Chicken Scratches and Choices

Learning a new language is similar to learning to write neatly as an adult. It can be done, but it takes time and dedication and continual practice.

Something I’ve heard many, many grown people say is how they wished they could write neatly. Well, if you can push a pencil, you can write neatly. There is no magic in writing neatly. It is no way more difficult or less efficient than writing un-neatly—none whatsoever!

In fact, writing neatly is far easier and much more efficient than otherwise. So if you’d like to save time and energy, writing more neatly is one way to do it!

So why don’t people write neatly? Probably for the same reason more people learn a second language? It takes work, initially.

You have to value something before you are willing to work for it. Most people do not see value in writing neatly or in learning a second language, so they don’t do it.

Oh, sure. Plenty of people say they value those skills, but if they actually did, they’d pursue them. Neither skill is impossible to accomplish.

If you wonder whether or not you can learn a second language, I’d ask whether or not you’ve learned a first language? You have? Perfect! That shows you are skilled in acquiring a language. You have proven you are proficient at language learning.

What is involved in learning a new language? The reason I say it is similar to learning how to write neatly is because when I had graduated from grade school, my penmanship was embarrassing. It was worse than a first-grader’s in many respects because generally first-graders are required to write correctly.

I was unhappy with my handwriting as a young adult because I realized that my penmanship was not for me, it was for others. But others found it difficult to read my writing. So I decided it would be kind to others to improve my writing.

I began practicing one letter per week, starting with the manuscript A/a. After working through the manuscript alphabet, I went to cursive. Then I repeated the process through both styles. If you’re good at math, you’ll see this took me a couple years to complete, but it was pretty easy to do one letter at a time.

What I learned about acquiring a skill, or more accurately about perfecting a skill, is that the first hurdle is choosing to value the skill I’m going to learn. Once it was important to me, I found learning came pretty easily. During my school years (when I hated penmanship), I found it tremendously burdensome.

Learning a language starts the same way. You must first choose to value it. For me, that choice is crucial now because I know I have to learn, but the reason I have to is because I chose to want to because I feel God wants me to go to Peru. Follow? Your reason could be something else, entirely.

The second task was unlearning former habits. No longer could I allow myself to make a wild dash with my wrist and call the mark on my paper an A; I had to unlearn the way I was doing it and relearn a new way.

Language learning is the same. You have habits of how you hold your tongue, how you use your throat, how nasal or heady your tone should be, how you call certain objects—everything. You must break those habits, or at least learn to turn them off, in order to form new habits in a new language.

The third step was consistency. Every time I came to an A, if I wrote it incorrectly, I erased it and did it right. I kept myself accountable and didn’t let myself slack.

Language is the same way. If you say a vowel sound poorly, stop and say it again. Teach your brain what’s acceptable and what’s not.

And the final element was putting in the time. To correct my penmanship, I practiced a few minutes every day, but then I also used my improved writing every day. And I kept practicing week after week after week. Incremental growth is the best growth; it sticks the longest, and it’s the easiest to do and maintain.

These components hold true for about any skill, even something like improving your devotional time with God. Perhaps you have something you wish you could do: learn a new language, learn a new tool, learn a new career. The question is less about if you can and more about if you choose to. The reason to choose should stem from what God wants for you.

Go do it. Inch by inch, step by step, you can climb a mountain. Or change chicken scratches into script.

1. Choose to value the skill you want. Decide you can and will.

2. Unlearn bad/different habits that hinder the skill you want. Replace with new habits.

3. Be consistent. Try and practice again and again.

4. Put in consistent, persistent time. Don’t stop.