Why floundering is ok…
I read an article recently about “floundering” and the learning process. It’s called Why Floundering is Good: Figuring out something on your own first, before getting help, produces better results than having guidance from the beginning.
In a nutshell, Annie Murphy Paul, the writer of the article, states that people who learn by floundering rather than a rule-based system of learning have a better ability as far as extrapolating and applying what they’ve learned. This struck an all too familiar chord with me because I’ve experienced my share of floundering while trying to learn Thai. For the most part I’m part self-taught, so I’ve made more than a few mistakes in the learning process.
What I have noticed in the advanced classes I’ve attended (or at least it seems to me) is that that I’m way better at making sense of constructs and seeing how they together than the people who’d attended every level of a particular school and learned their Thai by studying the rules of grammar. Granted, some of these students are wicked clearer Thai speakers than I am and some of their structure is way better than mine. However, when they’re faced with reading unfamiliar text and making sense out of it, they oftentimes have a disconnect. In the group discussions, which take place after a reading exercise, they seem unable to work out what the material was about, remember key points brought up, etc. My only real barometer is in the testing that follows each class: multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blanks, and written answers.
I don’t know why this is really. As I mentioned, some of these people have really good spoken Thai skills. Far in excess of my half-assed abilities in the Thai language. Now it could be that they don’t read enough Thai stuff outside of class. I’m a voracious reader, and try to read almost anything in Thai that catches my fancy. I buy the Thai versions of Maxim & FHM for the articles (not the plastic Thai women with foreign noses plastered on their faces instead of their normal thai button nose). I read short Thai romance novels. I read learning English books written in Thai, which are a good source for comparative sampling (noting the differences between Thai and English sentence constructs). And I recently started reading the Thai version of Science Illustrated too (even though it’s 130baht!) It’s turned out to be a worthwhile investment because thankfully, as the title suggests, it’s illustrated so you can work out from the pictures what’s being discussed.
‘Why Floundering Is Good’ mentions building into the learning process something called productive failure. I like this term quite a lot because I view each of my failures or dead ends in my quest to learn Thai productive to one degree or another. Even if the productive part was only realizing that wasn’t the way I was gonna learn Thai, it helped.
I was always taught as a kid that’s it’s okay to fail at doing something because it shows you how NOT to do it the next time. It’s the “getting back up after a failure to try it again” which takes moxy or stick-to-itiveness. I’ve started looking at the problems I face learning Thai more as puzzles I need to work out, rather than as roadblocks in my learning. Once I figure something out I can usually see a way to apply that solution to other parts of my learning process. Now, I could be wrong, but it seems as if things are actually getting easier in my Thai studies. ← frankly that scares me because Thai has always been “sold” to me as a tough nut to crack.
Anyway, I just thought you might find this observation interesting. Good luck learning Thai.
Tod Daniels | toddaniels at gmail dot com