Thursday, October 8, 2015

Learning - transferable skills

Do the methods that I used to learn Spanish as an adult apply to other things I want to learn?  What did I do to be successful as an adult learner of Spanish?  I’m trying to learn some new skills right now that are not related to languages (I am also working on French and Mandarin too), and I would like to emulate what worked when I was on the road to learning Spanish.  I love learning lots of things, but I’m just going to focus on two for now, photography and guitar.  

I started “learning” guitar as a kid, but really just wanted to play rock songs, be a rock star, and not learn anything about real music.  I practiced and went to lessons, but my heart wasn’t really in it.  Now I’d like to learn guitar for a couple reasons.  First of all, I want my daughters to grow up around music, and I’m trying to teach my older daughter as I learn (we’re working on Jingle Bells right now).  Second, learning an instrument is great for brain health, don’t believe me then check this out. I can’t help but think I’d benefit from more rhythm, coordination, and concentration.  (A bonus to this skill is that I can learn great Spanish songs, which will help my Spanish as well).  So now I’m ready to be a little more serious about playing the guitar. I think I have okay motivation for guitar, yet I have very different reasons for learning photography.

Other than taking pictures with an old point-and-shoot, I’ve never had much interest in photography, well, at least not in taking pictures.  Looking at them was always fun.  My wife, on the other hand, has always loved photography and taking pictures, so a couple of years ago I bought her a DSLR camera for Christmas.  Great gift, right?  Well, actually for the past couple of years we’ve been using the thing in auto-mode the whole time, making it in effect one great big point-and-shoot.  Recently, I’ve taken interest in getting more out of our camera for several reasons.  First, I became the default photographer at a wedding that my wife was in when the photographer didn’t show, and got some okay shots, but nothing spectacular.  Second, I’d really love to get the most out of the camera that we have, as it is a pretty good one.  Third, I’d love to capture our life in a more artistic and meaningful way.  Fourth, who knows, maybe eventually photography could become a side gig.  So these are my “whys” about what I want to learn, but the “hows” are what can come from my experience with learning Spanish.  

What did I do when learning Spanish that can be applied to learning these other skills?

Habits -  This was probably the key to my success in learning Spanish.  I made many habits that I lived daily, like listening to Spanish learning mp3s anytime that I got a chance.  So, what habits will I make with the new skills I want to learn.  For the guitar, practice every day, and make it easy to do so.  I have a mini-goal to practice at least 5 minutes a day.  Some days it has been more, but the point is that even with 5 minutes I’m keeping up with the practice.  I’m also trying to practice in a better way, using a metronome, well, a metronome app to make sure I’m getting my rhythm down, but not all the time, sometimes I’m just having fun with it.  For photography I have a couple of habits I want to follow.  One is to take some pictures every day.  They can be anything, pics of the kids, food, flowers, anything.  Oh, and there’s a catch, this habit must be accompanied by this condition.  I must always use at least a semi-manual mode (like aperture priority or shutter priority) or better yet full-on manual.  If I’m taking pictures, but just using auto mode, then I’m not really learning anything.  This goes back to another habit from when I was learning Spanish, one that I still follow today, if it can be done in Spanish, don’t do it in English!  

Use multiple resources - I feel so fortunate to live in an age where information is at our fingertips and easy to access.  Learning Spanish, I used many resources, and each helped in its own unique way.  I used mp3s and cds, I took two semesters in college, I read Spanish learning books and books in Spanish, I watched Spanish tv and listened to Spanish radio (long before I could understand anything), I talked to people, and tried anything else I could find that I thought could be of value to learning.  While I may not be quite as exhaustive in my new endeavors, I still plan on using several resources.  For learning guitar, there are books, youtube videos, and friends to jam with. I’m working out of two very different books right now, and getting something very different from each one!  For photography I’m starting with books too, well I do work in a library after all.  I’m also taking a photography class on The online class is great, because I get to see the photographer in action and making the adjustments to his camera, but the book slows things down and helps me to internalize the content so that I can recall it later.  There are also plenty of pins on pinterest that have great photography tips!  

Don’t do too much -  Maybe it’s just my short attention span, but I’ve always had success with learning doing little bursts, 10-15 minutes vs. hours of studying.  With Spanish it was often listening to podcasts that were about that length, or looking at a book for a few minutes.  With guitar, no grueling practice sessions until the fingers bleed. With photography likewise, there won’t be any need to take hundreds of photos a day, 2 or 3 will do.  Timing of these activities can be crucial too, the closer to bedtime, the better of a chance the brain will transfer these activities to long term memory.  I’m not saying don’t learn at other times of day, but reviewing a little before bed could most certainly be beneficial.  

Persist - Learning Spanish I remember feeling overwhelmed the first time we traveled to Panama.  My wife had to translate probably 95% of the time.  I didn’t let it get me discouraged, by the next year I spoke some more, and in a couple more years wouldn’t need any translation.  I already feel overwhelmed like this with photography, so many new terms, new concepts, and so many buttons!  From learning Spanish I’ve learned that learning comes with patience, practice, and good habits.   

Oh, and after I get more experienced with the camera expect to see some photography on this blog, as adding photos that I've taken will also be one of my new learning habits.

What about you?  What have you learned in the past, and how will that help you to learn new things in the future?  

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