In Antifragile, Nassim Taleb distinguishes “nerdified” classroom learning from the kind done in the real world. So-called nerdified learning leans the learner toward perceiving the world as more stable than it really is, and seeking academic perfection versus success in the more complex real world.
In one or two paragraphs, he talks about how this relates to learning languages. Does he learn from a program or textbook, by learning the rules and then attempting to apply them? No, he learns by trial and error.
Thus it was that when I walked into a store this morning, I was thrilled to (mostly) understand what the clerks were saying in Spanish. I was disappointed in myself for not trying to interject, but reassured myself there’s only so much that can be learned from 32 half-hour Pimsleur lessons on disc.
Outside, an old lady sat in a wheelchair. She didn’t have a sign, so I walked right past her. A few feet past her, I paused and backtracked.
“Do you need money?” I asked.
“Habla espanol?” she asked in turn.
“Solo un poco,” I replied.
“Poquito!” she said with a smile.
“Si, un poquito.”
She said something really fast. I replayed it in my brain to see if I could make sense of it.
I couldn’t. “No entiendo.” I paused, trying to remember the right verb form, before continuing, “necessita dinero?”
“Poquito,” she replied.
I handed her a couple of dollars. She thanked me, to which I replied, “De nada! Buenos dias!”
As I got back in my car, I was fairly well beaming. I hadn’t said much, and I’d probably made mistakes anyway, but I’d had a conversation that couldn’t have happened in English. Did I need to use the right verb forms this conversation to get the point across? Not so much.
I’ll aim for getting it right, to be sure. I just won’t let fear of not getting it right stop me when I have enough knowledge to do good enough.