learning about learning

 A Long and Windy Roadwindyroad

Learning about learning

by Ed Collins

Looks like you’ve decided to take a trip. You’re reading this, and that can only mean one thing––you want to speak English.

To make your way down the road you’ll need a map and a guide showing you where the detours are (donde están los desvíos).

The subject seems so large (parece tan grande): So many words, so many odd expressions (idiomas), so much complicated grammar. And so many people speaking so fast, and not enunciating clearly! (no enunciar claramente).

The first step in the process of learning is to admit, “I don’t understand.” If you don’t know something, speak up.

You’re probably afraid to speak––which is normal. But if you think you must be perfect before saying something, you won’t say anything. One of the characteristics that great achievers share is a fearlessness (intrepidez) to stumble, stutter and fail (fallar).

You too can fail. And learn.

The biggest hurdle is comparing yourself to others (compararse con los demás). Before you take one more step on this road, acknowledge the fact (reconocer el hecho) that there will always be someone better, someone who learns faster, someone who has a better facility for learning language.

Your goal is to be the best you you can be.

Anything worth learning is going to come at a price (tiene un precio). You have to work at it.

The formula for success is simple: You try, you succeed (tratar y tener éxito). A higher level (alto nivel) of performance comes only with practice and experience.

To get good involves doing work of a particular type. Everyone seems to learn differently, but the following suggestions (sugerencias) have helped others in their learning travels:

• Keep a journal (diario). Write something about your day, every day.

• Watch TV. Watch the news. Or Sesame Street. Or the Cartoon Network.

• Watch an English movie with subtitles in Spanish. Or a Spanish movie with English                 subtitles.

• Read a magazine. Or a newspaper. Read a children’s book (one with pictures).

• Listen to the radio. Listen to NPR (National Public Radio/http://www.npr.org/)

• Use the Internet. Seek out info on a favorite subject. Read the news (for kids) Try        dogonews.com or scholastic.com    (http://www.dogonews.com/category/sports  or http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/scholasticnews/index.html      dictionary

• Add to your vocabulary. Learn a new word every day. Carry a dictionary with you.

• Memorize: an expression, a poem, lyrics to a song, a sentence.

• Finally, most importantly, converse with someone (conversar con alguien). There is no better way to learn than by struggling (forcejear/bregar) to understand and be understood. It is the best method of learning.


Progress may be slow and almost impossible to see.  But progress is addictive (adictivo). Enthusiasm for learning is self-perpetuating (perpetúa a sí misma). Here’s a poem on the subject:

Progress opens the door,

It gives you confidence,

To do what you couldn’t do before.

Of all the things I’ve learned about learning, nothing is more important than having fun. Simply put, if it’s fun you’re on the right track (el camino correcto).


Have a nice trip.

1. learning about learning     

The song you’ve been hearing in this lesson is called “Sweet Betsy from Pike.”  It is an American ballad about the trials of a pioneer named Betsy and her lover Ike who migrate from Pike County  (probably in Missouri) to California. This Gold Rush-era song, was written by John A. Stone before 1858.

And a cover by the great Johnny Cash

The most verifiable traditional lyrics, which are in the public domain, are:

Did you ever hear tell of Sweet Betsy from Pike,
Who crossed the wide mountains with her lover Ike,
Two yoke of cattle, a large yeller dog,
A tall Shanghai rooster, and a one-spotted hog.
Singing too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay.
They swam the wide rivers and crossed the tall peaks,
And camped on the prairie for weeks upon weeks.
Starvation and cholera, hard work and slaughter–
They reached California ‘spite of hell and high water.
One evening quite early they camped on the Platte,
Twas near by the road on a green shady flat.
Betsy, sore-footed, lay down to repose–
With wonder Ike gazed on that Pike County rose.
The Injuns came down in a thundering horde,
And Betsy was scared they would scalp her adored.
So under the wagon-bed Betsy did crawl
And she fought off the Injuns with musket and ball.
The wagon broke down with a terrible crash,
And out on the prairie rolled all sorts of trash.
A few little baby-clothes, done up with care,
Looked rather suspicious, but all on the square.
They stopped at Salt Lake to inquire of the way,
When Brigham declared that Sweet Betsy should stay.
Betsy got frightened and ran like a deer,
While Brigham stood pawing the ground like a steer.
The alkali desert was burning and bare,
And Isaac’s soul shrank from the death that lurked there.
“Dear old Pike County, I’ll go back to you”–
Says Betsy, “You’ll go by yourself if you do!”
They soon reached the desert, where Betsy gave out,
And down in the sand she lay rolling about.
Ike in great wonder looked on in surprise,
Saying, “Betsy, get up, you’ll get sand in your eyes.”
Sweet Betsy got up in a great deal of pain.
She declared she’d go back to Pike County again.
Ike gave a sigh, and they fondly embraced,
And they traveled along with his arm round her waist.
The Shanghai ran off, and the cattle all died,
That morning the last piece of bacon was fried.
Ike got discouraged, Betsy got mad,
The dog drooped his tail and looked wonderfully sad.
They suddenly stopped on a very high hill,
With wonder looked down upon old Placerville.
Ike said to Betsy, as he cast his eyes down,
“Sweet Betsy, my darling, we’ve got to Hangtown.”
Long Ike and Sweet Betsy attended a dance.
Ike wore a pair of his Pike County pants.
Betsy was covered with ribbons and rings.
Says Ike, “You’re an angel, but where is your wings?”
A miner said, “Betsy, will you dance with me?”
“I will that, old hoss, if you don’t make too free.
Don’t dance me hard, do you want to know why?
Doggone you, I’m chock-full of strong alkali.”
This Pike County couple got married, of course,
But Ike became jealous, and obtained a divorce.
Betsy, well-satisfied, said with a shout,
“Goodby, you big lummox, I’m glad you backed out!”