One thing that I have realised preparing for this Oxfam Trailwalker is how similar training your body physically and learning a language can be.
Always having loved sports since I was young the way to exercise my body has never been something that I have found difficult to understand. You set a goal of running 10Km in a certain time and then you start on your path to achieving that. The first part might be to walk 10Km and then to slowly build up your speed until you reach a point where you can run the whole course. Now you focus on increasing that speed until you reach the time that you have set for yourself. As long as the goal is attainable to your physical condition all you need is time and perseverance.
As you condition your body you feel it getting weaker before it gets stronger. You break down muscle and feel the pain of it the next morning. You push a little more but realise that until you rest and let your muscles rebuild there will be no progress. So in this sense, resting, is very much a part of training. If you ignore it your muscles will not rebuild and you will end up injured and unable to continue. If you listen to your body and give it the rest it deserves then it will respond to the conditioning and grow itself stronger. This result can easily be measured as you run longer or perform better according to a clock or a measuring tape.
I believe that the brain is also a “muscle”. Meaning that it can be trained and conditioned in much the same way that you would do your body. There is much evidence of this and the exalted position that for example a chess champion holds in our society attests to this.
Learning a language means to immerse yourself in it. You have to really live and breath that way of expression for at least 3 months before its patterns begin to come naturally to you. It means repetition of characters and words and sayings that in the beginning seem to slip from your mind as if it was made from Teflon. You come home at night with your head aching and nothing makes sense any more. You shout on the inside that it would be much easier if the whole world simply spoke your mother tongue.
An then one day it just kind of starts falling into place. Now there is a glimpse of understanding where before there was nothing. You find that you can actually understand what people say and make yourself understood. Perhaps you will even have a dream or two in the language that you are learning.
But in order to achieve this I believe that resting your brain needs to be part of the process. If you do not take yourself out of your daily struggle for a day here and there you will not be able to look at yourself from an outside perspective. To you it will seem as though your daily struggle bears very little fruit and that your progress is painstakingly slow.
But if you step away and talk to people who know nothing of the thing that you are studying you will really find out the magic of what you have learnt.
There is a balance to practice and rest and even though there should be more practice than rest neither should be ignored.