I absolutely love it when reading academic articles takes a sudden turn, hits just the right cord – and I see in a new light what I was struggling to see or explain for a long time.
Reading Sarah Mercer’s article on the complexity of learner agency. Slowly, I get to understand that learner agency is a system of factors related to and determining the learner’s capacity to act, language learning wise. In short, what makes me the learner that I am, at any given time, is a complicated universe of its own. Of my own parameters, that are, inconveniently for researchers, always changing. “Everything within the system is in the constant state of flux.” Mark that.
Page 52, the place of self-beliefs in the system. That’s when I am struck by the memory of a certain summer about 10 years ago, an experience I always, without failure, give to my students as an example when I want to address the importance of constant language practice.
It was too obvious but I was too young to see it coming. For the whole of the summer I did not touch a single English book (or textbook). I did not use the Internet in/for English back then so social media, movies, news was out of the question. As a result, the memory of my first class back in the university that September is still very fresh. Well, the excruciating pain of it. I could not make a sentence come out of my mouth! All the words I needed – and I knew I’d known! – were all but gone, just a faint trace left behind to tease me. I simply could not remember the vocabulary I had used in classes 2 months before. I felt humiliated, tricked by my own conscious.
Since that summer, I can safely say I made sure I’ve had English in my life every day, in this or that form. So what, you might ask?
Here’s where this is going. Since I moved to Japan a little over 2 years ago, I have lamented my deceased blogging not once. The feeling of unfulfillment, failure to reach my own standards, inability to string myself up to WRITE… in general, being unhappy with both my writing and non-writing. These have kept me a prisoner in my own mind. And now reading the article, it struck me. The fundamental, unspoken reason why I blogged so feverishly and passionately was that it was my English practice. The practice channel that I could sustain independently. The language companion I could rely on at 2 am in the morning, my typical writing time of that life I had in Moscow. While I had a few hours of English classes to teach on most weekdays, my reality was all but English. So I unconsciously created my own self-regulated syllabus. It was an all-skills course:
- extensive reading – always a book by my side;
- watching movies, shows, and TED talks;
- speaking in the classes I taught – and in the tweets, blog comments, Facebook threads;
Finally, there was the much loved writing. This blog.
So why did it all have to change in Japan? It didn’t all change, in fact, just the writing part somehow. My shallow self-analysis tells me that what would otherwise be the content of my blog posts, became topics for easily available discussions at my workplace. Suddenly, my colleagues are speaking English to me. The particular concerns of the class and the day are poured out on that same day. And then, the vessel is emptied. The mind is relieved. The hand pushes the laptop aside and takes to the coloured pens.
C’est la vie.
A book hoarder that I am, I keep buying the titles about writing. Books about the struggles of writers, their personal styles of managing and shaping the creative process and making it work, these fascinate and draw me in. They fill me with hope and excuses. Remember, everything is in the constant state of flux.