Learning By Distraction

Thanh Pham / Tue 31 Jan 2023

Sometimes, the fear of doing the job is even more than the difficulties of the job itself. Learning English is one of them. In my early years as a software developer, I feared learning English so hard (even now). After struggling speaking English on my first trip to India[1], I felt ashamed and had enough motivation to learn English.

But learning English is somewhat burdensome to me. It became more and more heavy until I could not take it anymore. I tried different ways to learn but most of them just last for a few weeks. The more I tried, the more I failed. I finally gave up the plan of active learning, and tried one of the passive methods of learning - what I later called learning by distraction.

Instead of learning English, I started reading books about the subjects that I liked. Of course all the books were in English. It’s really hard at the beginning but because it’s the subject that I liked, the enthusiasm for the knowledge kept me going. The first book I read was The 21 Success Secrets Of Self-made Millionaires by Brian Tracy. The book has only 88 pages but it took me 3 months to read, just around 1 page per day. Although I didn’t fully understand everything I read, the book helped me a lot in my work. Mostly because I started to believe in myself more. And that little reward gave me enough motivation to continue to read more and more.

Most of the time, I made guesses about what I read. Sometimes, it was because I didn’t have enough vocabulary to understand them. Sometimes, I knew every single word in a sentence, but I was not able to link them together. But I didn’t try to re-read it again and again, I just accepted it and went on. I kept doing it by picking up another book that I was interested in and read again. And by focusing on the content of the book, I gradually forgot the burden of learning English and became better at reading.

I think, to learn English, sometimes you don’t even need to think of learning English. But instead, learn something that you are interested in and let your enthusiasm drive you. By the time you become better at the subject, your English will also become better. By keeping reading about the subject, you will gradually build up your vocabulary. The vocabulary will automatically emerge again and again and it will automatically inject into your brain.

You might not be better than anyone else around you. And you might not become an expert at English. But at least you will become better than you were before - both at English and the subject that you read.


[1] I went to India for 2 months for a business trip as a developer in 2011. But my English was bad and I could not communicate with them by speaking. I communicated with people by chatting on Skype. Fortunately, there was a good friend who helped me to translate from normal English to simple English whenever I needed to talk to someone else. And whenever I need to order food, I used my finger to point at the pictures on the menu :))

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