I once had the good fortune to be coached on snow-boarding (which was new to me at the time) by a super-experienced snow boarding expert. I was in a group of two, myself and a dutch guy whose principle pass time was football.

We were not progressing as fast as I wanted because the dutch guy was getting worse not better as the morning wore on. Worse because, like me, he kept falling over but unlike me he was hurting himself each time and more more so each time – which was understandably influencing his ability to concentrate. In short, he had entered a negative spiral. As the pain increased, his confidence decreased, his calmness and concentration decreased and so he fell more often and so on.

Our “coach” seemed to have no solution so I asked if he’d mind if I gave the Dutch guy (name forgotten long ago) some useful advice. Our coach tried not to roll his eyes at this “idiot English person” seeking to give advice when he was also a beginner and we were with an expert. He tried not to roll his eyes – he did not succeed! For my part – I consider “expertise” an interesting concept. A concept with edges and sometimes what you need is outside of that edge. Of course, I wasn’t going to give this guy snowboarding advice, mainly because I’d have no idea what I was talking about. What I was about to give him was falling advice (childhood judo coming in useful again).

I told the Dutch guy that when you fall over playing football putting a hand down is useful and this had become his reflex response to falling but in this environment it achieves very little outside of hurting your wrist. The trick, counter-intuitive to those whose hobbies are above solid stuff like the ground – is to cross your arms across your chest as you fall and take the impact on the large areas on the side of the body. On snow this works really well, as any experienced snowboarder or skier knows. He tried it. He stopped hurting himself. He started an upward spiral and as he was quite athletic, from this point on he progressed rapidly which in turn allowed me to progress rapidly as our “coach” could move us through increasing challenges. The Dutch guy learned how not to hurt himself when snowboarding, I made plenty of snowboarding progress that day and the eye rolling was good for the ocular health of our “coach” – so everyone came out ahead.

The moral of the story – Try to join all of life’s dots. Knowledge from one specific field can often be deployed very, very profitably within another field. Indeed, our success at total fluency is possible only because we bring expertise from many fields into the domain of language learning. Academia, given its requirement to produce experts, puts knowledge in boxes. “This is history – here is our history expert”. “This is geography – here is our geography expert”. But what is the answer to the question at hand is the influence of geography upon history? Everything is connected. Don’t be fooled by boxes and labels.