Can You Learn the Hardest Language in the World? by Irina Pravet (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Irina Pravet’s talk: Can You Learn the Hardest Language in the World? @ TEDxOtaniemiED conference. To learn more about the speaker, read the bio here.


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Irina Pravet – Finnish coach

So I’m going to do a little experiment. I’m going to ask you two questions and all you have to do is answer in your head. Are you ready?

Okay. First question, there it is. Can you learn? Just answer yes or no in your head.

And the second question: Can you learn the hardest language in the world?

Did you see what happened there? Maybe you weren’t as sure with that second one. Wasn’t as easy as the first.

Did you say no? Did you say maybe? Did you say probably, I don’t know, because if you did, then you’ve just experienced what the majority of foreigners feel when they come to Finland, excited, ready to learn Finnish. And then everyone tells them it’s really hard language. And the grammar is impossible. It’ll take you years.

And so what I want to do today is I want to deconstruct this question a little bit. And then I want to talk about three things that I think influence how we answer this question. Because I don’t really think the answer has anything to do with your ability.

And at the same time, I want to reassure the Finns in the room that this is also a discussion for you. So I’m going to go through a bit of a language coaching exercise. There’s going to be a lot of questions. For the Finns you can pretend it’s another language if you want or you could just try to empathize and see what it’s like for us.

At the same time I’m going to use some examples from gymnastics coaching, because that’s also something I do. And it puts learning in a bit more of a visual context.

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So the first part of the question is why learn. Because sometimes we get so wrapped up in the subject that we’re learning that we forget all about the process. But luckily our speakers haven’t forgotten about that today. So we’ve talked a lot about that.

I wanted to show the process by asking people on Facebook what words do you associate with learning. And this is what they told me.

So the process in itself can be really really enriching as well, of understanding, commitment, dedication, motivation, knowledge, curiosity.

So then why learn the hardest language in the world? Why not do something else with our time is a fair question. But the short answer is because it will transform you. You might feel like you’re stuck in one personality, one language, one way of seeing the world.

But once you experience life and the world, your world, from a completely different side of yourself, you’ll see a side of yourself that’s not bound by social obligations or the well-rehearsed habits that you have in daily life. You’ll see more of who you really really are.

And language is just as universal concept as learning and just as unavoidable as breathing, sleeping, eating. As humans we all have a deep desire to be understood and to understand one another.

So let’s move on to these three factors that I told you about. First of which is Perspective and I guess my font changed from the previous slide. Got to adapt.

So what if I told you that your strengths don’t impact what you can or can’t do, they only focus how you’re going to do it so that you keep on doing what you like to do and then you keep on learning. Whether for you that means experimenting with a new recipe, doing science experiments in your garage, or playing the violin.

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How do you love to learn? Because I’m willing to guess that whether you realize it or not you use progressions in your learning. And progressions can be thought of as the trees that make up this forest. It’s basically when you take one process and you break it down into little pieces and then you practice those little pieces on their own and then you put them back together and you’ve learned something new.

So let’s take a visual example. It’s going to get a little wild. So bear with me.

From my gymnastics background, so the cartwheel. I’ve been told to rearrange my shirt, yes. You hear me.

Okay. So the cartwheel is a really really cool skill because we use one word cartwheel to say arms up by your ears, keep your back in legs relatively straight as you lower your hands onto the ground, lift up your back leg, push off this other leg, split your legs and then square your hips. Don’t forget to point your toes and I skipped a couple steps.

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