How to understand our young is a question that has plagued the older generations for centuries. In the common mentality that pervades the thought within a generation, it seems that the young simply get worse every preceding age group. For them, morals and accepted methods of social interaction are tossed on their head, and the young simply refuse to conform to their peaceful and established world.
Not so many years ago, I was having lunch with my father and the company lawyer at the Hayatt outdoor café in downtown Columbus, Ohio. After discussing the usual topics of what I’m studying and what I think of my internship at the mutual fund department of the local investment company our conversation turned to the problems of my generation. I took a beating for the first five minutes as they pummeled me with examples of how my generation is lost and the source of all parental headaches. I retorted with the fact that their parents said the same about them as they are currently saying about my generation.
“You do not have a cause like we did in the 60’s” they said. “We were fighting against the Vietnam War and had a reason for our civil disobedience”
I searched my arsenal of reasons to counter them, and came up with, “Taking drugs, and having sex in the park during a Grateful Dead concert is hardly a way to protest a war is it not?”
They responded that those are insignificant side issues which do not detract from the noble reason of fighting against the war which was the main cause of their rebellion and that my generation did not have a cause. I searched my thoughts diligently but being only 20 years of age, could not come up with a suitable counterargument. It was then that I was miraculously saved by one whose view could not be countered nor scoffed at. This miraculous savoir happened to be a woman of about 65 who had overheard our conversation.
“Don’t listen to them” she told me. “They were a difficult and troublesome generation.” she said with the smile of a mother who even though her children are unruly, still cares for and loves them very much. Then being the gentlemen they are, my father and the lawyer both gave a subdued smile and we all knew that this particular topic had come to a close.
The question remains however, especially in this age of unprecedented violence, promiscuity and materialism, how can we understand the younger generation? There must be some standard manual which is required reading for every soon to be parent right? I am quite aware of the many books written by the professionals on such topics and award them their due respect. They spend their lives studying children and trying to help people become better adults, which is extremely admirable. Not being an ‘expert’ I am rather hesitant to challenge their views since I am well aware that learning like a brilliant light bulb illuminating an attic chases away the ignorance of our former views and opinions. I have learned that certain thoughts and ideas I formerly held as true and absolute, were in retrospect wrong, or muddled at best. Thus, before reading further, I wish to state clearly that I do not wish to contradict the opinions of our professionals. I simply wish to add one more view to our current store of knowledge on this subject.
Therefore, as much respect as I give our experts, it must be pointed out that they spent their lives studying the young. It’s been quite some time since they actually WERE the young. Through their intensive study, many have learned or observed, how children behave, but have forgotten what it is like to actually be one and the complexities that are involved. Further, their childhood experiences, try as they might to form their views scientifically and without bias, remain a tremendous influence on their current thoughts, and behavior. It is well known that experiences during youth still have quite an influence throughout the adult life and influence adult behavior.
I am taking the step to be the first one to provide a manual on raising a child properly while I am still relatively close to their youth. I am unaware of a book written about youth who still can be considered young; yet articulate enough to express their thoughts clearly and precisely. I am quite sure however that if a book like this has been written, it was regarded as amateurish, and unheeded. The reason is that we as a society will usually only listen to people and take their opinions seriously if they are regarded as “experts,” or have studied the topic strenuously. I put the question to you the reader however, that wouldn’t it be better to listen to the young and get their opinions in order to form an opinion about the young? For example, if you wish to study Russian culture, wouldn’t it be better to ask a Russian instead of an outsider who simply studied them? I am aware that this could be a double edged question since a Russian might not be able to reflect upon his own culture since it is native to him and thus his opinion would be skewed towards a Russian point of view. However, the reverse would also have to hold true in that an American would have naturally lean towards an American point of view with respect to Russian culture. Yet, wouldn’t it be better to have both opinions in order to form a more complete opinion and form our views after taking both points into consideration?
My second point about flaws with experts is that they are a product of their respective schools of thought. I can send you thousands of intelligent, articulate scholars with degrees that will tell you Communism is the best form of government, or that we should still be a class based society. My point is that we know only what we have been taught. For example, I am a product of a capitalist society, and a liberal school. It wasn’t until I not only traveled, but lived in other parts of the globe that I was able to learn new thoughts and ideas and truly examine the ones I had been taught and held as true. Yet another important point, is when in our lives have we thought ourselves ignorant? I thought I had everything figured out in the 8th grade and continued with this belief all throughout university. It was in university that people looked at me as educated since I was learning the modern business practices and could comment on subjects they might have difficulty with. After university, I thought myself enlightened and proceeded to parrot these ideas I had been taught in every business or political debate that came up. I was not yet thinking for myself, but regurgitating the views I had been taught.
Now that I have set down the reasons for the validity of my ideas, it is time to get to the core issue of understanding our young. As I have clearly stated above, I am not an expert. Yet I am someone who is relatively young and remember quite clearly the experiences and influences I had as a young adult. I believe that revealing the experience of my youth to you the reader, you may gain a fuller understanding of what goes on in the minds of our young. I do wish to offer one caveat however. The mass mentality of the young changes every five to ten years, and like the economy, we can only truly understand what was really going on in retrospect. Further, these are the experiences of only one individual, and to understand the young completely, it would take thousands of books like these written by the young to gain a clear picture.
Parents as a Role Model
Saying the word “Role Model,” makes me want to put up a barrier and stop listening. Young adults have the amazing ability to hear, and record what you say but not actually process it. We record it in case you ask us to repeat what you’ve just said and are able to do so and not get into trouble. However, we don’t really process it into our minds and make it part of us. Instead, it’s treated just l
ike a stale piece of bread that is left out too long. It will become stale and discarded within a period of weeks if not days. The words “Role Model,” make us automatically think that some brilliant piece of parental advice is about to follow and they are going to tell us again what we are doing wrong again. For me, when adults told me I needed a Role Model, the part that was actually heard “processed” is that I am not good how I am and would be better off copying someone else’s method of behavior and acting. I felt like I was not a good person. Now, as I read what I write, some part of me gives me a warning saying that if an adult heard,,, they would say I had a “bad attitude.” Therefore, it would be best to put the youth in contact with a role model instead of saying “Here is your Role Model and you should copy his/her behavior.” In this way, the actions and behavior of our chosen Role Model would stealthily be absorbed into the behavior patters of the youth without them consciously being aware that they were being influenced.
It is well known that parents are the best Role Models for their children. But how can parents be role models, relate and earn the respect of their children? Here are some simple guidelines to follow.
1. Be honest with your children about your mistakes. Don’t tell them not to do something because that translates into “If it looks fun then experiencing it is ok since my parent did it, just don’t get caught.”
2. You should spend time with your young adult. However, do not force them if they don’t want to. Forcing the young to spend time with you will be no fun for them, even if it actually is fun. The premise in their thinking is that it is something they are forced to do so they will not like it even if it actually is enjoyable. So how can you get them to spend time with you? This can be complex or simple depending on your ability to adapt. You should find something they enjoy doing and learn to become good or even better than them at it. Many youth like video games for example. Even if you hate video games you should learn to play their favorite one and beat them at it. Then challenge them and they will spend time with you until they can beat you at their favorite game. They could in principle still not like you but through simply spending time together, you have opened a door that could possibly lead to better relations. My current favorite is golf. It is a sport I enjoy and if my dad were to take me golfing and pay for it, I would accept his offer every time
3. Listen to your child’s opinions and talk with them about complex subjects. Listen to what they say and sincerely consider their point of view. This is difficult for about 90% of the population. To understand my point clearly think of a point of view you strongly disagree with and play devil’s advocate with your own point of view. Let’s take the strongest example I can currently think of: abortion. Now that I have simply stated its name, you have most likely already become passionate for your side and come up with 1000 reasons why your view is right. The thing that separates truly intelligent people from the masses is that intelligent people will most likely have a very difficult time coming to a firm conclusion on the issue for either side of the debate. They are able to throw out the bias and sincerely consider both sides of the debate. After meticulously and deeply thinking about both points, will reach a logical conclusion that could be reversed if more information or higher thinking were to come to light. They throw out passion and bias and reach their conclusions logically. Now, let’s try this with a much simpler example about something of minimal importance.
The computer I’m typing on is a Dell Inspiron 8000 and its color is black. Say, someone comes and tells me its color is really white even though I can clearly see it’s black. Instead of correcting him and calling him color blind I should seriously consider the reasons for them calling it white. Perhaps, through their learning and upbringing, they have learned that the color I call black is for them called white. In this case, we both share the same point of view but have different ways of expressing it. Thus, instead of engaging in an unproductive argument I can quickly find a path to agreement so long as they continue to call the color “black”, “white” and are thus consistent. If they do not, then perhaps they are simply rebelling against me which I should realize being the more mature and ask them to help me understand the color system all over again. Most youth, will not engage in this erratic pattern for long, if you sincerely ask for their help in determining color so that you may see things from their point of view. Most will be delighted if you can find some way to agree with them on issues, or at least understand why they may think this way. This is a rather simple example but the point I am trying to make, is that you must find a way to drop the automatic defense that pops up when someone challenges your firmly held beliefs. I truly think that we as humans can become so firmly set in our beliefs and ideas that for the majority of the population, opening our minds to this point is unachievable. Many of you will say how stupid of an example this is since the friggin computer is black and that’s that. But I challenge you dear reader to consider just for a minute that this argument may in fact hold water with the following example.
I currently live in Japan. The entire country believes it is better to conform to that status quo, and their culture puts emphasis on being polite instead of opening up their feelings and opinions which could bring trouble for the entire group. We as Americans, value the individual over the group. So when I go to the same dry cleaning lady on a weekly basis and treated with the same sterile politeness instead of a genuine gratitude since I’m giving her steady business, am I to say her method of behavior is wrong? I would simply like a sincere “Hello” or “How are you,” but must realize that it’s not in her culture or upbringing. Who am I to say her method of behavior is wrong and must be corrected?
Now bringing the example back to our young. We really respect people who are intelligent like this and able to see all points of view. They don’t tell us that their views are right but rather engage in debate with us at our level without making us feel stupid or as though they are patronizing us. I had a math teacher my sophomore year who earned our respect this way, and thus never had any problem with the students. He was open, honest and listened to our opinions. We could tell he was intelligent by his getting off subject once in a while to engage in a lively exchange of ideas. I remember three examples well. The first was him telling us about the importance of his attendance book. We had just finished telling him that taking attendance after every single class was useless and a waste of time. Our idea was to take attendance at most after every other class in order not to waste time. I mean, where were we going to go in the short time interval of one period? We can’t wander the halls due to the hall monitors, so what is the point of taking attendance during every single class? It was then that he raised arms to shoulder with about 3 feet apart before clasping his hands together so we would know that an entertaining story was about to come. From this simple gesture we could tell he was passionate and speaking to us from the heart. His story was about an unruly student who was often in trouble with any and all authorities. Well one day, the police came and accused him of arson which is punishable as a felony. The one thing that saved this student was the attendance book because our teacher from the accuracy of his attendance book could prove that the student in question was in class at the time the fire was supposedly set.
Learning a foreign language can seem like a daunting if not unachievable task to many of us. I am here to tell you that learning a new language does not have to be the boring, monotonous travail that we begin to think it is from the outset of our freshman year high school language classes. Thus, I write to those of you that are absolutely serious about learning another language and I believe I can offer some practical advice to help you not only enjoy the learning experience, but also to ease the pain and suffering that mass memorization of vocabulary and grammar tends to bring about.
There are many ways to learn a language. The easiest, but perhaps most stressful way is complete and total immersion. This means to simply be thrown into an environment where you must speak, hear and read the foreign language on a constant basis and not be able to use your own native language (at all) to communicate. Most of us however, are not afforded this luxury. We have to try and keep ourselves motivated as well as make a conscientious effort to learn the language without much external support other than the routine language class. This lack of stimulus causes our motivation to wane quite easily after the initial enthusiasm has passed and the task of memorization has become dismal. The end result being such that our language books end up collecting dust after the semester is over and we are no closer to speaking the language with any fluency than we were previously. For those who would like a way out of this quandary, I recommend beginning your language learning quest with the right elements. These key factors will be your support to help keep your eyes on the end goal in times when the challenge becomes tedious or you become discouraged.
Incentive is the absolute most important aspect in your quest to learn another language. The first question you must ask yourself is why you want to learn the language. If you have a genuine incentive to learn, then it will keep you motivated throughout the duration, especially when the language becomes difficult or you get frustrated. My incentive to learn Spanish was that I found it rather disheartening when I could not understand people during a trip to Mexico even though I had studied it for 4 years in high school. Also, the NAFTA agreement was being drafted and I figured if I could learn Spanish along with a Business degree then I might have more favorable job prospects in the future. These were my incentives from the outset. However, as I progressed I came to find that learning the language, in itself, was rewarding and practical. People say that learning a little of the language before you travel will take you a long way, but I say that learning to actually speak the language will take you into an entirely new world! Further, you would be surprised to learn how much clearer our own language becomes through the study of a foreign tongue. (I shall expound upon that point later.) Therefore, I recommend taking a trip to a foreign country where you can see with your own eyes that people actually do speak other languages and use them on a day to day basis. You will learn that language is actually very useful and not just a device they use just to punish us during our school days in the English speaking world.
Learning a new language does not happen overnight. Just as a bodybuilder must go to the gym consistently for months to see even a miniscule result, so must the language learner have patience and consider it a lifelong endeavor. In the beginning, you must memorize loads of vocabulary to build your base. Once you have the built your base, then you can start building sentences and worrying about conjugations. Once you have the conjugations, you can begin taking your first feeble steps to actually having a real conversation in another language! Another important aspect is to realize that you will never speak the foreign language as well as you speak English. Therefore, don’t get frustrated when you are having a difficult time trying to express a thought or emotion in another language and do not compare it to how well you could have said the same thing in English. You are a native speaker of English, yet you would know less than a one year old starting a new foreign language. The magnitude of this difference in levels is gigantic, and a good way to induce frustration and make a beginner want to quit studying the language altogether. So have patience, don’t compare, and reevaluate if you really have the time and enthusiasm to learn the language.
III Forget English
In the first few months of learning another language you will undoubtedly be translating your way through simple dialogue in class. This means you first think of what you want to say in English, and then translate it to the foreign tongue. Of course this is only natural, but it is also something that you will want to get away from as you progress and actually start to have simple conversations. As you may or may not know, we actually think in our native language and are able to express our thoughts and ideas using complex sentences with minimal effort. Unfortunately, we are not able to do this in another language and thus try to translate the English phrase into a foreign one verbatim. This word for word translation does not work and will leave the foreign sentence sounding rather unintelligible and rough. It is like listening to a radio with bad reception. You might understand a little bit of what they are saying, but it certainly isn’t very enjoyable experience.
Therefore, I propose tackling the problem in this manner. Imagine that you have two file cabinets in your head, one for English and one for the foreign language. When you need to express something in the foreign tongue, you should not reach for the English files abounding with numerous colorful English phrases. Instead, reach for that anorexic foreign file, with only a few sparse phrases and words and form your sentence from there. It may be a bit tantalizing at first since you might only be able to express only 10% of what you actually want to say. However, just like a child learns in this way by simply saying “Hungry!” instead of “I’m very hungry could you please take me to McDonalds,” so we too must start from scratch and form our foreign sentences one word, verb or adjective at a time. This is especially true when you throw in idioms such as “I got his back,” which if translated into most other foreign languages will leave the listener thinking some sort of butchery was performed.
III. Make Useful Connections to Real Life
As I mentioned before, your native language will become clearer through the study of another language and it is a good technique to recognize these connections. Through these recognitions you might possibly feel smarter which in turn, could increase your motivation. Here are a few examples:
In making these connections, the foreign language becomes immediately useful to you in English and not just some abstract academic theory that you are having trouble applying to real life (assuming there are no foreigners with whom you can practice your new language.) If you are the least bit curious, it will leave you hungering for more and the learning process will actually become amusing. If you decide to take on a third language, these connections become even more useful in memorizing difficult vocabulary. A good example of this is the word “casa,” which means “house” in Spanish. “Casa” also means “umbrella” in Japanese. Taking this technique a bit further would be this example. “El oso” in Spanish means “a bear.” I think that a bear is terrible, which leads me to the Japanese word “osoroshii” which means “terrible or dreadful!”
IV. Tips and Tricks
As I mentioned above, making connections is the easiest way to memorize the vocabulary. If connections cannot be made, then there are a few other tricks I use to remember the words. It is also important to keep in mind that you should use any technique that seems to work for you. If standing on your head shouting out vocabulary until you are blue in the face works for you, then employ that method to the fullest extent.
A rule I go by is to not try and memorize entire phrases as a beginner in the language. You should first try and learn what each individual word actually means and then they will make sense when you put them together (omitting the difference in grammatical structures). Learning phrases is useless if you don’t know what the individual words mean because without their meaning you cannot form other complex phrases or may say them out of context. For example, I have had Japanese businessmen say “Hello, nice to meet you!” upon making eye contact without us having been introduced or even learning each others names. Just because one learns a phrase doesn’t mean he or she knows how to employ it properly.
Another trick is to imagine the foreign word next to a picture of the object in your mind. As mentioned before, we actually think in our native languages. Thus, when we picture a fish in our heads, the word “fish” automatically appears as well. Try imagining that you have been mistaken all your life and that the real word for fish is actually “poisson,” which is French. Repeat the word and hear yourself say it for reinforcement. Then try saying “I’m going to eat some poisson tonight.” It sounds ridiculous and it is. In fact, it’s so absurd that you will probably end up remembering the word. You could also make a mental connection with this word as well since it looks so close to the word “poison,” which has the same meaning in French as it does in English. Of course you wouldn’t eat poison for dinner but how about some poisson?
Third, take this new word and use it as soon as possible. Memorizing only places the information in your head temporarily. However, when you are called upon to actually retrieve and use the information stored is when you reinforce it and make it (almost) permanent. A good metaphor is that of the librarian and her index cards. What may take the library patron a few minutes to find, will take only a few seconds for the librarian because he or she has probably accessed it countless times.
Finally, you must practice listening to the language. I know how boring those language tapes are and to be honest I did listen to them very much. Instead, I listened to foreign songs or radio programs through the Internet. Again, this is where incentive becomes really important because it would be easier if you already had a genuine interested in the music, news, or culture from that perspective country. As a beginner, try to pick out some of the vocabulary you just learned. When you hear it, it will be reinforced in your mind and harder to forget. You will also be happy that you finally understood something even if it is only one word. Remember, one word, becomes two words, which become entire phrases until you finally understand what they are saying.
An old Spanish proverb says, “A person who speaks two languages is worth two people.” So I encourage all you language learners to find your motivation, determine which memorization techniques work for you and above all, have patience. If you come to find that your enthusiasm is on the decline, take a quick trip to where they actually speak that language or at least find a native speaker with whom you can practice. Finally, keep in mind that if you are persistent over a long period of time, almost anything can be accomplished.