I promised a post last week on the pleasures and benefits of incomprehension, which, my students will probably attest, is what I most like to teach. And
in doing so, I stand upon firm pedagogical ground: even simplistic teaching methods (and mine is anything but) recognise the cognitive and psychological
benefits of a little frustration. Moving from incomprehension to comprehension is, in a sense, the whole point of language-learning.
But some students, unaccountably, do not like it, which is strange when you consider that some of the most interesting areas of human endeavour - quantum
physics, serial music, post-structuralist philosophy, the poetry of John Donne and the presidency of Donald Trump – are fundamentally rooted in incomprehension.
To get anywhere with them takes brain-work, and lots of it, and even then, in the words of one quantum physicist, you never really understand quantum
mechanics (or serial music or post-structuralist philosophy etc. etc.) you just get used to it.
So it is with languages. A second or third language will always be full of blind spots. There is no such thing as ‘mastery’. Certain structures will
persist in seeming illogical, alien, foreign. You never really profoundly understand them: you just memorise examples, get used to them, and finally
learn when and how to deploy them. You might never fully comprehend inversion after negative adverbials, but you might, like a Turing machine, learn
accurately, to use it, in a stimulus-response sort of fashion, like an automaton.
This, anyway, is what I like to tell my students. Do not fret over your incomprehension, but embrace it. Whatever you truly do not understand, cannot
comprehend, find elusive, find to lie forever beyond your grasp; that is no longer mapped to your mother tongue, but is a vision, perhaps a mirage,
of honest-to-god actual English you see before you. Congratulations.