A little side note to my earlier post on different approaches to learning. As a medieval historian, I had to learn Latin to get by. As a medieval historian who went to his local comprehensive school, which has probably never even considered teaching the language, I had to learn it from scratch as part of my MA.
Cue a twelve week course in the language, at the end of which... I couldn't speak or read Latin. No matter how useful being taught the basics is, no one can learn a dead language with a different grammatical structure in the course of three months. What I did instead was to struggle with a dictionary and a grammar book for the next few months until gradually I started to pick up phrases, allowing me to understand the bits of the language I actually needed to get by.
I mention this because, until recently, I thought that I was alone in this. That all the other medieval historians could read the language fluently, and would be quite happy chatting away to Bernard of Clairvaux, should he stop being dead long enough to pop round for a cup of tea. Perhaps this is because the pair of medieval historians I'd spent the most time around did have that much of the language. Then, one of my lecturers happened to mention to a couple of people doing the MA that he'd learned bits of Latin in much the same way I had, which made me feel rather better about the whole thing.
I supose what this adds to my thoughts on learning amounts to two things. One, it's a pretty good example of the usefulness of experience, since my work has left me able to translate at least the bits I need quite easily, and able to slowly work through difficult bits if I need to. Two, it shows the benefit of what you're learning having an immediate application. It means you get far more practise, and you know that you're not learning something that you'll never use.