The Way People Do Things Isn’t Always The Way They Really Do Them

May 5th, 2009

The way people do things isn’t always the way people think they do things, but it’s always tough to point that out when they can do it but you can’t.

There are two examples that pop to mind:

The first was when my wife taught me to snowboard.  One of the first things you have to learn when snowboarding, after “how to put on the snowboard” and “how to stay upright”, is how to turn.

I started out turning by basically lugging on my leg, which, while inelegant, worked, to some degree.  However, it was extremely tiring, and led to a fair amount of wipeouts.  I kept asking my wife how to turn, and her answer was always the same:

“Turn your body, and the board will turn”

I kept trying, and the board kept not turning.  I argued with her that this wasn’t the way, because I wasn’t turning, but that got nowhere, as the obvious fact was that she was good at snowboarding, and I was not.  Naturally, she would know more than I.  She grew exasperated and annoyed, and insisted that if I stopped bitching and actually did it, I’d find she was right.

In the end, it was like a game of suicide Twister.  My body was torqued so hard that I was facing up the hill, not being able to see remotely where I was going, while my snowboard continued in a resolute straight line.

Eventually, I figured out how to turn.  I don’t know HOW I turn, but I can do it, and while by no means “good at snowboarding”, my wife granted, on our last trip, that I was now “a basic snowboarder”.

Another example, which I’ve experienced from both ends, is in language.  I tried downloading a podcast on learning Korean, which in part consists of native speakers saying a word at regular speed, and then syllable by syllable. The very, very first example, right at the start of the podcast, was:

“Kamsa hamnida”
Repeated slowly:
“Kam  Sa  Ham  Ni  Ta”

…wait, what?  That “ta” was distinctly a “da” when spoken at regular speed.

I was a little dissatisfied with the podcast (for other reasons), so I tried a different Korean podcast, which, likewise, had words spoken at regular speed, and then slowly.  And there it was again:

“Kamsa hamnida”
Repeated slowly:
“Kam  Sa  Ham  Ni  Ta”

Now, I know why this is.  The 다 in 감사합니다 is pronounced “da” when in the middle or end of a word, but pronounced “ta” at the start of a word.  So when saying the word in individual syllables, the speakers subconsciously used the pronunciation it has when it’s alone, as opposed to the actual pronunciation in the word itself.

I experienced this a lot on the other end, when I was teaching English.

“I’m going to the store”, spoken at regular speed, is something like:
“I’m goin’ duh thuh store”
When I’d repeat it slowly, I’d subconsciously repeat it as:
“I’m  Goin’ Too Thee Store”
I noticed the “goin'” versus “going”, but it wasn’t until my students tried to rapidly say “I’m goin’ too thee store” that I realized that the way I had thought I spoke didn’t really map to the way that I actually spoke.

So, yeah, receiving instructions from people who know what they’re doing is fraught with peril.  Better to ask people who’re patently horrible at something they’ve studied for ages.  After all, though they may not know how to do it, they’re chock full of examples of how NOT to do it.

3 Responses to “The Way People Do Things Isn’t Always The Way They Really Do Them”

  1. Victor V Says:

    You’re lucky, my first lesson I got from a pro-snowboarder… Like trying to get a fish to teach you how to swim…

    V.

  2. Trent Says:

    The ka/kka/ga and ta/tta/da of korean drives me nuts.

  3. Jerry Says:

    “Naturals” are bad teachers most of the time. They just go out and do it without thinking or analyzing then can’t translate what they did into words.

    I think the real moral of the story is that you just have to go out there and fail (sometimes horribly) over and over again until you succeed.

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