My very extraverted brother just asked me to describe introverts. I said, “We’re people who don’t really like having fun or getting excited.” I was joking, of course . . . but only a little. I should have added a third thing introverts don’t really like: being motivated.
The explanation is in the “Lemon Juice Test.” Put a few drops of lemon juice on someone’s tongue and measure the amount of saliva produced in response. Extraverts would salivate less; introverts would salivate more. (Source) We simply need less external stimulation to get stirred up. And when we get more than we need, it can actually feel unpleasant. Too much fun, too much excitement, too much motivation–too much of any external thing–can stress us out!
The language class underachiever sitting quietly in the corner while everyone else competes for gold stars in a memory game? He or she is merely an introvert who has had too much motivation.
If this is you, then it’s time to drop the external systems. Yes, you enjoy the occasional prize and some fair praise, but these are not what gets you going. As an introvert, you need something internal. Something you can turn to even when the world’s biggest reward or the world’s scariest penalty can’t get a rise out of you.
What you need, in a word, is inspiration.
Do you know what you’re building?
There’s a story about a traveler who visited one of the great cathedrals of Europe when it was still under construction. He went around the site, asking the people there what they were doing. The mason said, “I’m putting up a pillar.” The glass blower said, “I’m making a window.” A woman who was sweeping away the day’s debris said, “I’m building a cathedral to the glory of God!”
If someone walked into your language class today and asked everyone what they were doing, what would your answer be? What’s the bigger story behind every vocabulary list you memorize, every irregular verb you conjugate, every table you fill out, every flashcard you write?
Maybe the story came first and your target language followed. If so, you’re one step ahead of me. I confess that I chose German over Italian the way I chose Sudoku over crossword puzzles, picking the language that looked most likely to tie me up in knots. It didn’t take long for those with bigger stories . . .
“I’m giving my children a chance to grow up in a country with better opportunities for them”
“I’m moving to the homeland of the love of my life”
“I’m rediscovering the culture of my ancestors”
. . . to outpace me in learning. If you had asked me what I was doing during my first year of German lessons, I would have said: “I’m doing exercises in this fun workbook to flex my mental muscles.”
Do you know who you’re becoming?
If you don’t start with the right inspiration, you can still get lucky and find it along the way. That was what happened to me when a former friend directed me to the blog of a language learner who exchanged his great first story for an even better one. He went from “I’m getting into the Graduate program of my dreams” to “I’m becoming Japanese because it’s what I was born to be.” (Source)
And then it clicked for me. I’m not just learning German; I’m becoming German.
That is, I’m discovering the person I would have been if I had been born in Germany.
This person doesn’t just speak German fluently, but also has German tastes and German memories. She has a different favorite song, a different favorite novel, a different favorite film. She might have also discovered one of her favorite poets thanks to some characters in a movie . . . but it wouldn’t be the same poet and the same movie. But I won’t be able to fill in these blanks about her until I know many more songs, books, movies, and poems in German.
When I started hiding a German novel my lap, so I could read it in German class instead of the textbook, I knew I had finally, wonderfully become inspired.