Russia wins World Junior Hockey – Intensity and language learning

I watched Russia beat Canada in the final of the World Junior Hockey Tournament today. With Canada in the lead, 3-0, I started to see the Canadians lose their focus and intensity. They never got it back. The Russians were able to increase their intensity and achieve a magnificent comeback, scoring 5 goals in the third period.

It is possible that the Russians were more skilled than the Canadians this year. But that is not the point. The point is intensity. For 3 periods against the US, and for one period against the Russians, the Canadians dominated with intensity. Once they lost their intensity, the game was lost.

When I studied Mandarin in Hong Kong in 1968 I used to think that intensity was the most important ingredient in language study. I used to think I was more successful cramming my Chinese course into one intense year, than taking a more leisurely two year course like my colleagues in the diplomatic corps who were studying Chinese at that time.

It is as if intensity creates a geometric increase in the effectiveness of our study efforts. That is why I do not normally favour studying more than one language at a time. That is why I like to listen for long periods of time, when possible. That is why I always try to work the transcripts, and work the words that come from the content that I am listening to, rather than relying on spaced repetition algorithms or such devices. That is why it is important that the content be interesting and attractive in as many ways as possible, to increase the emotional commitment we have to what we are listening to and reading.

Intensity, a powerful force for firing and fusing new neural networks in the brain.

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