In this episode we will talk about what it means to be a beginner at something. We will explore whether beginner’s luck is a real phenomenon and hear about what benefits there might be to starting to learn a new language late in life. We’ll also listen to the amazing story of Ireland’s footballing success (yes, it happened!) and the Green Army of fans it inspired.
You’ll find the scripts for each part of this episode here and don’t forget to check out the glossary at the end for words and phrases you may not have encountered before.
Podcast: Beginner’s luck
English Vocabulary about Luck
Did you ever play a game for the first time, still unsure of all the rules, and yet manage to win? You’d think it should be the opposite way around, especially if playing against an expert. This is known as beginner’s luck. Is it a real phenomenon or is it all just in our heads? Is this something we can harness and use to our advantage? On this episode, we’ll explore beginner’s luck and the benefits of being a novice every day – even in school!
First things first. Beginner’s luck doesn’t actually exist, but we do however perceive that it does. So why do we perceive something that isn’t there?
Well, as humans, we tend to remember things that are interesting and noteworthy. What is the point of remembering all the times when nothing interesting happened? This however, creates a flaw in our thinking. If you try something new 20 times, but only succeed once, are you remembering the 19 times it didn’t work, or the one time you had success?
We also have a tendency to accept evidence that affirms our beliefs – this is known as confirmation bias, and this can come into play when we see beginner’s luck in action. If you were to see an expert lose to a novice, it’s easy to buy into the idea of beginner’s luck because it’s exciting, but in reality we are probably ignoring the causes as to why the beginner performed so well.
So why does beginner’s luck happen, (or appear to happen)?
To the Beginner, Anything Is Possible
If you are a novice, you are giving yourself the permission to ask silly questions, to look foolish. You have a naive optimism, anything is possible. Because the beginner doesn’t have the experience, they haven’t convinced themselves of the right or wrong moves in a particular situation. This may mean they may try something stupid, but it also could mean they’ll find a more creative solution and take worthwhile risks. Whereas the expert draws upon their experience. When an expert tries to analyse a strategy that isn’t really a strategy at all, that expert is likely to fail and the beginner is likely to win.
Experts Choke Under Pressure
When you’re great at something, you’re under a lot of pressure to continue to perform at that level. This can cause you to choke under pressure. Beginners don’t have these issues because they don’t particularly care how they perform. When you don’t care about the outcome, you don’t have the same pressure.
Experts May Trust Their Intuition Too Much
Just as over-thinking can cause an expert to choke, trusting their gut can cause problems as well. Most experts have some sort of muscle memory for the things they do and that usually works in predictable situations. When up against a beginner, or in an unusual situation, the predictable goes out the window, and it can be a recipe for failure for the expert.
So, want to channel your inner beginner? Well, throw away everything you know for a moment. Think like a kid and imagine how they would look for a solution. Consider crazy ideas and strategies. When you’re sure something won’t work, consider it anyway. If you have an idea you really like but are afraid to try it, that’s probably a good sign. So even as our skills improve, there are some benefits of keeping that spirit of the novice.
Singer John Legend learned to swim with his kids when he was 40. Many people took to twitter to thank him for showing that it’s never too late to pick up a new skill. Learning something new and challenging, particularly with a group, has proven benefits for our brain. Not only that but you’ll gain a boost of confidence too. Our next story comes from the UK, where language classes are improving wellbeing and cognition for those with dementia
Lingo Flamingo was started in 2015 specifically with the aim of providing lessons for older adults. Not in the same way as many language schools, but instead in care homes and community centres across Scotland.
The language classes are the brainchild of entrepreneur Robbie Norval who says his idea wasn’t always met with enthusiasm, and many care homes had reservations. But working with Thomas Bak, a psychologist from Edinburgh University, has been key to building credibility.
According to Bak, even for people who aren’t bilingual, learning a language in later life has benefits. He has found improvements among older adults’ attention, verbal fluency and memory.
Bak believes it is never too late to learn a language and in fact is particularly valuable because of the variety of tasks involved: distinguishing different sounds, new concepts, grammar.
Apart from the cognitive research, it increases wellbeing and self-confidence as well.
The course material has been designed to be accessible, with textbooks printed in a larger font, incorporating colours that those with dementia can recognise, and using sensory learning to include those who might be unable to speak. One group writes postcards to a twinned care home in France, and has held a lesson with local schoolchildren.
The beauty of being a beginner here is that everyone is on a level playing field. Nobody is any better at speaking the language than anybody else, whether you have dementia or not. For that period of time, the dementia is not there.
The following story is about overcoming the odds. It’s about pride, belief and beginners showing their true colours. It’s time to head to 1988, and you might want to wear an Irish jersey for this one.
If you have ever lived in Ireland, you will have heard of the Green Army. And no I am not talking about a military army, but the Irish soccer supporters. And in 1988, we were all part of Jackie’s army. Jack Charton, that is.
In 1986 something unexpected happened. An Englishman was appointed manager of the Irish soccer team. Unexpected, as Ireland was in the midst of a period of conflict known as The Troubles, and had only gained independence from the UK a little over 60 years prior. To put it lightly, we did not love the English and Jack wasn’t immediately met with open arms. Not only that but a lot of our national team lived and worked in England but were born to Irish parents. This was a strange setup for an Irish team.
Before his appointment, the team had never qualified for a major tournament. But that soon changed. The Euro 88 qualifying group for the Republic of Ireland soccer team included Bulgaria, Belgium, Scotland and Luxembourg. This was a difficult group for the Irish, but against the odds they fought their way to the European Championships.
The country was going through an economic crisis at the time, and the Irish team qualifying was a symbol of hope we all needed. The Green Army got behind its team, people got loans out to travel to support the underdogs, many of whom had never been abroad before. Excitement was mounting. Ireland was on the world stage.
Then we waited for the group draw: would it be Germany, Spain, Holland? No, the first team we were drawn to play in our group, one who we have a lot of history with, was England – one of the tournament favourites, of which Ireland was not. We were written off by the British pundits before we even began. This wasn’t going to be easy.
So now it’s crunch time. It’s about 28 degrees in Stuttgart that day, people are nervous with how the match will go, there is concern as well with how fans in the stands will react to each other. There is tension in the air. The whistle blows.
Within the first 8 minutes, the smallest man on the pitch, Ray Houghton jumps up, and with a header scores the first and only goal of the match. Ireland leads against England and now spend the next 82 minutes holding on against their old enemies. The Irish singer song writer Christy More sums it up well in his song ‘That day will be the highlight of many people’s lives’.
In his time in charge, Charlton took the country to Euro 88, and two World Cups but more importantly, he created great memories for supporters, boosted the country’s confidence and became a national hero.
Beginner’s luck? I’ll let you decide…
English Vocabulary from Podcast:
These English phrases and vocabulary about luck accompanies Episode 10 of the podcast series and will provide short definitions of words and terms you heard or read which may be new or unfamiliar to you.
- noteworthy – significant
- a flaw – an imperfection, it makes something not perfect
- evidence – proof
- affirms – supports or confirms
- to buy into – to accept that something is true
- naive – an adjective to mean that someone has a lack of experience
- the right or wrong moves – the right or wrong strategies/tactics
- to choke under pressure – don’t perform as well as expected because of expectations
- trusting their gut – trusting their intuition, their feelings
- muscle memory – when your body remembers how to do something automatically
- up against – in competition or conflict with someone or something
- goes out the window – gets forgotten about
- to channel – to transmit or become
- throw away – to get rid of, to put in the bin
- the brainchild – the amazing idea
- accessible – everyone can easily use or take part in something, especially people with different or additional needs
- twinned – matched with another similar place (often used for towns and cities)
- the beauty of – the unique advantage of
- the level playing field – a situation where everyone has an equal chance
- overcoming the odds – achieving something even though you are not expected to
- an Irish jersey – an Irish football t-shirt
- in the midst of – the middle of
- the Troubles – conflict/war in the six counties in the north of Ireland 1960s-1990s
- prior – before that
- to put it lightly – a way of understating something
- a strange setup – an unusual situation
- got behind – supported
- got loans out – borrowed money from the bank
- mounting – increasing
- the group draw – the lottery system to determine which teams will paly each other
- favourites – the teams expected to win
- written off – dismissed as having no chance
- pundits – professional commentators
- crunch time – the most important moment
- the stands – the crowd/audience area in a football stadium
- a header – controlling the ball using your head