# Learning a new language when older is like learning Dvorak

Once upon a time I learned Dvorak -- or rather, I memorized the key layout so that I could touch type (type without looking at the keyboard or a reference picture). I was initially attracted by the promises of higher-than-qwerty speeds once you mastered it. But my typing speed dropped to something like 15-20 WPM, and wasn't getting faster very quickly, I was fighting my muscle memory at every turn. Before I learned to touch type in 7th grade, I was actually pretty fast with finger-pecking (around 20-30 WPM). My normal typing speed post-7th grade has been around 85-110 WPM depending on focus and context, which is already pretty fast.

Dropping down to about 20% my normal speed turned out to be intolerable. I ditched Dvorak and didn't try to improve, and have since forgotten the layout. I've told myself, if I ever develop RSI symptoms, I'll go back to it (since supposedly it helps with that, which I can believe) but so far my hands have been healthy in that respect. Besides, for absolute speed, I'm more interested in one day trying to learn stenography. I've got a spare n-key rollover keyboard to attach the big keys to when I eventually try it.

I had the thought that this sense of intolerableness compared to what you know and are used to can be related to learning a foreign language, especially as an adult, especially trying to do it on your own. When I speak (or especially when I write) I'm used to expressing myself in certain ways, with longer sentences, more complex grammar, and varied vocabulary. Getting to anywhere near an equivalent level in a foreign language takes time. But that time has to be spent on expressing yourself in simpler ways, of being willing to look kind of stupid as you say things in weird ways (or childish ways, or in some languages in other-gender ways) or ask about meanings and for slower speech. Until you get to a point where you can pickup new vocabulary in the target language, and not have to reference an English dictionary every time, picking up vocab is also a lot more difficult than in every day life.

That's basically all, just a thought. I'm sure it can be applied to other things too. But it's worth thinking about maybe, especially for ways to make the intolerable more tolerable. When you learn in a classroom setting, the topics of conversation are limited compared to the wide world of "real use", and this I think is why classroom learning is (at least initially) more successful. They're limited most commonly to school things, and there's lots of reinforcement, but you also are limited in the discussion for the week (or class -- my second French course had us go through some book of stories with Marc and Julie covering things like every day life or French history).

It's also interesting how it can be so easy to spend 50+ hours on a new video game over the course of a few days, but spending even half that on learning a new language can take years. Revealed preferences are annoying...

#### Posted on 2022-03-16 by Jach

Tags: language, thought

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