As you may have read in the “About me” section, the flow of life just took me to learn several languages. And looking back I could detect several techniques and approaches that I could give out as my tips and tricks for excelling in any subject, especially in learning a foreign language effectively. Not all of these techniques and approaches did I consciously apply in learning any of the languages I attempted, but as they start surfacing into my consciousness now, I’m thinking “Maybe this time I should!”
Fall in love first
An example of such an effort you see right here with this whole blog creation idea. For a while I had been searching for an idea to really hook me and make learning German a top passion priority and make me want to create space among all the daily activities competing for my attention.
Then one night, as I was lying in bed to fall asleep, the idea of creating a German blog popped up in my mind. Then I got up right there and then, bought the domain address, and posted my first “Hello world!” message. Since then I’m totally obsessing over it and it will take a huge force to stop me from running downhill with this blog.
Treat it as if your life depends on it
If you saw me back then, I would always have an English book in my hand or in my bag, no matter where I was and what I was up to. And at the slightest chance, I would peek into the book, and many times my parents used to tell me to leave the book aside, at least while having dinner, watching a movie or when visiting my grandparents.
And I was doing that to win the one and the only full scholarship given in a year by the George Soros Foundation through nationwide competition among all highschool students in Mongolia. And I won the scholarship and studied Business Administration at the American University in Bulgaria for 4 years without financial worries.
Put yourself in a race and hang out with your rival
In the last year of highschool, me and a classmate of mine were shortlisted from our school to participate in the National English Olympiad after winning top places at the City English Olympiad. Then to train us intensively, our English teacher arranged us to stay in the same room in the dormitory and we got destined to spend the whole days and nights together. And during that period, we’d feel a silent race taking place inside of us, each trying to outstudy the other. Thanks to my rival’s constant presence, I studied the hardest my brain and butt muscles could take. And when the real race took place, I came out the 4th and her the 6th in the National English Olympiad.
Wear the T-Shirt
Ever since watching “Save the Last Dance”, I dreamed of dancing in an all-black hip hop party like the girl in the movie. Then last month I decided to take a hip hop and street dance class, and after visiting all possible dance schools in Berlin, I picked the one that had a good facility and a suitable package. Then off I went to my first class, and after 5 minutes I realized that I needed special shoes for dancing. So the same night I bought the proper shoes, and the next day I bought a black t-shirt with the school logo on, and then something incredible happened.
Each time I went about my day with the dance school t-shirt on, random people, with whom I came in contact, started asking if I was a dancer. The first time that happened, I asked the man how he knew. He pointed at my t-shirt and said “They’re the champions!” with admiration in his eyes. And I got my first “celebrity” feeling by instant association. And each time that happened again, my desire to grow up to their presumed image of me shot up.
Have a greater cause to serve
When I got admitted to my masters of finance program at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, I found out that there were two scholarships available–one 100% and another 80% tuition reimbursement scholarships–rewarded based on the first semester performance of all program students. Then I set my eyes up for the first one. And I wanted this scholarship truly, deeply, badly, this time to sponsor my little cousin’s university education.
Since her secondary school, I had taken her under my wing and was serving as her mentor, mother, sister and best friend all in one package. And wanting her to study abroad, I had kept her from going to university in Mongolia, and instead I had her focus on her English, hoping to send her to an English-speaking university. Then when I moved to Hong Kong, I brought her with me and the clock just kept ticking with her behind university education. Then once again I challenged my brain and butt muscles, and won the 100% tuition reimbursement scholarship. And as soon as I got the money in my bank account, we decided that she go to Beijing, learn Chinese language ground up and then apply for a university. Our plan worked well. She even surpassed my highest expectations. In 9 months, she learnt Chinese from “ABC” up to HKS 5 level, which qualifies her to take a university entrance exam. Then in another 2 months, she got accepted to Tsinghua University, which is the equivalent of Harvard or Cambridge in China and hold in awe by the people.
Make up new words in that language
One day I was telling an incidence to my close friend, and when I needed the word for “joke”, which I didn’t know, I quickly figured it out for myself in the following way without breaking the flow of my talk.
The verb “to kiss” is “tseluvam se” and the noun for “kiss” is “tseluvka”. So I thought because the verb “to joke” is “sheguvam se”, the noun must be “sheguvka”. So I continued using “sheguvka”, and when I finished the sentence, my friend first burst into belly laugh, then melt with adoration and said “That’s the cutest word I’ve ever heard! I think you wanted to mean “shega”, but “sheguvka” is really cute. So you use it your way.” And I just delightfully grinned. 🙂
Stay ahead of your class
If you are curious about how I rose to the top of my class in my masters program, there is one thing I consistenty did. To reveal the “big” secret, I would stay at least a chapter ahead of the class. For instance, if the professor is to teach Chapter 3 next week, this week I would sit down and read through Chapter 3, highlighting important concepts, underlying technical words I didn’t know and putting question marks next to the concepts I didn’t understand. Then in the 2nd round, I would open a new Word document and create an outline of the chapter, by hand-typing all the highlighted theories, concepts and formulas, keeping all the titles and subtitles in the proper order. And by the time I finished with the outline, the whole chapter would stand inside my brain like one solid structure. Then in the 3rd round, I would print out the outline and go over it challenging my understandings. And whenever something felt blur or incomprehensible, I would write it down as a question on a sheet of paper together with every other questions I came up with regarding the topic. And if I sat tight, this process would take 2 full days. Then next week would come, off I go to my class and the professor would start explaining. And when other students’ brains were struggling to comprehend the complex financial theories and digest the vast array of formulas and data, my brain would be operating at a “running” speed, firing out well-thought-out questions and going beyond the textbook… So you see, the “big” secret wasn’t so big afterall!
Shop until you find the right teacher
When I took my dance course, I focused on hip hop classes among all the different dance styles I could choose from. Then one day I decided to try a different flavor switching to Jazz/Hip hop class. Trying this new style for the first time, I was clumsier than ever. And to make it worse, the teacher turned out to be nothing like my other three teachers. After showing a new move two or three times facing the mirror wall, she would turn to us and start shouting at a high volume counting the steps while walking around the students and pointing out at how she or he was doing it wrong. And when the whole class started failing at the steps, she would get louder and more demanding, when all she needed to do was just to look around and start dancing the steps herself so that we could copy her moves. Treated that way I felt like we were a bunch of confused herd of cattle and I couldn’t stop thinking to myself “No wonder she is fat when every other teacher had chiselled muscles!” Finally, not being able to stand it anymore, I slipped out of the class 10 minutes earlier. And I thanked my luck for having started with the other three teachers. Otherwise, that could have been my first and last attempt at a hip hop dance class like it had happened to me at the age of 8 for a table tennis course.
Speak with idioms
When I was living in Beijing, I had a rare chance of hanging out with a friend, who spoke with rich usage of idioms in his daily life. When he spoke, he smoothly used one idiom in every 10 sentences or so. As an audience of his intensive “idioms show”, I would get a little endorphine rush each time he hit the nail on the head, eventually getting totally addicted to speaking to him about anything under the sun. Adding idioms to his speech, not only added immense flavor, but also made him sound really really “wise”. Since then I have always been wanting to learn to speak with idioms. However, it takes two to tango and without the right partner to inspire me, I still haven’t gotten around to developing this skill. So by learning and posting one German idiom a day on this blog, I am hoping to “nail” it on my own. And at the one year anniversary of my blog, I will have collected a treasure house of 365 precious idioms. So please come on board and share in the treasure! 🙂
Don’t practice in isolation
Lately, through repeated experiences, I’ve come to the conviction that a group practice is tenfold better than an individual practice in some discplines. The first of such experiences I got with my yoga class.
For years I had been wanting to try yoga and that wish conveniently materialized when I saw a yoga studio sign near my new home in Istanbul. In the evening of the day I saw the studio sign, I went to sign up and attended my first class the next day. The class was composed of 5-6 people–male and female, and no one seemed much more advanced than a beginner-me. I walked into the class not knowing anything other than that yoga meant some sort of slow movements, and I walked out of that first class with a beautifully straight posture. Then I was hooked. In my amazement, on the way to the elevator, I striked up a conversation with a guy who happened to have started a month earlier. My curious questions of what yoga held for him lead into 2 hours of lively discussion and a nice dinner. And the second day I walked out with another amazement… that my legs felt really straight for the first time ever! And on the way out I run into the same guy, who was accompanied by another guy and we all went for dinner to further share our experiences of this “new world”. And within a week, another girl was added to our “dinner group”. Then many nights we four stayed late for dinners and discussions, leading into a great friendship.
If our experience-sharing enabled deeper level of knowledge, our tight friendship resulted in consistent attendance. And together with the graceful teacher (who was a Miss Turkey) and the beautifully scented and decorated studio, the whole practice turned into something magnetic that I just couldn’t resist! It’s been over 2 years since the height of that time; and things changed and people moved on and away. However, throughout this time, the second of the two guys turned into my very dear friend, whose shoulder I seek in times to cry and whose presence I crave in times to break happy news. 🙂
Change school if necessary
If you recall my rival for English olympiad in highschool, me and her actually go back to the primary school. From the first to the fourth grade, I went to an average public school. My hobby, back then, was to play outdoors with my residence friends, digging holes right below my thumbs in my shoes due to skipping ropes and jumping over rubber ropes as high as my head level. If I excelled with my stamina and flexibility to skip and jump over the ropes around my neighborhood, she shined as one of the top two pupils in the classroom. Her writings would look as perfect as printed and it seemed that she would never get any grade less than the perfect “5”, which is the highest grade in Mongolian secondary education system.
Then at the start of the 5th grade, at my mom’s initiation and through my dad’s connection, bypassing the entrance exam I got transferred to the prestigious “School No.11 with Advanced Training of Mathematics and Physics.” Then around the same time my family relocated to a new district, and in the new building no kids played together. So I just stayed home and studied. And within a year, I must have progressed quite ahead that I got selected as the “Class patron” and started participating in math, physics and chemistry olympiads. And thanks to the math school’s intense curriculum and my focus on my studies, by the 8th grade I was able to solve university entrance exam math questions without any errors. Then not having a dream to become a natural scientist, my family and I decided that I move on and focus on English as the main subject.
Then I applied to the Turkish school, which recruited students fresh out of 8th grade and featured a special grade called “Preparation grade” during the one year of which, pupils studied English from ABC up to advanced level, and then in the 2nd and 3rd years continued on with the highschool program. So I took the entrance exam in the spring and got the first place out of the 600 applicants. Then when I walked into the classroom in the fall, I saw my primary school classmate. And during the 3 years at the Turkish school, there were numerous exams, competitions and olympiads, and in each one of them my former classmate proved to be the most challenging rival. And at the highschool graduation ceremony, I was announced as the “Best Student of Year 2001” and had my name chiselled on the school’s best graduates book… If someone had told me in primary school that one day I will be shining over the class-star, I wouldn’t have believed it in my wildest imagination!
Learn the techniques
My childhood idol was my dad, who seemed to possess all the possible skills one could possess. And that included drawing too. Being a little copy of my dad, I also wasn’t bad at drawing as a kid. However, the highest recognition I got for my drawing was to have them hang on the school wall, and that stopped in the 6th grade when the technical drawing replaced the creative drawing.
Fast forward 10 years and I was in my last semester of my bachelor level education. Having taken all the required courses for my Business Administration degree, I could fill up my remaining credits with elective courses. Then I decided to take the “Beginning drawing 101” course.
In the course, we started out by drawing three dimensional geometric figures then moving unto experiment many different techniques of drawing, one of which even included using candle as a base to prepare a drawing board, then totally cover the board with coal pastel and then shave off the candle to draw out the figure.
Before that course, the last creative drawing I had done was in the fifth grade and if I tried to draw a figure right before that course, the end result would have still looked fifth gradish. However, the techniques we learned in that course made all the difference. The picture you see on the left side hanging on my bedroom wall is my very first drawing in that course and I still find it hard to believe that I can draw like that.
Learn to work with the tools
In my property development career, I had seen a very young girl painting a wall among my subcontractor’s team. So when I had to paint the whole apartment white before handover to the landlord, I decided to take on the challenge myself.
Not having ABC in painting a wall and a ceiling, I turned to YouTube for guidance. As I expected, there were several video tutorials explaining the painting process and the required tools. So I jot down the names of the tools, went to buy the tools and after reviewing the best tutorial once again, I dipped the roller into the paint.
And after about half an hour struggling with the roller, paint and the long ladder trying to paint the ceiling, I almost regretted the decision. When I looked up during the ceiling painting process, paint drops kept falling on my face like flying birdwastes. After covering just a bit of surface, I had to step down and move the ladder so as not to risk flying down from the ladder. And with a flat tray full of paint on the left hand, going up and down on the ladder was a challenging act. Finally keeping my head parallel to the ceiling while the right hand rolled over with the paint gave an excruciating pain in the neck. And when I imagined repeating the whole process for a 3-room apartment, it seemed like an insurmountable task.
But suddenly in another half an hour or so I accidently happened to apply the right amount of paint on the roller for this time the “birdwastes” didn’t come down on my face. So I repeated what I did right. Then again accidently I discovered the hook on the side of the paint brush and no longer did the brush have to get in the way of the roller when trying to apply paint on the roller. And shortly after I discovered that I could put down the tray on the top ladder step instead of holding it with my left hand the whole time, and on and on I discovered the little ways to effectively use my tools.
And finally I finished painting all the ceilings and walls of the 3-room apartment exactly in 3 days. As much as I learned to work with the tools to some degree, I am sure there were a lot left to learn as during the whole time I struggled with strong neck and lower back pains. And I think learning to work with such tools should be ideally taught under the apprenticeship of an experienced painter. But thanks to taking on the challenge, it cost me 10 times cheaper to paint myself than to have the painting cost deducted from my deposit money, and also I got away with a story for my blog. So all is well that ends well. 🙂
If someone could do it, you can do it
When I needed to get my German driving license, I needed to take both the theory test and the driving practice test. And when it came to the theory test, I didn’t have time to attend the weekly lessons. And with my German language skills being slightly past the beginning level, there was no way for me to read the thick German books available in bookstores. However, having promised my instructor on a Friday to be ready to pass the theory test by the following Monday, I set out to find English resources online. And on one blog, I read that a girl passed the official test without a mistake after tackling each one of the 1000 questions twice. So I thought “If she could do it, I can do it”.
Then Saturday morning I got up early, set my cooking timer at 30 minutes and started tacking the questions with common sense and instantly checked the answers after each question completion. For every 30 minutes, I took 10 minutes break and in those 30 minutes, on average I ticked off 50 questions. Working that way steadily, by the evening I had worked on 600 questions.
Then on Sunday I got up early again, worked at the same pace and completed the remaining 400 questions. And before going to school Monday afternoon, I reviewed those questions where I had made mistakes and then I felt ready. And when I took the test at the school that day and passed it, my instructor couldn’t believe what he was seeing and then he immediately carried out the paperwork for me to take the official test the next day. As you could guess, I passed the official test, and as I received the test result, I was grateful to the girl who showed me that it was possible.
Stick to the best performers and learn how they do it
In highschool, I had a classmate who would insist on studying with me, either by sitting next to me in the classroom or going to the George Soros foundation library with me where I used to study English. Naturally, when he sat next to me and asked me questions when he needed help, I didn’t mind explaining. And as far as I recall, he wasn’t particularly talented at any subject. However, what he was good at was to keep putting in the efforts and keep asking for help. Among the students of my class, there were many who were definitely talented at one or more subjects. But by the time the highschool was over, he was among the handful few, who won scholarships to study overseas.
Years later when I needed to go for my masters program and needed someone to take over my key function, we happened to reconnect and I taught him how to do my job. When I came back, I moved unto a different business of the firm, soon he changed job and at some point we lost touch with each other again. And finally when I did hear about him through my best friend, he happened to be doing his MBA at the Harvard university.
Push till your limit only and then come back again
When I was practicing yoga regularly, my instructor would encourage the class to stretch till our limit only and not push beyond. And over time our bodies got more and more flexible, and became able to do stretches that were beyond our reaches before.
Now I have started to do fitness workouts in a gym and there is one instructor who demands all class attendants to push up to the limit he is performing at. In my first class with him, I really did try to push myself beyond my limits only to discover the next day that my body is totally bruised and swollen, and me shuddering at the thought of attending his class again. Then I recalled how I gradually moved up to advanced level in my yoga class by working up to my limit only at a time, and decided to implement the same technique for these fitness classes.
Then in the next class, when the instructor demanded me to push harder, his demands fell on deaf ears and I only worked out the way I enjoyed it. Slowly I am feeling that my muscles are getting toned up, my pose is getting straight, my stamina is increasing and I have no feeling of giving up ever. But there are many around me who really push hard, but don’t show up in the next class.
Ask to play games
This story is coming up soon and many other real life stories will be coming back to back. So please do visit again. 😉