I spent yesterday evening setting up software on my laptop and phone for organising notes and lists (it’s called Evernote, not that they need my publicity). You can make a note and have it synched automatically to your ‘devices’ (not including your brain, notice); you can share ‘notebooks’ with other interested parties; you can include tickboxes, strike things out, and so on.
What am I going to do with it? I don’t really know. It’s going to make my life better. It’s a virtual example of what is known as the ‘stationery fallacy’ – that having the right pens and notebooks and folders will somehow do the organising for you.
It is a common misapprehension, but a powerful one. A couple of weeks ago I showed a Spanish student of mine (a thoroughly well-organised individual, by her own account) my previous note-taking software on my phone, on which you can colour-code your notes in conspicuous arrays, and naturally enough she made a note of it. These things are appealing. They are a vision of possible order and productivity, better than work itself.
Another student of mine last week told me how they organise the projects at her work through L.O.Ps – lists of open points. All members of a project have access to a list of issues with any given project; the issues are discussed at project meetings, assigned, crossed out.
I listened open-mouthed. I have actually used L.O.Ps in a previous job without knowing they were called L.O.P.s. Ours was a spreadsheet. It was endless and colour-coded, and only ever grew. But it offered, if not hope, then a vision of what hope might look like.
So it is, I have come to think, with language lessons. Learning languages is a form of skill acquisition, not a methodical ticking of boxes, but the open sea of points to address -grammar to master, vocabulary to notice and store away – is by turns alarming and exciting. A language lesson does not always tick a box, cross something from the list (it may also do that); but it updates and expands the list of open points. You begin to see the challenge not as shapeless, but as individuated, achievable.
And you could colour-code it.