We live in a world obsessed with speed and efficiency. “Faster” is almost always equated with “better” (other than with sex of course). We want our food fast. We want our abs fast. And we want our language skills fast.

We are bombarded every day with marketing messages that fuel our lust for rapidity. “Learn a language in 7 days!” blares the banner ad. “Get a six-pack in six minutes a day!’ promises the clickbait. My wife and I enjoy making fun of such ads with jokes like:

“I ate a salad… Where are my abz!?”

“I spent 10 minutes studying Russian on Duolingo. Why am I not fluent yet!?”

Our prefrontal cortex knows that such expectations are silly, but our amygdala doesn’t. The so-called “lizard brain” loves the idea of getting what we want right now. Afterall, evolution taught our limbic brain that we might not be alive tomorrow to pass on our genes or eat a meal. Hence our innate drive to pursue the “four Fs” with haste (fighting, fleeing, feeding, and… mating).

I am certainly not immune to the speed obsession and have spent much of my adult life looking for ways to be more efficient and productive. When it comes to language learning, I’ve tried hundreds and hundreds of methods, resources, apps, etc. in search of the most direct paths to fluency. And I have indeed found some methods and materials that are more effective than others.

But along the way, I have also noticed more and more downsides to the unquestioned pursuit of speed. I’m starting to realize that there are some activities that shouldn’t be “optimized.” That the fastest route isn’t necessarily the best route. Just as the Slow Food Movement argues that eating becomes more enjoyable when we appreciate the entire food chain, connect with farmers, and savor every bite, so too can we better enjoy language learning when we slow down to savor every word, idiom, grammar pattern, and cultural quirk.

Language learning shouldn’t be a race to fluency but a pleasurable stroll through the culture that speaks it.

“It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.”

Carl Honoré

In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed

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