Studying can be bad for your health!

He's clearly been studying too hard!

Learners beware!  There is a very dangerous condition for anyone who wants to excel at something.  It causes fear and doubt.  It hinders and destroys confidence, it bullies and torments, and it kills dreams and ambitions.  For those that have initially succeeded in their studies, it can rear its ugly head at any time, and has been known to cut careers short, breed contempt and jealousy for others and, in extreme cases, ruin friendships.  Unfortunately it is a very common condition, I have had it in the past, as I am sure you have.  It is called “Analysis Paralysis”.  It is when you over analyze a subject, or aspect of something, and fail to move forward, or achieve anything, due to an intense fear of making mistakes, causing harm (ironically) or making a fool of yourself.   The cure is simple, however.  Just knowing that you have it is, just like any psychiatric treatment,  is the first step to recovery.

As suggested above, to some extent I think we are all afflicted with this terrible condition, but some people are able to defeat it, while others let it defeat them.  The people who defeat it are those that recognize that they have been afflicted by analysis paralysis.  They realize that there comes a time in everybody’s life, when they have to stop studying and analyzing, and then studying and analyzing some more, and just get out and do it!  For language learners, this is when they have to put their textbooks away, and start reading or writing real articles in English.  It is a well-known fact that we learn far more from our experiences than we do from practice or study.  Experience puts what we have learned into context, and the context in which we see or use the language is the all-important thing for language learners.  This is when the subtle nuances of learned vocabulary have true meaning, and real communication on multiple levels can begin to take place.

Everybody is capable of a lot more than they realise.  I have seen students of a supposedly intermediate level of English discuss and understand some quite complex topics, using words that they had never before properly understood.  Furthermore, these “new words” become part of their everyday vocabulary, wether they realize it or not, and this is why context is all-important.  These students are not discouraged, nor do they stop to over analyze what they have said or heard.  The brain is free to assimilate the new words or phrases without fear or doubt.

This is all well and good for the student with the confidence to tackle complex subjects, but what about the student

Stop doubting yourself!

who suffers from analysis paralysis?   The first thing to do is to understand that if you can read and understand most of this article now, you are of an advanced enough level to survive without textbook study.  Most of the people reading this blog are probably thinking about taking an MBA course, working abroad, or simply want to use English for business.  If you are, then you are at the level where textbooks can do little more for you.  Textbooks are great for the beginner and intermediate students who are still mastering the basics and building a foundation, but in my experience, there are very few textbooks on the market that adequately address the needs of advanced level students.

While textbooks may be of little use for the advanced student, there is a lot of material out there that is perfect for them, and more to the point, more interesting and relevant to the individual needs of each person.  The material I am talking about is plentiful.  It is written by native speakers for native speakers, things like novels, newspapers, magazines, blogs and comics and so on.  Now, I hear some of you saying already, that they are too difficult, there will be too many new words, and if there are too many new words, how can you possibly understand the books, magazines or newspapers?!  But that is just the point!  There will be new words, and there will be new phrases, and a lot of other things that textbooks cannot teach you.  Therein lies the value of putting down your textbook and picking up a newspaper!  And when you have put down your textbook, and are reading real English, you can start to really increase your reading fluency.  (See article.)

Most people think of fluency in terms of spoken language, but the truth is fluency is applied to all the skills; listening, speaking, reading and writing.  Fluency is the ability to do something smoothly and at a reasonable speed, without thinking, or needing to think.  When you can do this your mind is free to interpret and create meaning from the words, whether they are understood or not.  Fluency does not come from analysis; it comes from repeated practice and experience.  So stop analyzing and start practicing!

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