Today we have a special guest post from Brandon Twyford. In this blog post Brandon shares his personal experience with us about learning and “jumping in” and how he relates it to social media. Enjoy this great post!
I took three years of Spanish in high school and one year of Spanish in college. I had to start at Intro to Spanish in college because I had forgotten everything I learned in high school over the summer, just as I had to struggle to remember what I had learned the previous year each time I started a new Spanish course in high school. Spending one hour two or three days a week on a subject just doesn’t make it sink in very well. Most of the knowledge you gain each day slips away as soon as you leave the classroom. Homework helps a little, but unless you have real-world opportunities to apply what you’ve learned, you’re swimming against the stream — gaining a little every day, but not as much as you could be.
Let’s go back to my Spanish skills. To this day I remember a few words and simple phrases — certainly not as much as four school years of studying should have taught me. Granted, I didn’t put as much effort into my Spanish classes that I put into other subjects, but that’s not the point. When I first went to Japan to teach English in 2001 (I stayed for nearly three years), I spoke almost no Japanese. I knew how to count to ten and how to ask where the bathroom was. Actually, due to my reliance on the inaccurate Lonely Planet phrase book I brought with me, what I knew how to ask was, “Where is the bath house?” You can imagine the look on the Japanese airport employee when I asked him that first thing off the plane.
The thing is, after about six months of living in Japan — not consciously studying the language for a single day — I learned more Japanese than I had learned in four years of formal Spanish classes. I found myself at a conversational, natural level of speaking, and I still remember much of what I learned, although it leaves me more and more each day that I don’t use it. The difference between my Spanish and my Japanese was that I was forced to use Japanese every day. When I didn’t understand a word, I looked it up and taught myself the meaning. Then, when I had to use it later that day, the knowledge was reinforced in my mind — I learned through experience.
Immersion — instruction based on extensive exposure to surroundings or conditions that are native or pertinent to the object of study — is widely accepted as the most effective way to learn a new language. Social media/social marketing is a kind of language, and the same holds true. A certain amount of savvy and a knowledge base help to get you started on the right foot, of course, but at some point, you’ve gotta just dive in. Taking part in webinars and reading social media blogs is great — and there’s a lot of incredibly useful information out there. But you’re never going to learn what the “right” way is for you until you just start doing it.
Best piece of advice I ever got
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got on learning Japanese was from a long-haired, six-foot-six surfer dude from the U.S. He was pretty close to fluent in Japanese after living in Tokyo for about three years. He watched me flipping through my English-to-Japanese dictionary as I tried to converse with someone I had met at a party. What he told me was, “You should throw that thing away. What you need is a Japanese-to-English dictionary.” Rather than try to translate my thoughts into a foreign language, which could be incredibly frustrating and ineffective, I would absorb exactly what someone was telling me, then look up the various meanings and nuances of that word. When you’re coming strictly from a place you know well (in this example the English language), you subconsciously put blinders on yourself. You look at things solely from your perspective instead of experiencing them as something new. When I threw away that dictionary and began experiencing the language from the other side, from the inside out, a whole new world opened up. Like many people, I’m an experiential learner — I need to do something myself before I “get it.”
Dive in and start swimming
You can read all the articles and watch all the webinars you want — until you actually dive in and start trying to swim, it’s all theoretical. Immerse yourself in the community and the act of social networking and social marketing and you will start to see good things happen, guaranteed.
Do you agree with the idea of immersion: jumping right into social marketing? Or do you think people should learn as much as they can from the experts before they start doing things themselves?