An ex-colleague of mine once told me that, when he had his first child, he created a spreadsheet that charted his son's first words. He listed each new word his young son learned, and the date on which it was observed. Then, after some time, he created a graph with time on the x-axis and the count of known words on the y-axis. He said it was interesting to see the line. It was roughly "exponential" in shape.
(I guess I should say that the line was convex and increasing. I have no idea whether it truly resembled an exponential function, and likely neither did my coworker. Hurray for pedantry.)
When you learn Bangla, it can be hard to learn all the different written verb conjugations that exist, and then to learn all the different spoken verb conjugations. Written and spoken conjugations in Bangla all line up one-to-one, but they're different. Khaisi is a different word than kheyechhi, even though they mean the same thing. One you'll only ever experience in written form, and the other you'll only ever experience in spoken form. Written and spoken conjugations each have their own rules, but luckily they both do have rules, and the rules can be learned and applied. The hard part is figuring out what the rules are. Once you know the rules, though, it's no more difficult to conjugate khawa than it is to conjugate kora or any other verb.
It took me about six months of daily practice to get good enough at playing chords on a guitar that I could learn and strum any old pop song I wanted to. That first six months was excruciating. My fingers hurt, and it wasn't any fun trying to sing and play a song because there was a large gap between the strumming of each new chord, as my fingers fumbled for the correct position. That, too, if I didn't have to look up how to play the chord in a book or chart! Memorizing a chordal lexicon and then training your hands to play each chord via muscle memory fast enough to be able to play a song on-tempo is a difficult and slow-going process on the guitar. But it's about six months of work. After that, the number of songs a person can learn increases at an increasing rate.
So, I think it's safe to say that the concepts described above generalize. The hardest part of learning anything is learning the fundamentals. Once you know them, applying them is a relatively straight-forward process. It takes more time to learn and understand the fundamentals than it does to apply the fundamentals to new concepts, so our rate of learning will tend to increase over time. When we know nothing, the learning is slow; when we know a little more, the learning comes much easier.
Of course, learning to communicate, learning to speak a new language, and learning to play a new instrument are activities that all involve much more than the fundamentals. There are subtleties and implications. There are inferences that must be made. There are greater levels of accomplishment to be had. Even though we learn at an increasing rate as time goes on, there are perhaps an infinite number of concepts leading up to mastery, if mastery is even possible. And thus, after a time, our additional accomplishments become less noticeable to outsiders even if we're learning more now than ever before.
This morning, my daughter correctly guessed how to spell the word "habitat." She's four years old, so this is somewhat impressive. She can read, and that was impressive when it finally happened. She knows some good words, words beyond what the average four-year-old knows, among which I count the word "habitat;" and her having a good vocabulary is impressive to me. Still, it doesn't elicit the same kind of emotional reaction in me the way it did when I heard her say "Dada" for the first time. That's not because it isn't equally as impressive, it's just because hearing a child's first word is a leap into interpersonal communication, whereas hearing a young child spell the word "habitat" is a fully anticipated outcome of her having been taught the phonic principles of reading.
Ironically, her spelling "habitat" is probably more impressive on objective terms, even though it didn't rock my world quite the same way. She spoke her first word at about an "age-appropriate" time. It was a developmental milestone that she crossed at roughly the time the average parent might expect. By contrast, she learned to read earlier than average, and I don't know any other four-year-old who knows the word "habitat," much less knows how to read it or spell it.
So, in fact, I am more impressed that she did this today, but it requires some introspection on my part to fully appreciate it. That got me thinking: How many other things will she learn today that would impress me this much, if I but merely took the time to think about it for a second?
I'm not writing this to brag to the world about cool stuff my daughter did. The lesson to be learned here is that I think we should occasionally take the time to appreciate the remarkable things our friends and loved ones do. We don't always notice what's going on. We don't always take the time to consider how impressive it is that they've managed to accomplish what they have. We're naturally impressed when people learn a new set of fundamentals, but after that, we stop paying attention. It becomes harder and harder to differentiate between a person's being able to play The Entertainer and The Moonlight Sonata, except to people familiar with piano-playing. But we don't have to be familiar with piano playing if we merely take the time to follow along with our loved ones as they work through their own sets of accomplishments.
So, the bottom line here is to take that time. Recognize what your loved ones have done. They'll amaze you, if you're paying attention!
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