Learning New Things – Lost in Translation

Learning Partner Kowhai Montgomery is kicking off Matariki (Māori New Year) by learning te reo Māori and has written this blog post as a riff on how immersive and challenging learning a language can be!


At Inspire Group taking the learner’s perspective is a vital part of the process of how we partner with our clients. Let’s be real, learning new things and new ways of being is hard, and can even be a little discombobulating! The best way to keep the learner’s perspective front of mind is to keep learning ourselves and reflect on those learning experiences that truly stretched and changed us. What did the process feel like? Why did the learning stick?


Language learning is one of those endeavours that will truly change you if you let it because language learning is really cultural learning. In the process of getting your mouth around different sounds and grammatical patterns many other frames of reference are challenged and expanded. Embarking on learning te reo Māori again after a long time feels a bit like a kid with training wheels on their bike; there’s the illusion of actually doing it myself, as I have some of the basics (and the context), but if the wheels come off I might crash. So, pretty fun, but a bit scary!


I learnt Japanese the old-fashioned way, full-immersion style, by moving to Tokyo without any knowledge of the language or culture. It’s interesting to come back to our own taonga, te reo Māori and learn in the classroom with others as an adult. Even with some of the context it is still an adventure.


These are some of my reflections on immersive learning experiences and the learner perspective.


Sometimes things get a bit ridiculous when you throw yourself in without context

Bill Murray’s famous Suntory Whiskey scene from Lost in Translation literally captures that feeling that something is being lost in translation. The scene is even funnier when you can understand Japanese.


There will always be an in-between liminal space while you are learning where you feel a little lost. There are times professionally where it ‘feels’ like people are speaking a different language and you have to wonder if you are missing something important! So when designing any kind of learning it is important to keep the learner’s perspective in mind and provide some contextual scaffolding and kindness.

Awkward immersion and augmentation

What a time to be alive when it comes to language learning and technology! We have Google Translate throwing up weird and wonderful results. The algorithms have not nailed translation *just* yet but the big tech players are making bold promises to break the language barrier for speech to text and cross-device translations. This week Magic Leap One live streamed the latest on their hotly anticipated AR hardware device that looks to bring augmented reality hardware to the consumer market sooner rather than later. Magic Leap has a Wellington connection via Weta Workshop so a lot is happening right here, right now. Perhaps you too could just ‘virtually’ drop yourself in the middle of Tokyo sometime soon! There are fascinating questions being asked about how we can tap into the connection between language and body to enhance the way we learn.


It remains to be seen how soon we will experience a smooth and human experience with this technology. I don’t know that any of the tools currently available would have helped Bill Murray.


Everyone loves a sing-a-long

There is nothing like a rousing waiata or a good karaoke session to get you out of your head and into a receptive, grounded state to learn face to face with others. In Lost in Translation we see the characters connecting with their Japanese friends in a karaoke bar belting out a few tunes, all of the awkwardness melted away for that brief time at least. Learning the waiata with my te reo Māori class reminded me of how darn immersive a sing-a-long can be! No fancy goggles required and scientifically proven to be an excellent aid to language learning.


Whatever learning adventure you are on, remember that magic happens outside your comfort zone so just keep going! If you are designing learning for others remember to keep the learner’s perspective in mind and provide context and kindness for your brave adventurers.


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One Response to “Learning New Things – Lost in Translation”

  1. Kirsty

    Thanks for this Kowhai! I start my Introduction to Te Reo course tonight up in Auckland, will definitely keep my IG hat on for transferable learns and sneaky learning levers too… Hope to see you again soon (for some practice maybe)!


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