I’ve always been amused by this odd-looking, odd-sounding little verb.
When I saw it again a few days ago, I suddenly thought, “This is something English learners need to do!” Are you grokking English? If not, you should be!
Before I get into that, though, let me tell you a little about grok.
The story of grok
Writer Robert Heinlein invented the word grok for his book Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). The book tells the story of a boy from Earth who was raised by Martians on Mars and later returned to Earth as a young man. In the book grok literally means to drink, but it’s also used as a metaphor. When it is, it has the idea of “becoming one with (something).”
Today you’ll find grok frequently used by geeks, or computer people. The Jargon File, which describes itself as a hacker’s dictionary, says that if you say you have grokked something, you have not simply learned it in a detached, or disconnected, way but in such a way that it becomes part of you, part of your identity. One of the results of grokking, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is the experience of enjoyment.
Grokking for English learners
We learn a lot of things in a detached, or disconnected way. The periodic table in chemistry. The formula for the area of a circle. Facts about things or people. It’s the way those things are learned.
Unfortunately, many language learners try to learn a new language in the same way. It is not enough to memorize pieces of a language, such as grammar rules, vocabulary, etc. That’s learning a language in a detached way. Keeping it on the outside. Treating it as an alien.
If you want to say that you have grokked a language, you need to enter into the world of the language and let it become a part of you.
How to grok
Grokking is not difficult. Let me suggest two ways to get started:
First, read and listen to books, or other things, that are so interesting that you get deeply involved with them. So interesting that you can’t put them down. So interesting that you forget the time. When you do, you acquire more new language. Barriers that might stop, or slow down, the acquisition process disappear. It’s one of the best ways to make it easier for your brain to acquire more language.
Second, begin to think about yourself as a member of the English Literacy Club*, as a real English-user, even if you aren’t as fluent as you hope to be some day. Don’t think of English as something that is alien to you. Use your imagination. Think of yourself as an English insider, not an outsider. This can have a powerful positive effect on your ability to acquire more English and improve your fluency.
More and more of my students are grokking English. Yusmary is – she says she’s becoming addicted to reading and feels like something is missing if she doesn’t have a good book to read. Bryan just started – a few days ago, he told me he’s discovering that reading is the “most amazing and effective way” to improve his English and he’s beginning to feel like it’s his language. Adrian is – every time I talk to him, I hear about what he’s reading and how excited he is. More importantly, while I’m sharing their excitement, I’m hearing the difference in their English.
As the geeks say, “Grok in fullness!”
* This idea comes from Frank Smith in Joining the Literacy Club.