Wow: A Language Diary Entry

Sometimes it feels that I will never get out of the intermediate stage. Although I’m not bad, I’m also not as good as I’d like to be. That is, I’m not as good as I think I should be by now. But thinking this way is a trap — what performance coach Todd Herman calls the “ow brain.”

Herman works mostly with athletes and entrepreneurs, but his “ow brain” and “wow brain” models (Link) also apply to language learners. One bad habit of an “ow brain” is comparing current results with ideal results. Its focus is what it can’t do yet, and it makes you feel like a failure. Whenever I think with an “ow brain,” I feel tempted to give up German and to learn an “easier” language instead. But there would be no point in changing my challenge if I don’t also change my mindset. An “ow brain” can poison anything.

On the other hand, a “wow brain” compares current results with past struggles. Instead of looking at distance from the goal, it looks at distance from the starting point. I may still be “bad” at German today, but I am definitely better than I was one year ago. And if I keep going, the intermediate stage will not last forever. In support of “wow brain” thinking, I am going to start recording my “wow moments.”

“Wow Moment” of the Month:

One of the first German bands I liked was Sportfreunde Stiller. I discovered them almost two years ago, thanks to this helpful video of German pop songs:

Back then, I could barely understand the titles — much less the lyrics. Today, while walking to work, I was able to sing the refrains of three Sportfreunde Stiller songs. I don’t sound as natural as I’d like to sound (“ow brain”) . . . but I’m a lot quicker than I was last month (“wow brain”)!

Sportfreunde Stiller songs also have a wonderful sense of familiarity now. The three that I know best are like old friends. When I first “met” them, all I wanted was to return to the “company” of my favorite English songs. But last week, after a few minutes with Portuguese pop, I willingly escaped to be with these German songs again.

It was like finding another part of my “German self” — the person I would have been, if I had been born in Germany. (I first wrote about this in my old post Introverts Need INSPIRATION.) In the early 2000s, my “English self” was a fan of the British band McFly. During the same point in time, my “German self” would have been a fan of Sportfreunde Stiller. (My second “wow” discovery of the month: My German self is so much cooler than my English self!)

What is your “wow moment” of the month?

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