it’s difficult to stay motivated to do so. I think that is a primary reason why so few Americans are multilingual. When I KNEW I was going to be spending time in Germany, I had a good reason to work at learning German. Without that reason it’s easy to find other things to spend your time on.

So what’s a good reason now? This brings it around to the first link of my Google search. I remember telling people that when I was spending a lot of time and effort learning German … I just felt smarter. Like my brain was working better. Not just at German but at other things too. I don’t know if it was focusing on learning something (anything), or that it was specifically related to learning a language. All I know is that I felt mentally sharper.

And of course it’s cool to be able to impress your friends when you can say something in another language.

I need to load up the MP3 player with some German language podcasts again.

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Filed under german, language

What do normal people do?

What’s your first thought on a snowy Saturday in January? (That would be last week for those of us “up north”; yesterday for those “down south” in Akron).

After “coffee”, it’s thinking about what is the training plan for the day. On a day like this you have to get into the right mental state to head to the basement and get on the trainer.

Is that what a normal person does? (no answer needed)

Most days are like this — not just snowy days. There is always that undercurrent of “where am I going to fit today’s training”, planning the next day, thinking of the next race coming up.

I’ve long felt that people who choose to race bikes have a compulsive nature. If it wasn’t bike racing it would be something else. The triathletes that I know are like this too.

I used to like brewing beer. I probably still would if I could spare the time. I couldn’t do it the easy way. I had brew all-grain, starting with the whole barley and grinding (I had a grain mill even). I made my own copper-tubed chiller to cool the wort before adding the yeast. It was an all-day affair.

A normal person just buys beer.

I used to think this was limited to bike racers and other athletes. But I know people at work like this too. The ones who are exceptionally good at what they do have a sort of compulsion about them too. They can’t do things partway. I’m pretty sure this is a characteristic of anyone who engages deeply in an activity — whether it’s bike racing, beer brewing, dog training, stock trading, writing, music …

So choose your activities carefully. The byproduct being a great brewer is that you have a lot of beer to finish. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

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Filed under culture, training