Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

What the Buddha Can Teach Us About Learning English

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Fri, May 25, 2012 @ 09:31 AM

learning English, BuddhaWhat can the Buddha, a man who lived 2,600 years ago in India, teach us about learning English? Quite a bit, actually.

Many people recognize that the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, had a few things figured out by the time he became enlightened under the Bodhi tree. By the way, to learn from this post, it doesn't matter if you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Atheist. This post is not about religion! This post is about an idea that was discovered 2,600 years ago and how it applies to your language learning journey as a student of English in the United States. Lucky for us, the Buddha's ideas are still relevant today, so read on for a great tip!



Which one are you?


  •  Do you get lazy when it comes to your English skills? Maybe you learning English, not too tightenjoy socializing in English but you make many mistakes in grammar and pronunciation and never take the time to correct them so you continue to make the same mistakes, over and over again. You are often the life of the party and you will speak with anyone but you lack the motivation to really focus and improve. So your speaking ability stays the same.


  • Are you overly concerned with getting your English perfect? You keep your nose in your grammar book day in and day out, so you never actually practice with native speakers. You are a perfectionist and you feel you will never be "good enough" or "prepared enough" to carry on an authentic and natural conversation in English. Your vocabulary is excellent but you fear the day when someone will ask you a question and you won't understand them. For you, it's better to stick with the book in class or at home in the safety of your room, until you are "ready" to use your English in the real world.



What did the Buddha know that English learners might not?


sitarSo this is where the Buddha comes in! According to legend, a sitar player approached the Buddha one day and asked him how he should hold his mind in meditation. The Buddha replied with a question. He asked, "How do you tune your instrument?" The sitar player said,"If I tune it too tight, the strings break and if I tune it too loosely, no sound will come out." The Buddha responded that that is the way the sitar player should meditate, "not too tight and not too loose."



What does meditation have to do with learning English?


Learning English is a form of training, just like meditation. If you want to train yourself on anything, you need to find that beautiful balance between pushing yourself forward and moving beyond your comfort zone when it's necessary and holding yourself with compassion and forgiveness when you make those inevitable mistakes. You must stay loose when you need to and tighten up when it's appropriate. How can you do this? Get some support in your life! Find an English teacher who will help you and set up a few language exchanges every week. Most importantly, learn to observe yourself and be able to figure out what you need at each moment. Set your English goals and create a roadmap that gives you a clear path for where you want to get with your English and then...get started! And remember, not too tight, not too loose!


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