Being Malcolm Gladwell

With my own attempts to learn Latin, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about deliberate practice and the value of grit. So, Freakonomics Radio’s focus on productivity this month is certain a welcome coincidence.

The last ‘real’ episode was all about the ten thousand rule made popular in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. (Summary: you probably misunderstood it.) And the value of deliberate practice — defined as practice that is not simply going through the motions, but instead is focused on improving specific elements of your overall goal — as opposed to simply doing something.

(Parenthentical explanation: me reading and re-reading the few Latin texts written for my limited vocabulary is just practice, focusing on noun endings and matching adjectives to nouns, even though it’s much more boring, is deliberate practice. I think.)

Today, I just wanted to share a really great, barely edited podcast in which Freakonomics host Stephen Dubner talks to Malcolm Gladwell. Like I said, the episode before it was ‘meatier,’ if this is a topic that’s interesting to you, but I just really enjoyed the feeling of listening to two well-informed people talk about something I found interesting.

Go have a listen.

First Latin Progress Update

So, it’s been a little over a month since I sat down and filled out my own copy of the ‘motivation worksheet‘ here on the blog, and I thought it was time for a brief update.

First things first: Latin is still going, but not always going strong. I’ve noticed that it’s a good bit of concentration to do some Latin exercises, requiring a bit of prep (get everything out, clean up a workspace) and time with few interruptions. I don’t think my motivation has waned, but the newness certainly has. And, with it, the number of days per week I invest in Latin.

That said, I’m still going. Something that’s really worked well for me has been the rule that I have to do my exercises on Memrise before I look at Facebook. That gives me a decent ‘bare minimum’ so that I know that I’m not wasting the day, and I’ve done okay at that.

However, Memrise is not enough to actually make progress. Something that’s helped me — and this shouldn’t surprise anyone — is invented (and expensive) social pressure. I selected Chegg almost at random from the sites that offered online tutoring and started making appointments with a woman in England who’s studying classics. She corrects the exercises I do during the day and answers my questions, giving me little lessons and pointers. (She, however, also thinks I’m crazy for wanting to speak Latin. Apparently I’m a decade or two too late for that craze.)

What has not worked is the idea of getting up early to start my day with Latin. It’s a long-term goal, but when I get up early, it’s to prepare myself in a state of panic for the coming day. I’d like to make that part of my routine, and that seems like the part of the day that I can best set aside for myself, but, I don’t know.

I don’t know if I have a takeaway from all this for my language students. First, obviously, it’s hard. I’m a professional and I know how important the ‘a little every day’ aspect is, but I just find it insanely difficult to make the time. Second, bundling works: the only thing that I’ve been able to stick to consistently is combining Memrise with Facebook.

But, on the other hand, I think that I’m convinced that the method I set out for myself does work: experiment, but set reminders to go back and reflect upon how it’s going. I’ll be setting another reminder for in a month. We’ll see.