keeping my commitments

This week was an okay one for me - another week of busy event planning and life seemingly getting in the way of my studies. This past weekend I was host to a bachelorette party near Charlottesville, Virginia, and was responsible for the details of bringing 10 girls together in a rural farmhouse for a weekend full of activities. After the previous week's event planning, needless to say, I was pretty tired and feeling stressed about how much time I was putting in to my studies.

I persevered through the time pressure of this week using many of the strategies I've already discussed in this blog - finding small chunks of time to study, scheduling time into my daily calendar, and trying to keep focused on the why of the language study in order to maintain motivation. I also realized that another strategy that I've been using - and really relied on this week - was putting pressure on myself to keep my commitments to myself and to others.

I am one of those people who hates not following through on a commitment. Strengths Finder, a personality test that I've taken in the past, has identified that one of my strengths is "responsibility." Responsibility, in this context, is defined as taking psychological ownership for anything one commits to, and whether large or small, feeling emotionally bound to follow it through to completion. This describes me perfectly - if I've said I'll do it, I feel I must get it done, come hell or high water.

I've learned to leverage this personality trait for language learning, I discovered this week. There are two examples that immediately come to mind.

First, I had my weekly session with my mentor on Wednesday morning. Unfortunately, the Skype connection was terribly poor. I could barely make out what he was saying - in English, much less Luganda - but it seemed that he was able to hear me with no problem. Clearly, he wanted to push along with our session even though I had to ask him to "ddamu?" (repeat?) after almost every sentence he said. However, I felt that I had made a commitment to him to spend this hour together, and so I stuck with it. In so doing, there were pros and cons. I certainly gained much less knowledge during this session, as I could not get much listening practice out of the time together, and I couldn't make out any corrections he had to what I was saying. We weren't able to cover any new grammatical concepts either. However, I felt it was good practice to try to hear the language with constraints. I may someday find myself in a crowded market, or a restaurant, or even a bar, trying to make conversation with less than perfect audio quality. I felt like having this experience was at least good practice for that kind of listening!

The second example of commitment-keeping was to study on the plane like I said I was going to do. In the past, I had imagined I might do a bit of work on a flight, but upon boarding the flight realized I didn't have access to my online dictionary or to Quizlet, and given up. This time, I had planned for this time in my calendar, and made a commitment to myself to make it happen. Once I got on the plane, the same excuses came to mind. I was enjoying looking out the window. I didn't really feel like it. And, oh yeah, I still didn't have access to my regular resources from the internet. But I remembered how much intentionality I'd had when I made the plan to study on the plane, and I decided I wanted to keep that commitment to myself. I started to write in Luganda about the plans for the upcoming weekend, and described the different people in the group. After I let go of the idea that these sentences would be error-free and embraced the idea that this writing was purely for practice, I was able to write freely. I ended up spending almost an hour and a half writing, and found myself mid-way through enjoying the time.

I'll continue to try and use these commitments - to myself and to others - to propel my language study forward, especially as the final weeks of class get busier and I start to think more about the next phase of my language learning in Uganda.


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