This is something that we can learn from experience. We try to do something and we fail then we say we cannot do that. However, it is not always our fault that we cannot do something. Sometimes the problem is that we were in an environment that made learning hard.
Susan and learning languages
When I first started learning French I was in a class where some children had been taught the basics at primary school and some had not. One of the essential pieces of information is that le is masculine and la is feminine. For some reason this very basic idea that was covered in the first week did not register with me for months. I had not tried learning a language before and within six weeks I knew I was struggling. I was well behind the others and wondered if I would ever catch up.
We had a series of teachers during the first year, which did not help. Every time I would be handed work that had been marked it would be covered in red ink. The teacher was correcting the mistakes I had made because I had not grasped the basic concept of how to identify which nouns were male and which were female. The problem was that seeing so much read ink only confirmed the fact that I was useless. I believed that I was incapable of learning French.
The breakthrough came when I was given detention for not doing my homework. I was set an exercise that meant I had to write a series of sentences that would change according to the gender of the noun used. This time I checked the gender of the noun every time and the repetition finally helped me work out which version of the definite article was used with each gender. I had finally broken the code that had stopped me making progress for months.
The teacher was surprised to say the least. She simply had not realised what the issue was. After all she was just one of many teachers that we had had that year. She did not realise that after the first lesson or two I had started to believe that I could never catch up with those who had a head start.
I am still not comfortable learning or using another language. I came bottom of the class in German two years later and failed the level 1 course in sign language. For me learning a language is something that I now avoid. Maybe it is time to try again to see if I can overcome this issue.
We can learn that we are not good enough
One definition of learning is a change in behaviour. One of the things that changes our behaviour is changing our beliefs. Can you see how subtle this is? Something happens to us and we stop believing that we cannot do it and then we get into a spiral that can be tough to break out of.
With me and French what helped me break out of the spiral of not believing that I could was the constant checking that I did until the idea was reinforced in my head. It took me nearly a year to learn what the teacher was trying to help us learn in the very first lesson. I was left feeling that there was something wrong with me because I did not know what the rest of the class already knew. There wasn’t it was just that my circumstances had been different.
It has taken me many years to truly realise the extent of how circumstances beyond my control affected me as an eleven year old in the classroom. I was not to blame for the school’s staffing problems. I was not to blame for the fact that different schools taught different things. Bring the two things together and one young girl learnt that she cannot learn French. I was the victim of circumstances that helped me.
If you think you can’t you need to think why you can’t
We seem to find it easy to learn that we are not good enough. This can often be seen in the area of arts and crafts. As a child you make an effort but then find you didn’t have the skills of the child next to you so become discouraged and stop trying. There could be a number of reasons why the child next to you did better.
- They could have had help from someone who has shown them how to do something and you have not.
- They might learn that they have to follow instructions exactly and it is wrong to experiment and do to do something a bit different.
- They could be older and more mature in the way that they think.
- They may have had more practise using their hands so have better developed fine motor skills.
- They may have joined in with mum or dad making things at home so feel more comfortable in a creative environment.
You as a child did not understand the reasons why you are not doing as well as your neighbour. You start to believe that you cannot reach the required standard yourselves. So you learn that you can’t.
We can overcome this barrier
If we have learnt something once then surely it is possible to unlearn it. Learning a language will never be a strength of mine but it will not be impossible. The crazy thing is that it is the belief that we can’t that is stopping us from even trying to do something. The answer is to go back as I did with learning French examine the circumstances and reframe your response to those circumstances. This happened and my response then was this. I have changed and I see that my response should have been that. I am now going to decide that my response is going to be different.