Reporting from the learning curve: Beginner Challenges

Ahoy! I'm speaking to you live from inside the learning curve of a big learning endeavor: learning a new language. I'd like to report what I'm finding here in the wide expanse and the rough terrain of climbing the learning curve.

The language is ASL, American Sign Language. With thousands of specific signs to learn, a word-order different than English, and a completely new concept of what I'll call "idea homonyms", or using the same sign to mean many different but related ideas, ASL is completely different than a book-learning endeavor. ASL has much more focus on body, movement and physical expression than other languages.

The learning program consists of a web site for lessons, a video application for quizzes, and then a weekly meetup to practice live with other students and teachers.

Talk about a brain workout! Not only are you using your brain speaking and deciphering the language, but you are also building hand-motion coordination, which isn't as easy as it sounds. Don't forget about building peripheral-vision to be able to keep eye contact with others while they sign to you. It is a great brain-builder.

Of course, as a beginner, I'm experiencing all the same things every beginner does. Firstly, I'm not at all competent in sign language yet, so I feel like I must be annoying to fluent signers. It's frustrating when I can't get my point across because I don't know the signs or can't sign them so they are understood. I'm slow at at it. And of course, I'm often completely confused by the signing of others. It's easy to feel inept, incompetent, a burden, slow and frustrated. And learning seems to take a long time; it'll be months before I can hope to be a fluent signer.

All normal things for being a beginner at anything. A big part of me hates being a beginner at anything. As an experienced adult, I'm all about mastery, competency and skill in my professional domains. That's my value to the world. That's the payoff from my decades - over 40,000 hours now - of learning and experience in my chosen field. I'm used to feeling confident and having a high level of skill.

So when I'm put back into the role of a bumbling beginner, it can feel like it sucks. Much of me hates it. And yet, we are all beginners at many things. Going though the beginner stage is valuable and brain-building; it shakes up the neurons and builds awareness, patience and empathy for others in beginner stage.

Learning new things - big new things, like new languages - keeps your brain refreshed and renewing, and your mind sharp and connected. Brain health alone is a good enough reason to go through all the beginner discomfort. Develop the skill of making it fun and laughing with yourself while learning and you'll experience a nice lift in life.

What could you learn that would cause a re-org of some of your neural networks?

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