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Say YOW! to Slow and Steady Learning in 2013

The human brain is built for learning, even though learning is often not a cake walk.

Ever since our trip to Iceland in July I’ve been enamored of all things Icelandic, including the language.

Every Icelander we met spoke lilting, perfect English to us, and then chattered to one another in a jaunty Nordic blur punctuated by frequent smiles and exclamations of Yow!

These emphatic Yow!’s felt so delightfully cheerful and positive, and it turns out that “Yow” (properly spelled “Ja”) means Yes.

Our favorite tour guide was a college student in his early 20’s. Chiseled, blond, and surely a direct descendant of Leif Erickson, Tucker turned out instead to be a skateboarder dude from Wisconsin.

Tucker had discovered that the University of Iceland provides free tuition, room, board and health care to any student, regardless of citizenship, just so long as they speak Icelandic; he grabbed a self-study language course and hunkered down to practice every day…and, two years later, here he was! Yow!

My main point is this: Resolve to find something you want to learn or get better at, or help your student select something, and set aside a regular time every day to practice for about 15 or 20 minutes. Stick with it for one month, and then glory in the improvement!

The brain is amazingly “plastic,” and even if it’s not “good at” some subject, if you work at it little by little, consistently, learning will happen!

But what if you, or your student, just haaaaates some subject?…and therefore avoids it like the plague? All the more reason to chip away at it, little by little. Research shows that liking increases with expertise, and with familiarity.

I love Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bringing Up Bebe, which is all about “the wisdom of French parenting.” How, for example, do the French raise their kids to love every kind of food (escargots! leeks! blue cheese!) while American kids refuse to eat anything but pizza?

She describes the little-by-little process the French use to slowly educate their kids’ taste buds and learn to love a wide range of foods:

My American baby books recognize that certain foods are an acquired taste. They say that if a baby rejects a food, parents should wait a few days and then offer the same food again. My Anglophone friends and I all do this. But we assume that if it doesn’t work after a few tries, our babies just don’t like avocado, sweet potatoes, or spinach.

In France, the same advice to keep reproposing foods to babies is elevated to a mission. Parents take for granted that, while kids will prefer certain tastes over others, the flavor of each vegetable is inherently rich and interesting, Parents see it as their job to bring the child around to appreciating this. They believe that just as they must teach the child how to sleep, how to wait, and how to say bonjour, they must teach her how to eat.

No one suggests that introducing all these foods will be easy. The French government’s free handbook on feeding kids says all babies are different. “Some are happy to discover new foods. Others are less excited, and diversification takes a little bit longer.” But the handbook urges parents to be dogged about introducing kids to, new foods and not giving up even after a child has rejected a food three or more times.

Druckerman goes on to describe how the very same approach works on finicky adults.

And please think about how this same slow, consistent, patient process could be applied to any number of changes you might want to make in your own life and/or guide and support your child to make.

One place to start might be with The Top 1000:

The top 1,000 vocabulary words have been carefully chosen to represent difficult but common words that appear in everyday academic and business writing. These words are also the most likely to appear on the SAT, ACT, GRE, and ToEFL. To create this list, we started with the words that give our users the most trouble and then ranked them by how frequently they appear in our corpus of billions of words from edited sources. If you only have time to study one list of words, this is the list.

Go to, create an account (it’s free), and then practice for 15 minutes per day. The site tracks your progress, so you can see your improvement.

Or, maybe you should get your child started on learning Icelandic; free college tuition! Ja!   🙂

Say YOW! to Slow and Steady Learning in 2013

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS is an educator, counselor, writer and speaker. She's been a tutor, test prep coach and home school teacher for over thirty years. Click HERE to visit Leigh's website and to subscribe to her newsletter, "Learning Something New."

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APA Reference
Cousins, L. (2013). Say YOW! to Slow and Steady Learning in 2013. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Jan 2013
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