May 19th, 2020

Lockdown, Self-doubt, Delays & Inspiration

Wow! It’s been such a… strange time for all of us, hasn’t it? Overnight, unable to leave home in order to save lives. Caught between people complaining that this is just another common cold and people selling paper by being purposefully alarmist and sensationalist. The world has almost ground to a halt, and this freaks us all out.

Frankly, I don’t blame us. We like it when things are stable and reliable, because we know what to expect in those moments, and therefore how we will react to it. But life throws us curveballs, and as the batters, we can’t just ignore them, we have to adjust our swings to hit them. And yes, that includes me, in this case.

COVID-19 Lockdown

Well obviously, I have to start with the elephant in the Petri dish: that damned virus. The first I heard of it was through an actual scientific video explaining the facts of the virus as we knew them then (in February) and encouraging us not to lose our heads about the virus itself or about China in general (this was about the time when Chinese people were coming under a fair bit of discrimination purely on the basis of the virus). Since then, as the situation mounted, I deliberately kept myself informed more with actual scientific posts than with alarmist media, and in fact taken all those with an entire saltshaker on principle.

Then came the lockdown. To be frank, the lockdown didn’t change much in my own life, I was already working almost exclusively from home and not going out much, and was already fluent in Zoom anyway. However, I did enjoy changing surroundings now and again and going to sit in a coffee shop to have… a hot chocolate once in a while. Almost overnight, that was no longer possible. We were only allowed out for essential purposes, and only supermarkets and pharmacies remained open. Luckily, I have 4 supermarkets within a 2-block radius of my house, and a pharmacy literally across the street should I need it, so I wasn’t worried. I heard of pretty drastic measures to crack down on lockdown defiers, including fines up to 5 of 6 figures, but never saw police or soldiers patrolling on my street. Still, I wasn’t about to take the chance. In any case, because of COVID, my housemates have all left, one actually gave up his room and the other two keep extending their vacations with their families, so I have the entire apartment to myself, which is pretty awesome.

Things have loosened up a bit since May 2nd, and for the first couple of weeks we were allowed to go out from 06:00 to 10:00 and from 20:00 to 23:00. I’ve been taking this as an opportunity to get back into walking, fitting in about 10,000 steps on those days where I do go out. It was really quite interesting, seeing the city of Madrid, including some of its most popular attractions, so empty. For example, here’s a picture of Plaza Mayor with all the restaurants closed and the performers gone:

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, uncharacteristically empty, feeling almost abandoned.

Of course, most people out there are still wearing masks. I myself don’t have any, I’ve refused to buy them so as not to deprive those who really need them. But I did improvise for myself a 100% Peruvian alpaca wool mask out of my scarf, and it seems to be working fairly well so far:

Pure Peruvian alpaca wool COVID-19 mask

The plus side, it seems, for most of us, is that these lockdown conditions have encouraged, in some cases almost forced, us to reconnect with family and friends to an unprecedented extent, making use of Internet technology to bring us a bit closer. Zoom’s stock is probably going to… well, zoom past all the others if it hasn’t already. Anyway, I’ve been taking advantage of this as well, reconnecting via social media in general but also using Zoom and Skype to meet virtually with colleagues, family and friends. In fact, I’ve had a few virtual dinners this way, including one for my birthday last week.

I’ve also teamed up with my dad to convince my grandmother and great-uncle to learn to use Skype on a more regular basis to stay in touch with us. So I took up the mantle of IT teacher again and helped explain to both of them that no, it’s not rocket science, that yes, it’s perfectly feasible, and that they’d better get used to it because in these conditions it’s unlikely any of us will go visit them in person at least until next year (they’re both well over 60 and vulnerable), and that in fact the authorities would likely keep them relatively locked down until at least Christmas. And this allowed us to have a few Skype conversations already. They’re still a bit afraid of it, but they’ll get used to it. I mean, they’ve come this far already with their computers, with our help, this is just another step.

Plans for Germany

So as you know from last time, I wish to move to Germany in the nearest possible future, but that has become a bit more complicated. Companies are still hiring, but they’re taking longer to respond than they normally would. And COVID-related travel restrictions are probably behind a lot of the rejections that I’ve received so far. So I keep applying on job listings and getting very little out of it. I’d try to leverage contacts on-site, but I have too few of these at the moment. It also doesn’t help that, in one of the areas I’m searching in (teaching), I have no official qualification or certification.

Another Slump

Following my big bout of depression during the winter, I managed to take some tentative steps to get out of my rut and solve my problems, and had a little success with some of them (lasting success too, at least so far). But lately I’ve been feeling myself drifting a bit, and for all my successes I’ve realized how very far I have yet to go, and that has brought me down again these past couple of weeks. But thanks to the support and advice of my family and friends, I’m able to keep my spirits up somewhat. And now I’ve been put in touch with a psychologist who should be able to understand me, and might be able to help me overcome my personal demons more durably than ever before, so I’m hopeful. But it still feels like a steep uphill road to travel, and lately I’ve been feeling another bout of hopelessness.

Articles on Language Learning

Ever since high school I’ve noticed significant differences between the American and French systems for teaching languages, and after my first year of college I saw the consequences of this difference on the students. More specifically, I noticed that the American system is very pragmatic and constructive, whereas the French one is very theory-based and, frankly, a bit snobbish, demanding absolute perfection because language accuracy is somehow connected to social status. The problem with this approach is when it leaves the students unable to speak for fear of reprisals against even the smallest mistakes. My classmates in college used to all tell me their English sucked, yet that wasn’t what I myself, a native speaker, had observed. Some of them asked me to coach them, and I noticed that almost all of what I was doing on those occasions was just putting them at ease and removing the fear and pressure they always had with the teachers.

This has become the basis of my own current language coaching method. I spoke about this with hundreds, maybe thousands of people in the intervening 15 years, and the more I described my experience and my vision, the more I realized that my conclusions resonate really strongly with people. I’ve been talking about this at Couchsurfing meetings, pub quizzes, language exchanges, company events, social gatherings, most everywhere as long as the topic came up. I’ve already been getting great feedback on these ideas for years, but most of this came from individuals who were more on the learning side than the teaching side of things, and though my methods were proving effective, I wasn’t sure they were truly valid, being based only on empirical observations and general trends.

But back in February, at one of the last language exchange meetings I attended before the lockdown started here, I was discussing this with an actual teacher (not the first time), who gave me some pretty mind-blowing feedback (not really the first time) and even said my ideas were worth making an entire conference, even a TED talk (THAT was the first time!). She even recommended a couple of upcoming events where she said I should apply as a speaker and give conferences to hundreds or thousands of teachers describing my vision of language education. Of course, for obvious reasons, those events were cancelled. But the feedback and the idea stuck around in my head. And once I’d finished building this Website, I figured that if I couldn’t share my ideas verbally with entire crowds any time soon, then at the very least I might be able to put them in writing and describe them here on this site for you. And that is exactly what I did, publishing a 7-part series on language learning over the past several weeks. And I’m glad to report that they’ve still been resonating strongly with a much wider audience! You can find the posts by following the link below:

Anyway, that’s all for this time, I hope you enjoyed reading this and that you’ll stay tuned for further updates in the future!

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