A few days ago I was invited to dinner and I started to chat with a guest. He was German and we started the conversation in German but it was obvious that, even if I could understand about 70% of what he was saying, I had also to struggle a bit. He suggested that we switched to English, but I replied that I was very glad to speak German. Of course, switching the conversation to English would have made things much easier for both but I decided to invest in discomfort.

What are comfort and discomfort?

We feel comfortable when we practice something that is within our range of acquired skills and that is already embedded in ourselves. On the contrary, we feel discomfort anytime we carry out activities outside of our current ability or expertise when we engage in something new or different from what we know well.

Because discomfort is by definition uncomfortable we tend to avoid it but if you want to learn a new skill, like a foreign language, you should invest in discomfort.

There is no free-lunch

Why should you invest in discomfort? Simply because there is no free lunch. If you want to learn a new skill, this does not come as easily as downloading an attachment from your e-mail. Learning a new skill comes with a cost, and the cost is the discomfort that you have to go through while practicing it and learning it. But that cost is actually an investment that in the long-term will pay off.

When we want to learn a language we are investing in discomfort every time:

  • We speak in our target language even if we could easily communicate  in another language
  • We look at a movie in an original language when we could see the dubbed version and we end up understanding only half of it
  • We read a book in the target language instead than in our native language and it takes us much more time to finish it

Investing in discomfort is a key element of learning a new skill like a language because to learn and to improve we need to engage ourselves at a level that is slightly higher than our current level. If we train ourselves only at our current level we will not improve, we will just maintain our current level of “enskillment”.

You can be friend with discomfort

Because investing in discomfort is such an important part of the learner toolbox we should learn to be friends with discomfort. I think the trick is to look at discomfort as part of a learning process. This basically means that if, for example, I don’t understand some bits of a conversation, I know that this is not the end of the world and that this is part of the learning process. The shift here is from seeing a conversation in your target language only as of the information that is communicated or as part of a learning process which can include some discomfort.

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