December 26, 2011 | Hebrew

Can Studying Be an Addiction?

As soon as I got on the plane for Italy, I started in on Italian again.

Compulsive behavior is a blessing and a curse. But at least in its more benign forms, I find it a blessing.

On the Streets of Genoa

On the Streets of Genoa

When you really want to do something, you tend to go all out.

In Genoa, Italy, I found myself pulling out an Italian grammar book around 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve during a break in the action of It’s a Wonderful Life, which I was watching with my sister-in-law’s family. One of my nephews commented on this fact.

“I can’t help it,” I said. “I’m addicted. But better this than heroin.”

He replied, “I don’t know. Heroin would be lighter to carry around.”

I looked at him. “You are advising me to become a drug addict?” 

Later, remembering how during another vacation I had gone off and done Pimsleur lessons on the floor of a dark airless closet so tiny I couldn’t extend my legs, I decided to look online to determine whether I might have accidentally become a full-on addict.

I found an American Psychiatric Association seven-question quiz to assess addiction, modifying the criteria as needed:

  1. Have you developed a tolerance? Do you need more Pimsleur (or other language-learning resource) than you used to in order to get the same effects?
  2. Do you ever feel withdrawal symptoms after stopping use, or do you ever use any other substance to prevent these symptoms (e.g., Rosetta Stone instead of Pimsleur)?
  3. Do you ever study longer than you had intended? For example, do you go out for one Pimsleur lesson at lunch intending to get back to work, and end up doing eight and writing off a day at the office?
  4. Have you ever tried to reduce your study time, and found that you cannot, or that you soon find yourself studying at the same level again?
  5. Do you have a preoccupation with language learning? In other words, do you spend a great deal of time thinking about studying, then studying, and then recovering from studying?
  6. Have you ever stopped participating in worthwhile activities that you used to enjoy, such as talking to other human beings, because of your studying? 
  7. Have you ever continued to study even in the face of adverse social or health consequences, such as falling months behind on e-mail, or failing to eat until your blood sugar is so low that only two pints of Häagen Dazs can revive you, or falling asleep to Pimsleur lessons and then getting woken up throughout the night by said lessons, yet repeatedly failing to remove your headphones so that you can actually stay asleep until morning?

If you answer yes to at least three of the seven questions, you are supposedly an addict.

I do not find this to be a convenient time to tally my score.

Comments (5)

Charles • Posted on Thu, January 12, 2012 - 2:28 am EST


Eric H • Posted on Wed, March 07, 2012 - 12:39 am EST

I think you have just found your passion, your calling. I too have just recently discovered a love for learning other languages. Do not follow conventional advice, this does not apply to all situations. Instead just go by what your heart says. Celebrate your uniqueness!!

Many people struggle to find something they can be so passionate about. Most people work very hard to become as motivated as you. I suppose when one finds his or her passion it becomes much more effortless.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, March 07, 2012 - 1:54 am EST

Those are very kind words, Eric. Thank you.

Kris L. • Posted on Sat, August 24, 2013 - 5:33 pm EST

So I am reading your blog the end of August 2013…my question is…how after these 3 years would you be able to stop?  Personally, I don’t want you to stop…I’m learning so much through you.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sat, August 24, 2013 - 5:46 pm EST

What a lovely sentiment to read, Kris. By now it is actually closing in on four years and two months! There is no danger of my stopping any time soon. As I write this, I am in a restaurant on the Upper West Side, and a man is pacing back and forth near my table talking loudly into his phone in Korean. And I can’t understand him, alas. In other words, much work remains to be done. Giant piles of learning resources are accumulating in my office; I have been researching and collecting new products for some weeks now. The only thing I am not sure about yet is how I will organize my study time and languages…but much more to come!

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