Three Reasons Why Language Learning is Just Like Skateboarding


I bought a skateboard. And not just so I can start calling myself "the skateboarding Japanese teacher".

I've wanted to learn to skate for a long time. I'm turning 30 this year and I thought I should probably get on with it.

You know that Chinese proverb, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now"?

Well, I should probably have started skateboarding 20 years ago, because it turns out skateboarding is really hard. I didn't start when I was nine though, so now will have to do.

I'm not very good yet. In fact, I'm very bad.

I know I can do it though. It's just like learning Japanese! (Hear me out, ok...?)

1. You need to fall over a lot


You're going to fall off a skateboard, and make mistakes, and mess things up. It's going to hurt.

Sound familiar? 

Learning to speak a language is a process of making constant mistakes, and gradually getting better.  If you don't make any mistakes when you're speaking a foreign language, you're not learning anything.

The only way to learn how to be good at something, is to first be very bad at it. 

(I tell myself this constantly as I wobble around town on my little skateboard).

Image source: Verity Lane / Tofugu

2. It takes discipline


Learning any new skill takes considerable time and effort. You have to practice, even when you don't feel like it or when something else seems more appealing.

In a way, it's easy to be motivated, i.e. to want to do something. It's much more difficult to be disciplined - to do something even when you don't want to.

Taking your skateboard out on Saturday, even when it looks a bit windy, and you're not any good yet, and there are builders on the corner of the street who might laugh at you - that's discipline.

Studying a little bit of Japanese every day, even when you just feel like watching TV instead - that's discipline too.

Nothing that's worth doing can be learned overnight. (Unfortunately.)

3. You might feel like a bit of an idiot


One of my students wrote this on his class feedback form last year:
"...while I feel terrible and clumsy while doing it, the speaking practice afforded by the class is something that is very difficult to get anywhere else."
I was a bit taken aback by this, because he doesn't sound terrible or clumsy when he speaks Japanese.

But a lot of people feel this way about doing something new, especially in front of other people. I certainly do.

Making mistakes can make us feel embarrassed or awkward.

(As a teacher, there's an added dynamic: I don't want my students to feel uncomfortable. But I do want to stretch them, and help them to push out of their comfort zone. It's a difficult balance, sometimes.)

I feel like a right prat on my skateboard. Sometimes you've just got to push through it, I think, and focus on the goal.

"Think how good you'll feel when you can casually skateboard to work", I tell myself. For me, it's the same feeling as:

"Think how good you'll feel when you can read a whole book in Japanese. Or have a ten-minute conversation. Or 30 minutes. Or a whole day!"

What do you think?


P.S. Don't forget to get your ticket to see me this Sunday 10th March at Women in Language, a brilliant new online event. I'll be talking about running an offline language school in an online world. There'll be skateboarding references, too ... Click here to find out more.