Having been a teacher for 20 years now I think I know what it takes to learn a language. I have worked with over 2000 students and one thing becomes evident – the people who succeed in mastering a language all share similar qualities.
Just what are they? Determination is a big one. It’s not something I can teach, that’s all up to them. Curiosity is another clue. Curious people will look for answers. They won’t be satisfied with just one book, they’ll read two or three or more.
Then there’s the concept of the tortoise and the hare. Most of the people who succeed don’t do so because of a sprint, they do it over time. Some people can handle sprinting but most get worn out and end up either taking themselves out of the race (ie. giving up) or just ease up (the hare). Slow, methodical planning (the tortoise) is the key to victory. You might not be able to learn a language overnight but you can over a few years.
A simple concept but I’m surprised how many people don’t take advantage of it.
Today I wanted to share with you an example of a hare. She started learning English 11 years ago. She started right at the beginning having hated English in school. But at the age of 50 she decided to challenge herself and enrolled in her first English school. It was an intensive course (for just three short weeks) in Canada with strict rules but it paid off because it appealed to her desire to learn. She joined Smith’s Hirakata two and half years later after having attended a few other English conversation schools and has been with me now for almost 9 years. She epitomizes what a student needs to be and has all the characteristics I mentioned earlier.
These days she constantly writes and rewrites stories. Below I have included one such story. I think you’ll agree that if she has gone from zero to this level that anyone can. Age isn’t an excuse. Time isn’t an excuse as she used to work full-time as a teacher and still now has a busy schedule despite having retired a few years back.
Remember, don’t try and be a hare, be a tortoise.
I have always driven on paved roads; therefore I was inexperienced in the dangers of driving on muddy roads in the rain. Or rather I should say that I had never thought about it. The awful truth is that muddy roads become a nightmare very easily when there is sudden rain.
It was one summer, a few years ago. After my husband and I had driven through Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, we turned off the main road onto an unpaved side road because my husband suggested that we see some more sights. From the very beginning the dirt by-road was full of bumps and potholes. I tried to drive on the flat parts of the road as much as possible but it gave me an uneasy feeling, so I asked my husband, “Do you think the road ahead will be safe?” He said, “Our car is four-wheel drive, I promise you we’ll have no problem whatsoever. After all, it’s not raining now. If it had rained, I read something in the guidebook that this by-road would be closed if it were dangerous.” He was right, there was no rain and the road was completely dry. Even so, there was a lot of gravel on the road and the steering wheel seemed to be taken by it, therefore I couldn’t relax not even for a moment.
I might have driven for as much as 20 minutes, before I finally came to a straight road with a good view; the wheel pulled sharply to the right. Before thinking, I turned the wheel to the left and then slammed on the brakes. My husband said to me careful, “Maybe we have a flat?” as I had no idea what had happened. “No, that can’t be possible! I have been driving very carefully.” He said, “But, you have been driving on a graveled road.” Come to think about it, in that split second when I couldn’t control the wheel, I heard something that sounded as if we had a tire blew out. Did I really have a flat tire? Suddenly a sense of uneasiness crossed my mind. Did I have only one flat tire? Cars only have spare, don’t they?
My husband told me that he would check the tires and then got out of the car. “We don’t have a flat tire, but the tires are covered with mud.” I asked him, “What do you mean?” “I’m guessing, it rained only around here, so the ground has absorbed rainwater and formed clods of mud that are sticking to the tires. I will drive from here on, because this situation is dangerous.” I asked him, “Really dangerous?” “Yes,” he replied.
On the left side there was a slight incline and to the right a steep drop. The moment I saw it, I got chills down my spine.
Through we had no idea when it had rained, I noticed the color of the mud was dark. However, my husband said, “The road ahead seems dry and the mud will fall off the wheels.” I thought he was being overly optimistic, so I told him that we should turn back but he didn’t listen. I thought that he might not want to go back after coming this far, because we were almost halfway to the next town.
He took my place driving. As I kept my eyes fixed ahead, I noticed many wet spots on the road. Oh, no! About 30m away, I saw a very steep slope. Though I’d had my license for 35 years I had never driven on a slope like that.
We saw a car with 4WD that was larger than ours, very slowly descending the slope. A few minutes later, we went by the car and it was throwing mud off its tires. My husband kept trying not to step on the brake.
When our car came several meters short of the slope, my anxiety suddenly increased. I asked my husband, “Are you sure? Can you really get us up there? I think we should go back.” He said, “Don’t worry. Trust me.” I really hate it when he says that because I have had many bitter experiences every time he uttered those words. Therefore I asked again, “Well, why don’t we turn back?” He replied as he started ahead, “We have already come this far. We might as well keep going.” Typical!
We drove on the muddy road toward the top of the slope, but the road was worse than we had expected. Mud stuck to the tires again and our car began to slip. We got stuck about 5 meters from the top. On the left side of the road was a sheer hillside, and it made me dizzy. On the right side was another hillside too, but luckily it was a relatively-gentle hillside with grass and bush. My husband turned the wheel all the way to the right and slammed on the brake. He paused then got out of our car and put some stones under the back wheels.
I asked him as soon as he got back into the car, “What are we going to do?” He said, “We just have to wait until the road dries,” but he didn’t look me in the eyes. I was angered at his reply. I screamed inside, “What did I tell you?” We were very quiet and looked in different directions. We had one misfortune after another. Ahead I saw big black rain clouds and said to my husband, “Look! It looks like rain any time now. When can we leave?” He said, “I have no idea. But it might only be a shower. So, it will probably stop soon.”
A few minutes later, it began to pour. The rain clouds moved very slowly and a large amount of the rainwater was mercilessly penetrating the ground. The rain showed no signs of stopping. When is it going to stop raining? I became more and more uncomfortable and asked my husband, “If we were stuck here, what can we do?” He said, “We just have to wait here until dawn.” I refused to talk to him and instead chose to talk to myself. “Are you sure that we are stuck here? That’s terrible! It’s midsummer but doesn’t it get colder at nighttime due to this being the top of a mountain? You don’t need to worry, because we have enough clothes in our luggage. How about food? I have three bottles of water and some biscuits and they will keep us from being too hungry.”
After a short while, my husband checked his cellular phone but it was out of the service area. He asked me, “Does your phone work?” “No, my phone doesn’t work either.” I asked him, “What should we do?” He said, “If a car comes, I’ll ask the driver to contact our rental car company.” “If a car came from the top of this slope, what could we do?” “I don’t know,” he said and we fell silent again.
It has rained for over 15 minutes, but then the sky around us started getting lighter and soon after the rain stopped. Even so, we couldn’t move. I was tired with a mixture of accepting my misfortune and eager to manage this bad situation. Also it was very hard to control the distrust that I felt for my husband.
I don’t know the brand of the car but a four-wheel drive vehicle, that was larger than ours, was coming up behind us. The car stopped just before the slope and three people got out of the car. They were discussing something looking at us, and then they began to walk toward us. My husband said to me, “I’ m going to ask them for help. So, you should get out.”
I stepped out of our car and was very surprised. I wanted to remove the mud from the tires while I waited, but it was like glue and very heavy. I decided to pick up a flat stone from the hillside that was only a few steps from our car, but that didn’t go well. I walked only three steps, and I almost fell down due to the mud that was stuck to the bottom of my shoes. Despite the difficulty, I was able to pick up a flat stone and began to scrape off the mud. However, I gave up after only a few tries because it was caked on.
I saw the earth around the back wheels, as I mumbled to myself, “I can’t do anything…” but I noticed the earth there was a different color. Light brown! Dry!! I noticed that about the top 20cm of the road was thick with mud, but underneath, it was dry. I wished I had a shovel with me. But I knew that it would be almost impossible to remove the heavy mud even if I had one. Then, my husband came back with the three people.
It was a family; a man, a woman and their college aged son. They seemed to be seasoned-travelers. My husband and the two men walked to the top of the slope to check the road ahead. Their first conclusion was that the family would not be able to drive up the slope because it would be too dangerous. The second conclusion was that the family might be able to drive on the side of the hill, but it would be impossible for us to do it with our car. The third conclusion was that we should go back the way we came because it was still dry.
My husband drove backward in our car very carefully until the road became flat. Then, their son drove their car skillfully up the hillside but when the car had almost reached halfway up, it began slithering back. After he rechecked the angle of his approach with his father, he reversed a little, and put it in drive then pressed down on the accelerator. A few seconds later, he made it. All of us breathed a sigh of relief. We said goodbye to each other, and separated.
I complained to my husband, who was driving on the road in silence, “Please never put me in danger like this again. You know there is a proverb that says that the shortest way round is the longest way home.” He said only two words apologetically, “I’m sorry.” Before we turned off onto a paved road, we saw five cars. The first car was a four-wheel drive and it was larger than ours, and the second car was a passenger car. The third car was a four-wheel drive and the same in size as ours. The fourth and fifth cars were small passenger cars. I guess only the first car was able to make it up the slope. I wanted to warn them but couldn’t as they went by so quickly.
We arrived at our destination 3 hours behind schedule. My husband didn’t make a hotel reservation even though it was the peak summer travel season so we were barely able to check into a hotel. We were very hungry and tried to go to a restaurant that was across the street, but the light of the restaurant turned off just as we started across the street. Even so, we crossed the street hurriedly and opened the door. I saw the last two guests put some money on their table as they were leaving. A waitress came to us and said apologetically, “I’m sorry, but the restaurant is closing now.”
However I didn’t give up, because I saw several kinds of cake in a glass display case. We were really relieved when we were able to buy two pieces of apple pie and two cups of coffee to takeout. It was already passed 11pm when we finished, but we felt so much better, because the apple pie was mildly sweet just the way Japanese people like it and the hot coffee was very good.
The following day I saw the newspapers from Bryce Canyon National Park, and there was a picture of a car that was in the same situation as ours. No, actually the car was in a more terrible situation than ours. The car was buried in mud up to the license plate, and parked behind the car was a police car with its red flashing lights. The warning written under the picture said, “Don’t attempt crossing during a flash flood. They come on strong, and they come on fast.” I showed the newspapers to my husband, he talked tough, “In our case, we escaped on our own.” I thought that my husband seemed to lack self-examination and also thought that the picture and the warning should be put at the entrance of that unpaved side road.
After returning home, my husband showed me the rental agreement that was sent from the car rental agency in Japan. I was surprised. In the document there was a very important cautionary statement in the fine print. “Please be careful because the following issues are not covered by your insurance.” If we had an accident on the unpaved slope, my husband would have had to pay the cost at his own expense.
Dear honey, why didn’t you show me this before our trip? Even though we fortunately returned home unscathed ….