Thursday, October 29, 2009

Extending the parameters of my “1000 words a day” challenge

Starting in June of 2007 I set myself the goal of reading 1000 words a day from the geologic literature. The reason I chose to do this was the fact that I had a huge pile of papers I needed to read, and hadn’t been making the time to read any of it. Since then there have been numerous days in which I forgot and had to start over. My count has ranged from a low of accomplishing it two days in a row before missing a day to a high of 118 days in a row (my current count is at 42 days, which is the record for the 113 day period since arriving in Europe to commence my first post-doc position). Last night as I was finishing up my evening yoga in preparation for going to sleep I realized that I’d not yet read my 1000. I further realized that my computer and all paper copies of journal articles and textbooks I currently have in my possession were across the street in my office (I love my 2-minute commute to work!). I considered walking back over to do my 1000, but then I thought about the spirit of the rule. The goal was go get me to read a little bit, every day, so that I actually made progress and stayed current with my self-learning.

One of the things I’m doing here, in addition to my experiments, is taking classes in the local language. I’m dutifully doing my homework each day before it is due, but I’ve not been making much additional effort towards actually learning this language. All of my colleagues are so fluent in English that I can speak at my normal high rate of speed, so I don’t *need* to learn the language to do my job. Likewise when at the market it is easy enough to use the phrase I’ve memorized for “half kilo” and point, and then look at the numbers printed on the cash register to work out how much to pay. Again, I don’t *require* the local language to live my life here. Yet, it would be nice.

Therefore, I have expanded my “1000 words a day” to now be either read (at least) 1000 words of geologic literature in my own language, or spend 20 to 30 minutes translating something. One of my favourite books as a child was Anne of Green Gables . I have read, and re-read that book on numerous occasions. I also own copies of it translated into other languages. I purchased the version in the local language soon after I arrived. Prior to last night I’ve only “read” it—by which I mean open the book and look at every word, forming the sounds they make (either in my head or out loud, depending on if another is present), and looking for words which I can understand due to their similarities to the English equivalent. There are just enough of these that I am able to tell where in the story I am based on my memory of the original text. However, while doing this helps me to get a slight feel for the flow of this language, I’m not learning much. Therefore last night I went back to the beginning and actually took the time to write down each word I wasn’t positive I understood, and looked it up in my dictionary. The first two sentences of the story are long and complex and a half an hour elapsed while I looked up the 23 words I didn’t already know. I then read them out loud once straight through, then again phrase by phrase; pausing to state the English equivalent of each before reading the next phrase. It didn’t help me learn new thing in my primary field, but alternating this technique now and again with my normal 1000 a day will help me better fit into this country in which I’ll be living for another year and a bit, and so, I am happy with this change to the “rules” of the game I’m playing with myself.

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