Senior teaches herself foreign languages and crocheting

Senior Joan Downey teaches herself many unordinary skills, including six non-English languages and other things like crocheting


By Jordin Harris

Sitting in the library, senior Joan Downey crochets a bumblebee. She will be selling them during Relay for Life as a way to raise money. Last semester she spent a lot of time crocheting in the library because she was the teacher assistant for Mr. Shelley.

Aiden Burke, JagWire assistant editor

A Harvard Business Review study outlines that it takes 6 months to learn a new skill. This arduous process presents difficulties for most but to senior Joan Downey, teaching herself new skills comes easily. Downey has taught herself skills from cooking and crocheting to linguistics. 

When Downey found herself interested in linguistics in her sixth grade World Languages class and the content offered by the class wasn’t enough, she figured the best solution was to teach herself. Downey has taken efforts to learn Spanish, French, Russian, Mandarin, Italian and Guarani.

The tools that Downey uses to teach herself languages range from programs like Duolingo to books and podcasts in new languages. These resources aren’t particularly difficult to find either, they can be checked out from the library or found on YouTube.

“I use Duolingo a lot, but it isn’t super helpful for grammar. It’s more helpful just for vocab and review. Johnson County Library has a good selection of language textbooks,” Downey said. “There is a really good selection of useful internet programs beyond Duolingo that can help a lot. There are YouTube courses in several languages. It’s also nice to listen to audiobooks in different languages to give you an idea of what it sounds like.”

With something like learning languages, most of the struggle resides in the ability to retain information. To Downey, the most effective way to do this is with easily memorized mnemonic devices.

“I use a lot of mnemonic devices,” Downey said. “I mostly just look for patterns and connections to things that I already know.”

Downey also believes that this mental repetition and memorization helps to keep your mind sharp. When it comes to other skills, however, the learning process can be very different. Downey taught herself how to crochet different animals, like bees, in order to have something to do during class and help her focus. 

For her crocheting hobby, Downey also checked out books from the library to teach her the basics, but according to Downey, the learning process for a hobby like this involves a lot more guesswork. 

“It’s just a lot of trial and error. I know what I want to be able to do, and I try different things to get there until something sticks,” Downey said. “I still don’t know how to read all of the patterns and charts you see online. I just look at pictures of crocheting and start reverse-engineering it and doing it myself.”

Downey believes that having skills that are self-taught not only motivates you to get better at your hobbies, but it makes fosters creativity and skill growth

“I think [crocheting] is a useful skill but also a fun hobby,” Downey said. “I think it’s really important for people to have hobbies to rely on and I think it’s good for people to create things.”

One of Downey’s close friends, senior Eva Burke, shares that Downey learning these skills requires lots of creativity, but it goes a long way to better oneself.

“[Downey] likes to create things and to improve herself and others,” Burke said. “Crocheting and learning languages help her to do that by building her creativity and giving her inspiration.”

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