The Moment

Jun 19, 2017

Being a pilot is said to be a thousand hours of mind-numbing boredom punctuated by brief moments of all-consuming terror. In a way, life is just the same, except replace terror with the possibility of sheer joy. Our happiness adapts to our environment, limiting the number of truly transcendent experiences we can enjoy in a lifetime. For most people, these experiences are similar–a first love, a new home, a first visit to a new country. But learners of languages get to enjoy one more that no one else does: The Moment.

The Moment comes when you are least expecting it. In fact, you do not even realize it has happened until after it has ended. All understanding of the language so far has come through an active effort to decipher the audio. Typically while listening, you’ll occasionally tune out and daydream a bit, and comprehension drops to zero.

But not today. Today, when the mind wanders, you are still listening to and understanding the content flowing through your ears without realizing it, as if someone had thrown on a podcast in your native language. That’s the key! The language has now officially subsumed itself into your conscience to the point that it is processing it without your input. It is literally a part of you. You are officially over the beginner hump. It is no longer an intellectual abstraction located in the same part of the brain where you do math, it is loaded into the part that processes language.

Few people get to have months or years of hard work crystallize into such a compelling experience. I still remember my Moment of Spanish–back in high school, watching a documentary about astronomy, a few months after deciding to take its study into my own hands behind my classes. And today I had my Moment of Korean, demonstrating several years of (at times inconsistent) study paying off, sitting in an airplane and listening to a podcast. Having the Moment in a language completely unrelated to my native one is, frankly, one of the coolest experiences I can say I’ve ever had.

It’s moments like these that make it all worth it.