230. Can You Learn a Language in 6 Months?

Small Donate ButtonThis episode is based on a TEDx presentation by Chris Lonsdale, who claims that any normal adult can learn a language within 6 months. Is that really possible? What method of learning does Chris propose? How does this relate to listening to Luke’s English Podcast? You can see the video of Chris Lonsdale’s talk, with a transcript below. [Download]


Chris Lonsdale’s TEDx Talk (transcript below)

Transcript of Chris Lonsdale’s Presentation
How to learn any language in six months: Chris Lonsdale
Have you ever held a question in mind for so long that it becomes part of how you think? Maybe even part of who you are as a person? Well I’ve had a question in my mind for many, many years and that is: how can you speed up learning? Now, this is an interesting question because if you speed up learning you can spend less time at school. And if you learn really fast, you probably wouldn’t have to go to school at all. Now, when I was young, school was sort of okay but I found quite often that school got in the way of learning, so I had this question in mind: how do you learn faster? And this began when I was very, very young, when I was about eleven years old I wrote a letter to researchers in the Soviet Union, asking about hypnopaedia, this is sleep learning, where you get a tape recorder, you put it beside your bed and it turns on in the middle of the night when you’re sleeping, and you’re supposed to be learning from this. A good idea, unfortunately it doesn’t work. But, hypnopaedia did open the doors to research in other areas and we’ve had incredible discoveries about learning that began with that first question.
I went on from there to become passionate about psychology and I have been involved in psychology in many ways for the rest of my life up until this point. In 1981 I took myself to China and I decided that I was going to be native level in Chinese inside two years. Now, you need to understand that in 1981, everybody thought Chinese was really, really difficult and that a westerner could study for ten years or more and never really get very good at it. And I also went in with a different idea which was: taking all of the conclusions from psychological research up to that point and applying them to the learning process. What was really cool was that in six months I was fluent in Mandarin Chinese and took a little bit longer to get up to native. But I looked around and I saw all of these people from different countries struggling terribly with Chinese, I saw Chinese people struggling terribly to learn English and other languages, and so my question got refined down to: how can you help a normal adult learn a new language quickly, easily and effectively? Now this a really, really important question in today’s world. We have massive challenges with environment we have massive challenges with social dislocation, with wars, all sorts of things going on and if we can’t communicate we’re really going to have difficulty solving these problems. So we need to be able to speak each other’s languages, this is really, really important. The question then is how do you do that. Well, it’s actually really easy. You look around for people who can already do it, you look for situations where it’s already working and then you identify the principles and apply them. It’s called modelling and I’ve been looking at language learning and modelling language learning for about fifteen to twenty years now. And my conclusion, my observation from this is that any adult can learn a second language to fluency inside six months. Now when I say this, most people think I’m crazy, this is not possible. So let me remind everybody of the history of human progress, it’s all about expanding our limits.
In 1950 everybody believed that running one mile in four minutes was impossible and then Roger Bannister did it in 1956 and from there it’s got shorter and shorter. 100 years ago everybody believed that heavy stuff doesn’t fly. Except it does and we all know this. How does heavy stuff fly? We reorganise the material using principles that we have learned from observing nature, birds in this case. And today we’ve gone ever further, so you can fly a car. You can buy one of these for a couple hundred thousand US dollars. We now have cars in the world that can fly. And there’s a different way to fly that we’ve learned from squirrels. So all you need to do is copy what a flying squirrel does, build a suit called a wing suit and off you go, you can fly like a squirrel. Now, most people, a lot of people, I wouldn’t say everybody but a lot of people think they can’t draw. However there are some key principles, five principles that you can apply to learning to draw and you can
actually learn to draw in five days. So, if you draw like this, you learn these principles for five days and apply them and after five days you can draw something like this. Now I know this is true because that was my first drawing and after five days of applying these principles that was what I was able to do. And I looked at this and I went ‘wow,’ so that’s how I look like when I’m concentrating so intensely that my brain is exploding.
So, anybody can learn to draw in five days and in the same way, with the same logic, anybody can learn a second language in six months. How? There are five principles and seven actions. There may be a few more but these are absolutely core. And before I get into those I just want to talk about two myths, dispel two myths. The first is that you need talent. Let me tell you about Zoe. Zoe came from Australia, went to Holland, was trying to learn Dutch, struggling extremely … a great deal and finally people were saying: ‘you’re completely useless,’ ‘you’re not talented,’ ‘give up,’ ‘you’re a waste of time’ and she was very, very depressed. And then she came across these five principles, she moved to Brazil and she applied them and within six months she was fluent in Portuguese, so talent doesn’t matter. People also think that immersion in a new country is the way to learn a language. But look around Hong Kong, look at all the westerners who’ve been here for ten years, who don’t speak a word of Chinese. Look at all the Chinese living in America, Britain, Australia, Canada have been there ten, twenty year and they don’t speak any English. Immersion per se does not work. Why? Because a drowning man cannot learn to swim. When you don’t speak a language you’re like a baby and if you drop yourself into a context which is all adults talking about stuff over your head, you won’t learn.
So, what are the five principles that you need to pay attention to? First: four words, attention, meaning, relevance and memory, and these interconnect in very important ways. Especially when you’re talking about learning. Come with me on a journey through a forest. You go on a walk through a forest and you see something like this. Little marks on a tree, maybe you pay attention, maybe you don’t. You go another fifty metres and you see this. You should be paying attention. Another fifty metres, if you haven’t been paying attention, you see this. And at this point, you’re paying attention. And you’ve just learned that this is important, it’s relevant because it means this, and anything that is related, any information related to your survival is stuff that you’re going to pay attention to and therefore you’re going to remember it. If it’s related to your personal goals then you’re going to pay attention to it, if it’s relevant you’re going to remember it.
So, the first rule, the first principle for learning a language is focus on language content that is relevant to you. Which brings us to tools. We master tools by using tools and we learn tools the fastest when they are relevant to us. So let me share a story. A keyboard is a tool. Typing Chinese a certain way, there are methods for this. That’s a tool. I had a colleague many years ago who went to night school; Tuesday night, Thursday night, two hours each night, practicing at home, she spent nine months, and she did not learn to type Chinese. And one night we had a crisis. We had forty- eight hours to deliver a training manual in Chinese. And she got the job, and I can guarantee you in forty-eight hours, she learned to type Chinese because it was relevant, it was meaningful, it was important, she was using a tool to create value. So the second tool for learning a language is to use your language as a tool to communicate right from day one. As a kid does. When I first arrived in China I didn’t speak a word of Chinese, and on my second week I got to take a train ride overnight. I spent eight hours sitting in the dining care talking to one of the guards on the train, he took an interest in me for some reason, and we just chatted all night in Chinese and he was drawing pictures and making movements with his hands and facial expressions and piece by piece by piece I understood more and more. But what was really cool, was two weeks later, when people were talking Chinese around me, I was understanding some of this and I hadn’t even made any effort to learn that. What had happened, I’d absorbed it that night on the train, which brings us to the third principle. When you first understand the message, then you will acquire the language unconsciously. And this is really, really well documented now, it’s something called comprehensible input and there’s twenty or thirty years of research on this, Stephen Krashen, a leader in the field has published all sorts of these different studies and this is just from one of them. The purple bars show the scores on different tests for language. The purple people were people who had learned by grammar and formal study, the green ones are the ones who learned by comprehensible input. So, comprehension works. Comprehension is key and language learning is not about accumulating lots of knowledge. In many, many ways it’s about physiological training. A woman I know from Taiwan did great at English at school, she got A grades all the way through, went through college, A grades, went to the US and found she couldn’t understand what people were saying. And people started asking her: ‘Are you deaf?’ And she was. English deaf. Because we have filters in our brain that filter in the sounds that we are familiar with and they filter out the sounds of languages we’re not. And if you can’t hear it, you won’t understand it and if you can’t understand it, you’re not going to learn it. So you actually have to be able to hear these sounds. And there are ways to do that but it’s physiological training. Speaking takes muscle. You’ve got forty-three muscles in your face, you have to coordinate those in a way that you make sounds that other people will understand. If you’ve ever done a new sport for a couple of days, and you know how your body feels? It hurts. If your face is hurting you’re doing it right.
And the final principle is state. Psycho-physiological state. If you’re sad, angry, worried, upset, you’re not going to learn. Period. If you’re happy, relaxed, in an Alpha brain state, curious, you’re going to learn really quickly, and very specifically you need to be tolerant of ambiguity. If you’re one of those people who needs to understand 100% every word you’re hearing, you will go nuts, because you’ll be incredibly upset all the time, because you’re not perfect. If you’re comfortable with getting some, not getting some, just paying attention to what you do understand, you’re going to be fine, you’ll be relaxed and you’ll be learning quickly. So based on those five principles, what are the seven actions that you need to take?
Number one: listen a lot. I call it Brain Soaking. You put yourself in a context where you’re hearing tons and tons of a language and it doesn’t matter if you understand it or not. You’re listening to the rhythms, you’re listening to things that repeat, you’re listening to things that stand out. So, just soak your brain in this.
The second action: is that you get the meaning first, even before you get the words. You go “Well how do I do that, I don’t know the words?” Well, you understand what these different postures mean. Human communication is body language in many, many ways, so much body language. From body language you can understand a lot of communication, therefore, you’re understanding, you’re acquiring through comprehensible input. And you can also use patterns that you already know. If you’re a Chinese speaker of Mandarin and Cantonese and you go Vietnam, you will understand 60% of what they say to you in daily conversation, because Vietnamese is about 30% Mandarin, 30% Cantonese.
The third action: start mixing. You probably have never thought of this but if you’ve got ten verbs, ten nouns and ten adjectives you can say one thousand different things. Language is a creative process. What do babies do? Okay: Me. Bat(h). Now. Okay, that’s how they communicate. So start mixing, get creative, have fun with it, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to work. And when you’re doing this you focus on the core. What does that mean? Well with every language there is high frequency content. In English, 1000 words covers 85% of anything you’re ever going to say in daily communication. 3000 words gives you 98% of anything you’re going to say in daily conversation. You got 3000 words, you’re speaking the language. The rest is icing on the cake. And when you’re just beginning with a new language start with the tool box. Week number one in your new language you say things like: ‘how do you say that?’ ‘I don’t understand,’ ‘repeat that please,’ ‘what does that mean,’ all in your target language. You’re using it as a tool, making it useful to you, it’s relevant to learn other things about the language. By week two that you should be saying things like: ‘me,’ ‘this,’ ‘you,’ ‘that,’ ‘give,’ you know, ‘hot,’ simple pronouns, simple nouns, simple verbs, simple adjectives, communicating like a baby. And by the third or fourth week, you’re getting into what I call glue words. ‘Although,’ ‘but,’ ‘therefore,’ these are logical transformers that tie bits of a language together, allowing you to make more complex meaning. At that point you’re talking. And when you’re doing that, you should get yourself a language parent. If you look at how children and parents interact, you’ll understand what this means. When a child is speaking, it’ll be using simple words, simple combinations, sometimes quite strange, sometimes very strange pronunciation and other people from outside the family don’t understand it. But the parents do. And so the kid has a safe environment, gets confidence. The parents talk to the children with body language and with simple language they know the child understands. So we have a comprehensible input environment that’s safe, we know it works otherwise none of you would speak your mother tongue. So you get yourself a language parent, who’s somebody interested in you as a person who will communicate with you essentially as an equal, but pay attention to help you understand the message. There are four rules of a language parent. Spouses by the way are not very good at this, okay? But the four rules are, first of all, they will work hard to understand what you mean even when you’re way off beat. Secondly, they will never correct your mistakes. Thirdly they will feedback their understanding of what you are saying so you can respond appropriately and get that feedback and then they will use words that you know.
The sixth thing you have to do, is copy the face. You got to get the muscles working right, so you can sound in a way that people will understand you. There’s a couple of things you do. One is that you hear how it feels, and feel how it sounds which means you have a feedback loop operating in your face, but ideally, if you can look at a native speaker and just observe how they use their face, let your unconscious mind absorb the rules, then you’re going to be able to pick it up. And if you can’t get a native speaker to look at, you can use stuff like this: [slides].
And the final idea here, the final action you need to take is something that I call “direct connect.” What does this mean? Well most people learning a second language sort of take the mother tongue words and take the target words and go over them again and again in their mind to try and remember them. Really inefficient. What you need to do is realise that everything you know is an image inside your mind, it’s feelings, if you talk about fire you can smell the smoke you can hear the crackling, you can see the flames. So what you do, is you go into that imagery and all of that memory and you come out with another pathway. So I call it ‘same box, different path.’ You come out of that pathway, you build it over time you become more and more skilled at just connecting the new sounds to those images that you already have, into that internal representation. And over time you even become naturally good at that process, that becomes unconscious.
So, there are five principles that you need to work with, seven actions, if you do any of them, you’re going to improve. And remember these are things under your control as the learner. Do them all and you’re going to be fluent in a second language in six months.
Thank you.

Comments Thread from YouTube

sorin86yt

Incredible stupid ideas. An incredible collection of sophisms. A stupid guy who has no idea about language learning. And it is supported by “studies”. Of course, you can “speak” Chinese in 10 days, but that will be “hello” and “thank you”. This video is a mockery. This moron cannot even understand the role of grammar. Grammar is not some torture that you sadistically apply to students. Grammar is the short(est)cut to make students understand how that language works: This moron doesn’t even know that there are a lot of people who can’t even speak their mother tongue properly. But “EVERYBODY” will learn a foreign language in 6 months. Will they go to their jobs in the mean time? Take care of their family matters? Sleep? Follow his advice and you’ll speak that language the way lowly-educated immigrants do.

 

 

Marcus T Anthony

Have you considered the possibility that you don’t understand the subject matter? What would happen if, instead of opposing ideas which contradict yours, you tried embracing them?

 

 

Radouane Rabei

I don’t know how or where you get the nerve to be able to say something like ‘Incredible stupid ideas’ and ‘A stupid guy who has no idea about language learning.’ when everything you say after that proves, you actually know absolutely nothing about language learning. How many languages did you have to learn other than English?

 

If it takes you 10 days to learn “hello” and “thank you” in Chinese, or any other language for that matter, that’s called a learning disability, you might wanna have that checked.

 

I learnt to speak English a while back in less than six months, but English is not the best example because it is such a practical language (you use 30% less words in general to say something in English than you would if you say it in French), I honestly think it is one of, if not the easiest language to pick up, I love it

 

Here is another genius statement

 

‘Grammar is the short(est)cut to make students understand how that language works’

 

I was perfectly fluent in French before I knew anything about French grammar, and in fact for French that would be the long(est)cut, French is a very impractical language, with ridiculous grammar rules.

 

This man in the video talks a lot of sense, if you really apply everything he says it would take the average person less than six months to speak any language pretty well, I have done it myself twice, and seen it done countless times with friends I grew up with .

 

Does this mean we should all start fires at our local libraries, and ban language classes, no of course not

 

Are you gonna be perfect in that language in six months, no, but it will be much easier for you to learn grammar after if you still really want to.

 

sorin86yt

+Marcus T Anthony Actually, no, I haven’t. I have 20+ years of experience in language tutoring. I tried some of the new stupid fast-food methods and they are what they are: deceptions. All these fast-food ways have appeared for commercial reasons. They fool potential clients that learning can be miraculously shortened, and also that any moron can learn a foreign language. This way language teaching businesses attract more clients willing to take short-cuts. There are also a lot morons exited by “revolutionary” ideas, like teenagers, and really believe that the man who will live 300 years is already born.

 

 

Jaime Benito de Valle Ruiz

For your information, Chris is almost native-like in Mandarin (I’ve heard him), so I am sure he knows a thing or two about learning a difficult foreign language well, regardless of what is trying to sell us. How about you? I guess you must have mastered dozens of languages to make your claims about how stupid these methods are, right? What he is saying overlaps a lot with the advice I’ve heard from others polyglots, so I don’t think it is as silly as you think… unless you are the indisputable king of languages, that is.

 

By the way, while I first had a placement in a language school, I saw a few students becoming reasonably fluent in other languages within 4 months, to my surprise, and a lot of them within 6 months, and I don’t mean saying hello and goodbye, but maintaining a fluent conversation for hours on topics as complex as politics or sociology, or discussing their cultural or banking problems, as well as being able to read a newspaper without effort and comfortably watching movies without subtitles. Granted, some occasional mistakes here and there sometimes, but good enough to function efficiently in a professional working environment (where they also say hello and goodbye too).

 

One last thing: almost no native speaker in any language has any conscious knowledge of their own grammar. Grammar is great for understanding how a language works, if that is what you want, but it won’t even guarantee that you’ll be able to speak or even understand the language. Grammar is to languages a bit like a book of human physiology is to playing a sport. And I know because I am a grammar freak.

 

Paul Coffey

+sorin86yt Given your 20+ years of tutoring experience, I’m curious to hear what alternative methods you would propose.  Like many of the people who have left comments here, my lived experience of getting to fluency in two new languages (Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese Chinese) matches very closely the methods that Chris is talking about.

 

For example, he talked about acquiring the language based on prior understanding (i.e. the comprehensible input approach).  Based on my experience in China, I found that watching movies in their original English, and then repeatedly watching them with the Chinese audio dubbing, was very useful to me.    Watching them in English allowed me to first understand the story, and then re-watching them in Chinese enabled me to take advantage of the comprehensible input environment.

 

Having said that, I’ve only got my own personal experience to go by.  Clearly, your own experience is somewhat at odds with what Chris is saying.  Could you share a little more about what has worked for you?

 

 

Truthseeker1961

People like ”sorin86yt” who have been deeply entrenched in their respective fields ALWAYS have knee-jerk reactions to new ideas and new methods because THEIR way is the ONLY way, and they don’t want to hear anything about it outside of their norm, and the 6 people who ”liked” his comment are staunch defenders of the status quo no matter what advances are introduced now, or anytime in the future.

 

 

sorin86yt

I kinda knew I was going to stir up such comments from delusional people. However, Youtube comments is not the right place for scientific debates.

 

Almost each minutes of this video contains something stupid. We can only try to point out some of the cheats. The most obvious one is the arbitrary duration: 6 months! Why 6 months and not 6m and 1w? Or 5m and 2w? What exactly does that person do during those 6 months? Only travelling by train in that country? Do they sleep? Do they have a job? Do they see after their family? Are they healthy?

 

Any competent language teacher will tell you that “6 months” is meaningless. The learning process is estimated by professionals in HOURS!!!! Take my intermediate-level English course. The “average” student (“average” – another approximation that kills the idea of a fixed time) will need about 80 hours of instruction with the teacher, and then about the double in individual study (homework, practice, listening etc). A rough total of 240 hours. What is that in calendar time? Nobody can foresee!! If the student happens to have a lot of time to dedicate to the foreign language, let’s say 6 hours/day, we calculate 40 days, which happens to be about 5 times faster that the moron in the video claims. :)  (Not mentioning that 240 hours mathematically equals 10 full days!). However, this doesn’t happen in real time. That “average” student has a job, a family, a hobby, (a disease maybe?), he has to sleep, to eat, to drive… Eventually, it comes down to about 6 hours/week (2 in class and 4 outside), which suggests 40 weeks (a little more than 9 months, not bad, huh?). However, that too rarely happens in real life. In a nine months’ time both the student and the teacher will have holidays, or business travels, or sick leaves… It may go up to 1 year and beyond. BUT the orientation line is always the number of hours. Not X months.

The next level of deception in this video is about the student. Who is that student? Whoever has ever taught anything knows students are of various “speeds” (because of talent (of course, talent matters hugely, morons!), previous knowledge, motivation, practice environment, how serious the student is about learning….). What is “6 months” for a student might be “3 months” for another one or “12 months” for another one (or even “never”!).

 

This video looks just like a stupid teleshopping presentation where they want to make us believe that the kitchen knife is the most spectacular invention of mankind.

 

  • Anonymous

    I <3 my language parent =)

  • pholome

    Hello luke,
    After I have listened this podcast again, I want to tell you my experience when I whent to France when I was nineteen years old. First of all I didn`t know any French word at that time. And though I was in France, without family, you don´t have much time to learn this languaje, I kew a woman, my wife, who didn`t know any spanish word, so she started teaching me French, oui, non, J’ai soif, j’ai fam, merci where the first things she teachs me, I remember.. So communicated each others writing and translating, drawing, it was not easy but very exiting. So evening she made me read some pages a book, she used to correct my mistakes reading loudly, of course, she made me write dictations and gave me homework to make for the next day… I don´t know when I got to be fluent in French language but not in 6 months. Becuase even if you are living in France you can´t study all the time or even to have someone sopeaking with you several hours per day.
    After the first year, I decided to stop speaking Spanish and I never tried to find an Spanish to speak with. The only thing I can say is that two years later I passed my CAP of mecanician with 14,5/20. and three years later I got the best qualifications in my speciality having a very good French, I studied at “l’école du soir” after my job and the weekends.

    I don´t know if what this man saysis possible for anyone,maybe it is possible to speak English in Six months, but I it possible to understand English people in six months?
    Because it is true that we can speak knowing around 3,000 words but how undertand people who knows 6,000 words with idioms, phrasal verbs…

    Od course I agree with you disapproving when people is not gentle with this man and are upset, even writing harsh comments. They are not necessary. But there is a lot of good advices at that is the most important for us. I know I can’t learn English in 6 months because there are 5 years I started learning English, even I am doing it alone using what I found in internet. Like with French, I started studying English knowing nothing, So yes, no, not, verb to be and to have… and listening, and reading, and watching movies… The difference is that in France I got a veri good French in five years but In English, after five years, I have only learned what I learned, in France, in two years…

    I suppose there are several comments from people who are upset because you feel you are like an idiot when you listen this man telling you that you can learn a language in 6 month. In France they would say: “Ce mec se fou the notre gueule?” or “Il est en train de se payer notre tête!” Because even if what he says is not bad, you know very well that normal with a normal life is not going to be fluent in six months. Certainly is is possible for certain people in certains conditions but we are not those kind of people. We are the very normal ones.
    But I know that what you want to point out with your podcast is mainly about the good advices of this man and not about the time for learning…

    Bye master Luke

  • ptholome

    Good morning everyone.

    Today, like usual we’re going to write a bit following the speech recognition commands.

    So there we go, we we’re going to write on luke´s podcast to tell them how I am studying English.
    Mainly I’m listening your text as much as I can which makes me quite happy because I think this is the right thing to do if we want to improve our English. Also I’m reading the Sherlock Holmes books with the audio I got from audible. com.
    Also, I’m recording myself reading the text of the podcast when we have the transcription. On the other hand, I have started reading more English books which I had in my electronic reader. What’s more, I’ve joined an speaking group, and of course I’m writing some comments in several blogs.

    And, That’s it Luke.

    NB. To write this little comment speaking to my computer is not an easy task.
    See you.

  • John Kirton

    Wow there’s load of content here and loads of ways to work with it.You could read the transcript and then watch the YouTube video and then listen to the whole podcast. All the time you’ll be learning how people learn languages, get some advice on controlling you emotions to maximize your progress and improve your overall skills,listening reading and picking up bits of vocabulary and grammar along the way. After all that you could read the comments here and add your views. You could try copying Luke’s voice and repeating what he says and playing around with what he says copying one bit and then adding a phrase or tow of your own. Do that for 20 minutes, record it, then try the same again a day or two later and then again four or five days later. I bet after the third time your pronunciation will be better but it may make your mouth ache;-) If you then try listening to the podcast again those bits you spoke over will be so much easier to understand.

    The advice about getting a language parent is good. All the points Luke makes are good but getting your writing corrected on somewhere like lang-8.com/ and finding a language ‘parent’ to speak to on somewhere like www.conversationexchange.com/ or www.italki.com/dashboard. The parent needn’t be older but you must like talking to him or her and he mustn’t correct you and interrupt your flow too much.

    Luke’s work is a really fantastic resource. If you want to accelerate your progress write more feedback here or on facebook (you can get it corrected first as suggested above) and chat with people on google+ or even talk with fellow LEPsters there or on Skype. The more you try to use the content, the quicker that you’ll learn. Try using some of the content as a dictation exercise to sharpen up your listening and spelling.It will also help you grammar and comprehension too without you even noticing!

    Just a few thoughts. Keep going guys, you’ll get there and it’s not a race. Do something every day and you’ll be surprised how far you can improve in six months or a year or whatever.

  • Thanks a lot Luke for such an useful podcast! Lear a language in 6 months seems to be unrealistic but it can be posible. I went to study a year in France and I barely spoke French. In less than 6 months I was able to undersand and comunicate (oral and written) pretty well in French. It is true that is similar to Spanish language but I am agree with many of his principles and actions like have interest in the language, use it to communicate, listen a lot, understand the meaning before the words, look at the body expressions…All that helped me a lot to survive and start learning and use the lenguage.
    I have never think about look at the faces but now I consider it as a good point to improve the pronunciation that sometimes is so hard for me.

  • Sabine

    Much faster as I thought, here’s my

    Experimental Protocol
    Language learning in a short period of time

    Introduction:
    Starting point: Luke’s English Podcast, episode 230. “Can You Learn a Language in 6 Months?” and a heated discussion in the comments section of the podcast as well as in the YouTube comments section of Chris Lonsdale’s TEDx Talk video entitled “How to learn any language in six months”.

    Purpose:
    Chris Lonsdale propagates something that sounds so desirable and yet so unreachable that it makes me want to form my own opinion based on facts instead of voicing wild speculations based on my own guesses and ideas. In some situations that’s my ninja way :)

    Materials:
    1. The app “Rhythmic Japanese” by Third Ear Publishing (Chairman: Chris Lonsdale), 0,89 € (about 70 pence or slightly more than 1 US-$).
    2. Me: A German just-for-fun-learner of Japanese, female, 50 years old, probably a little bit more than averagely talented in language acquisition (a gift for languages runs in the family), but rather a bit of a slacker when it comes to learning vocab and grammar. After listening to all episodes of Sana’s jPodcast (held in German and Japanese) and all 55 audio lessons from the “Ultimate Getting Started with Japanese Box Set” by innovativeLanguage.com (held in American English and Japanese) my level still is something between absolute beginner and beginner. So I don’t start from scratch, but I also didn’t get very far by now, especially because I didn’t work along with the lesson notes from the audio book, because I was knitting a scarf while listening.

    Methods:
    The experimental set-up will be the same as for my language learning so far: on the train to work and back I listen to the lessons while knitting a scarf. From Monday to Friday I spend two hours a day on trains. Sometimes I meet someone I know and I’d rather have a chat than listen to language lessons.

    Monitoring the results:
    On weekends I can always watch new episodes of my favourite anime series (Do I have to explain this? Well, I’m quite a strange old biddy, i think. But basically watching anime entertains me much better than watching series with real actors, because I don’t need to pay attention to embarrasing bad acting or makeup all the time. Also the stories often are a lot more complex…) The episodes are delivered in Japanese with German or English subtitles. Sometimes I even have the possibility to watch a raw episode (without subtitles). These new anime episodes, raw or subtitled, serve as a yardstick. I’ll notice if I don’t have to read the subtitles anymore or if I read less of them or if nothing changes at all. And I won’t cheat. I hate cheating.

    Report:
    Saturday/Sunday, November 15/16:
    As usual I watched the new episodes of my favourite series and read the subtitles to understand what’s going on there. I can’t help but look forward to not needing to read the subtitles anymore, I might possibly even be able to knit while watching. I wonder if it really can come true.

    I’ve bought the app and read the Introduction.
    First impression: The app is quite heavy: 266.1 mb. Opening it and pressing “start” gets me to the contents section. There are four chapters listed: “Rhythmic Japanese 1-3“ and “The Third Ear Highlights”. “The Third Ear” is the title of a Book Chris Lonsdale wrote about learning languages. The Highlights are delivered as an audiobook and as an ebook. At first sight it looks as if I get quite a lot for my 89 cents. In the contents section there is also a link that says “more content available”. When I touch it, it gets me to the in-app purchases. I’d be able to buy additional material to Rhythmic Japanese, Course 1 to 3 here. One for 12.99, the other two for 8.99. This may seem expensive at first sight, but should the lessons really work, and I hope I know if they do when I’m through with what already comes with the app, I’d have to spend around € 32 in total to get everything they offer. That’s half the cost of one single lesson of an average language course in Germany. If it’s worth it I’ll eventually know…

    Next I listen to “welcome and introduction” from the first chapter. In this track a soft male voice gives me a bit of an explanation to everything. In the background – well, not exactly in the background, actually it’s almost as loud as the speaker – there plays music that sounds a bit like a ringtone from the pre-smartphone era or an example tune from a not too expensive midi keyboard. A first shy doubt comes up: Will I be able to endure Rhythmic Japanese up to the end? But don’t worry, I’m tough. I won’t give up so easily…

    Enough for this weekend, I’m well prepared, I’d say, tomorrow morning can come.

    Monday, November 17:
    I seem to be lucky, the music is getting better. Lesson one teaches the phrase “please go to this address” with some bollywood tune in the background. Nice! In lesson two it’s the phrase “coffee, please” on top of some nice easy listening loop. The app tells me to listen to these tracks 10 times before I listen to the same tracks while reading along the lyrics. Ok. I get bored the fifth time I listen to these two tracks and stroll around the app to have a look at the other contents. There is a mysterious chapter called “bonus program”. This chapter contains so called “memory hooks” for lesson 1. Each Japanese Word has it’s own little memory hook to be remembered easily. If you, for example, want to keep the word “tabemasu” in mind (it means “to eat” and the “u” at the end is not spoken), you can build up a sentence like “look at the TABLE: MASSES of food you can eat!” (I’ve made this one up myself, since I don’t want to violate their copyright with my example.) That memory hooks can be very useful to memorise vocabulary is obvious, but I have a tiny little problem with these memory hooks: I’d need German ones for faster trips to all the words I want to keep in mind.

    Chapters two and three are empty. When I touch their menu items, the app informs me that beforehand I’d have to spend 12.99 on the other lessons of chapter one, 8.99 on chapter two and another 8.99 on chapter three.

    To be honest, basically that’s all I get for spending 89 cent and 266mb of iPhone space. The highlights from the book The Third Ear are read by “the master” himself, but he reads it ridicoulously fast and with a serious lack of intonation. Sorry, but there are a much better ways to spend one’s time than listening to an audiobook that’s reeled off without the slightest bit of dedication. I’m a little bit disappointed. I’ve listened to a couple chapters of it anyway and with his TEDx talk still in mind, I found no surprises. At some point he even says that grammar and vocabulary weren’t important at all and at this point I disagree with him completely. The whole construct of a language is tremendously important because you won’t be able to actually express yourself in a language which structure you don’t understand. Maybe you are able to communicate to an extent, but all you can do is to repeat exactly what’s been tought. You won’t be able to be creative in that language for a very long time, to build sentences that really represent you and your humor or your own unique way of telling a story.

    iTunes tells me that i’d be able to buy this course not only as an app but as three audio albums as well. I’ve looked at all the titles and found out that the whole course only teaches a handful of survival phrases for a good start. You learn enough to be able to ask other people for the way to your hotel or to help you with your studies. But I’m not even sure you’d be able to understand the answers someone gives you then. I won’t pay for the in-app purchases and so the experiment took much lesser time than I thought it would. For my purposes Rhythmic Japanese is not the right approach. It might be a very good starter pack for learning a language if you have the possibility to communicate with native speakers right away. But as I dont want to ask anyone for the way to my hotel or for another cup of coffee, the Japanese that’s tought there is not for me. I’ll start over with my “Ultimate Getting Started with Japanese Box Set”. And I’ll try to take it more seriously now. Their American English is quite a bit annoying but I do understand them really well. They give me real-life conversation, vocabulary, grammar, cultural insight and more. It might take a little longer for me to be able to communicate, but as a customer of their audio language courses I even get access to lots of pretty helpful tools on their website for free.

    So, experiment failed, back to square one? No, not at all. I’ve learned a couple of very valuable lessons from this experiment in a very short period of time and I’m convinced, they might be useful to all of us who want to learn a language:

    1. There is a fast lane for learning a language, BUT you have to be able to actually communicate intensively with native speakers right from the start and permanently from then on to be able to use it. But you don’t need to buy some app or book. Talk, make mistakes, let native speakers correct you and you’ll grab vocabulary and grammar at the same time. You can still get a grip of the rules when you already communicate confidently.

    2. We still get cought much too easily by promises like “learn this or that with some help of your subconscious while sleeping”, “loose weight over night” or “clean your house without even waking up”. These promises only work up to some extent. For example when your cousin gets married and you want to loose six pounds in three weeks in order to wear that dress, you can make it work. While still at the wedding party, you’ll get your six pounds back and everything’s fine. But to get rid of weight permanently, there is no fast, cheap, healthy and trouble-free way. No matter what they tell you. Exactly the same applies for learning a language. Listen over and over again, learn, talk, get a grip on the grammar and get some insight into the culture thats represented by this language, and you’ll be able to express yourself in that language instead of just repeating what’s been tought.

    To all LEPers I strongly recommend you start over with Luke’s English Podcast and listen to episode 1 to 237 (…) over and over again to train your ears and your brains. Listen to all the English you can come by and try to talk as much as you can, even if you record yourself while speaking to your cat. And make sure you reference episode 167 for mnemonics and think about building up memory hooks for Words that refuse to stick to your memory on their own.

    Cheers,
    Sabine

    PS: Luke, I get a faint idea of how it feels when an episode gets too long. Sorry for that!

    • Andrzej

      First of all I’m pleased to say that it’s been a real pleasure to read your comment but also it’s provoked me to write a few words.

      Firstly, I don’t quite understand where the relation between listening to Chris’s talk and buying something comes from. Chris talks about a correct approach to learning, or at least what he thinks it is but says nothing about buying anything. I think we subconsciously associate pitching ideas with sales as a result of omnipresent marketing.

      Then, you suggest you tried to follow his advice but I seem you ignored a couple of his principles like purpose, relevance, motivation and so on. It doesn’t mean I advocate buying this book, nothing like that. I agree with you that textbooks might be helpful at the early stage of learning but I have not seen a textbook being worth buying yet (it doesn’t concern an oncoming Luke’s book). There’s always a free replacement.

      Many people accuse Chris of saying nothing about how much time they should spend a day on learning. That’s not true. He gives it straight saying ‘you should learn to fill that your brain is exploding’, ‘you should fell the muscles of your mouth’. It sounds pretty clear to me, what’s more I remember time when I felt my lips and tongue being numb.

      Then you say: “…But to get rid of weight permanently, there is no fast, cheap, healthy and trouble-free way.” I would repeat after Chris: ‘unless there is’. Today scientists define obesity as an ordinary disease and are close(?) to find cure for it.

      Another one. We tend to think and judge through stereotypes and our experience more than we are willing to admit. For decades people have perceived learning language by taking classes, courses buying textbooks etc. and haven’t focused on the learning process itself. How it works we learn hasn’t been a big issue for many years. Methods are changing and becoming better. What we should do is to find those which work to us. I strongly recommend a TED talk “How schools kill creativity” by Ken Robinson. I haven’t listened to many more interesting talks in my almost 50-year long life.

      Today the world has become very small. People travel all over the world, change jobs and places they live as they have never done it before and they are in desperate need of finding efficient methods of learning in general and learning languages in detail. Today there are people who are compelled to acquire a new language in a super-quick time because of their jobs and they do it because they have a level of purpose and motivation that is unknown and unachievable to most of the rest. Chris’s talk is addressed to an average learner, true, but he wants the learner to become exceptional. Otherwise it doesn’t work. It’s yet another common misconception. You cannot at the same time follow his advice and remain an average learner.

      I’m very sorry but I’d have to disagree completely with your statement: ‘…you won’t be able to actually express yourself in a language which structure you don’t understand.’ I’d say studying grammar is very helpful, works at least for me, but there is a countless number of people who speak language and are creative with it but know nothing about grammar. I quite early noticed that when I’m speaking there’s just no time to think about grammar. I started neglecting grammar learning when I started filling the benefits of listening to a loads of native speakers, especially Luke. Today when I’m speaking and it sounds good to me it’s probably :) correct but when it sounds weird I know it must be crap. Absolutely brilliant exercise is to write transcripts e.g. to Luke’s episodes. It teaches grammar subconsciously alongside with many other different things. Unfortunately it’s highly time-consuming however I’m doing this on a regular basis because I haven’t found any better method yet to achieve some of my goals.

      Thank you again for the comment. Feel free to kick me out together with my ideas. Your way of writing is so enjoyable to read that I’m ready to face your criticism, putting a curse on me, even sending me an atomic bomb via email. In that case though, please attach at least a few words and set an explosion time to let me read the attachment. :)

      • Sabine

        Hi Andrzej,
        first of all I want to thank you for your awfully nice words about my comment! You really made my day.

        And now to the atomic bombs. No. Not really. I’ve read your comment and, maybe it sounds a little weird, but I was kind of glad to read that you disagreed with me. After dropping my comment I thought it could easily be misunderstood as “Sabine did a tiny experiment and now she thinks she knows everything about how to and most of all how not to learn a language. And worst of all she’s even trying to lecture us about it.” And that’s definitely not what I had intended.

        To put it simple, the connection between Chris’ TEDx talk and buying something that he offers was basically my curiosity. I was wondering what he can offer to spread the ideas he’s promoting. He is a psychologist and a businessman and he obviously has got a mission. I can’t tell if he is one of the good guys or not, and I don’t want to speculate about it. All I know is that the whole talk was advertising at it’s best.

        HAHA! You nailed it! I’d buy Luke’s book if he ever wrote one too. Write a book, Luke! Please! Honestly you should. You are one of only two teachers i’ve ever met, I’d consider as simply brilliant. (The other one is Alex Garrett from phpacademy).

        I’m aware of the fact that I totally ignored Chris’ principles. But I was putting his product to a test, not his TEDx talk. Neither the instructions to the app nor the introductions to the lessons told me anything about purpose, relevance, motivation and so on, they told me to relax and listen to the “songs” as the lessons are called in the app.

        You say “… unless there is … Today scientists define obesity as an ordinary disease and are close(?) to find cure for it.” Do you really believe in a cure that will be free from unhealthy side effects? Or in an affordable one? In a Market that’s bringing in so incredible much money? Every day they try and tell us the cure was invented, only to make our wallets loose all their weight. I really like the thought of “unless there is” but in this case there isn’t.

        I’m not leaning up against progress in teaching methods by any means. Thanks for the recommendation. I look forward to watching Ken Robinson’s TED talk. It really sounds interesting to me. When I remember my days in school these are not the happiest of memories…

        You write “Chris’s talk is addressed to an average learner, true, but he wants the learner to become exceptional. Otherwise it doesn’t work.” I think you’ve got a point here. But in my comment I already write that there WAS a fast lane to learning a language, only not for me in this case, because I don’t need to learn Japanese, therefore my motivation is unstable and I simply can’t follow Chris’ principles.

        And now to my favourite paragraph in your comment. You write you disagree completely with my statement at one point, but as I read on I can’t find the opposition. I wrote “Talk, make mistakes, let native speakers correct you and you’ll grab vocabulary and grammar at the same time…” By “understanding the structure of a language” I only mean HOW, not HOW-IS-IT-CALLED-IN-FUNNY-SOUNDING-LATIN-TERMS. There’s no need to be able to give it a name as long as you know how to use it. And the moment you feel the difference between good and crap, you’re already there.

        And while reading your last paragraph again my cheeks went slightly red again. Thank you very, very much again for being so awfully nice!!! And thanks a lot for your comment! I hope, to read from you again :)

        Take care!

      • Andrzej

        Hi Sabine, it’s been nice to hear from you again. I’m really glad that you didn’t bite my head off. ;) As for the book. Luke almost ;) promised to publish his book ages ago and I have come with an idea on how to make it real. In fact it’s pretty simple. Luke is a celebrity, isn’t he? Celebrities tend to publish books this days, don’t they? There are three reasons which hamper them from doing it: they either can’t write (the most common reason) or have nothing to say for themselves (the second one) or have no time for it (that’s Luke’s group). Everybody knows that, no matter which group they belong to, they don’t do it on their own. They always find someone who writes the book on their behalf. So, the recipe is simple, you’ll write the book because your English is very good. I’ll send you a couple of pink gorillas per page mixed in with a bunch of talking prawns and some other strange animals and when the book’s ready we’ll put a magic cod on the cover and Bob’s your uncle. Finding a publisher will be a Luke’s task. Of course keeping the proper balance of weird animals in the book is the most challenging thing therefore I reserve this task to me. I hope you agree on that. I wonder if it’s worthwhile to ask Luke for his opinion about it because he’s totally being snowed under with recording new episodes of the podcast including episodes of ‘A Phrasal Verb a Day’ series. Am I right, Luke, about the word ‘including’? ;)

        Sabine, do watch Ken Robinson’s TED talk. You won’t regret it. Take my word for it.

        I’d dearly love to write an answer to all of your comment and I’ll do it but not today. I’ve got to snatch some sleep.

        I’ll be back.

        Cheers

      • Andrzej (with a fairly limited number of deamons in the mind tonight)

        I’m back :) Where does your fatal outlook on life come from? ;) I mean your statements about progress in medicine. First, I didn’t say that I believed in cure without any side effect. I meant real solution which has more benefits than side effects and gives stable effects. I haven’t also heard or seen any serious/reliable announcements that the cure has already been invented. On the contrary, the scientists claim that for now, only traditional methods work, if any. I’m aware of the fact that this market creates an incredible income but it doesn’t mean very much. Some new technologies might be delayed and they really are, true, but not for a very long time. Human invention is unlimited and can’t be stopped. It’s been proved over centuries. Can you mention technology or invention, no matter how good or bad, that people have refrained from using it? I can’t. People didn’t even refrain from using the energy of the atomic bomb killing 130000 other people at once. Yes, if there’s a new invention discovered that shows promises people will definitely use it and your or my faith has got nothing to do with it.
        I’ll be back, but for now, goodnight :)

      • Sabine

        Hi Andrzej,
        maybe we shouldn’t go on about medical progress at this place, it’s a little far off of what this episode is about, don’t you think? I only took losing weight as an example for things to which an actual shortcut is really hard to find, although there are signs on every corner that tell you the one and only real shortcut starts here and when you try and take it, it turns out to be fake. That’s something I find very tiresome.

        But a “fatal outlook on life”? Me? Not at all. I’m a very happy person. And to be honest, I surely could loose a few pounds of weight, but I’m not waiting for a fast and healthy method to achieve it. I take long walks with my dog, I try and eat healthily and eventually I’ll get rid of what’s not needed. I’m not invited to any wedding, so I’m in no hurry at all :)

        have a nice night :)

  • Sabine

    Hello Luke and everybody,
    I’ve read all of your comments so far, I’ve watched Chris Lonsdale’s video, i’ve also watched Benny Lewis’ video and I have looked up who they are to get a better idea of what this all is about. Their methods of language learning employ some of the mnemonic techniques Luke describes in podcast 167. Mnemonic techniques do work. That’s scientifically proven. And as long as we haven’t at least tried we mustn’t claim they don’t.

    BUT they both make a huge mistake, as it seems, by telling us we were able to learn to speak a foreign language fluently in three or six months. This is something the most of us really don’t want to hear, since we struggle to learn English for such a long time and our English is still far from perfect, we can’t get rid of our accents, no matter how hard we try, we lose confidence when the right words or phrases don’t want to come to our minds the moment we need them and so on. And these guys try to tell us all of our struggle was unnecessary for we might have been able to absorb everything that’s necessary in a few minutes? No way!

    And that’s the crucial point: It’s not what they are trying to tell us. They say by using the right techniques and by turning the whole process of language learning around, which means, at first start speaking and only then start learning, we’d be able to communicate much faster. That’s all they say and it absolutely makes sense. People tend to get caught by the promise of a shortcut for otherwise long and troublesome processes. Therefore “learning this or that in 3 or 6 months” is quite a good and catchy headline and no mistake at all. The error lies in our interpretation of what’s said. We read “fluently in six months” and it somehow it translates to “perfect in six months”, but that’s not the promise. So simply don’t take it too literally.

    Also I can’t see what’s wrong in promoting himself and his methods. He surely has gone a long way to perfect his methods, why shouldn’t he try and tell everybody about it, so someone buys his stuff and he gets a reward for all his hard work? When a commercial tells you about the great taste of a new chocolate bar, is your first thought really “they only say so to sell it, don’t they? I won’t buy it!”? That would be a rather strange reaction, wouldn’t it?

    Don’t get me wrong at this point, I’m not fully convinced myself, I only want you to consider the possibility that he has got some good knowledge about learning techniques to sell. And he is not like Luke who shares his knowledge with us for free, he does it for a living and has to earn money with it. We all want to get paid for our work, don’t we?

    I’ll try a selftest. In order to understand anime without subtitles, I am learning Japanese for quite a long time now, but I always get stuck, because I don’t have much spare time to spend on studying properly and on the other hand I do it just for fun. I’ve looked on his website and he offers an app for learning Japanese phrases for about 89 euro-cents (which is 70 pence or slightly more than 1 US $). I’ll give it a try and after a while i’ll get back here and report about it.

    Good night and take care,
    Sabine

    • Thanks for this well considered and well written comment Sabine. Let us know how the test goes.

  • Deniss Konstantinovs

    In my opinion people who says that it is impossible are full of disbelieve. First of all you have to try it, implement it in your life and then your opinion could worth something.

    About time scale. Why it is six months? That question could be raised about any timescale. If learning would take five months two weeks four days and three hours you could ask the same question and says why not round it. As many other language learning courses provide time scales, they always rounded, and that because of different people perception of language.

    For those who saying it’s impossible to speak fluently in six months. I’ve listened his speech once in the car and maybe my memory not great but he said about day to day conversation, and for that you need not a lot. Even those 3000 words to learn in that time is nothing, that is only 16 words a day, sixteen words. You can learn only 1000 words an be quite confident in daily conversations.

    Most of five and seven I’ve experienced my self and that works fine. But again you must want to learn language, I mean want to learn it. When someone asks you, do you learning or do you want to learn, and you tell them, yes, that is not enough. First of all ask your self, do I want to learn language? Am I trying hard enough? Have I tried all the options? If answer is yes and you still not able to speak properly, I’ll call you a liar. But if answer is no, and you complaining, than you are f***ing useless.

  • Yaron

    As always, there is no right and wrong, it is something in between.
    Indeed Chris Lonsdale presented very useful method (the 5 principles & 7 actions), and to be honest, I use some of it in my learning process. However, there is something fishy in this presentation. Too much commercial (the arbitrary 6 month, every “normal” guy can do it etc.). But, if you look at the bright side and ignore the commercialization, you’ll learn some good point about language acquisition.
    Per myself, I can tell that just after I had exposed to a lot of English, I managed to learn grammar rules. But, generally speaking, I think that the learning process is different from person to person.

    One more thing, “Language Father”, I don’t agree that the language parent shouldn’t correct mistakes. It might be a bit individual thing, but for me, I prefer that native speakers will correct my mistakes. As long as it has done in practical manner, it is a very useful tool.
    BTW – it is reminding me that you said that you’ll do an episode about the typical mistakes from the YEP episodes. I really appreciate if you do so. However, also if you don’t do it, it is negligible, to be honest, I’ll appreciate you anyhow…

    Respect!
    Yaron

  • carlos

    I strongly doubt that an average person can learn to speak fluently any language in six months. Clearly, a child will take way longer than six months to acquire a language. It’s also a well known fact that children learn languages way faster than adults. Ok, not as fast as Mr Lonsdale six month dead line though. When someone makes extraordinary claims, then I’m entitle to ask for his even more extraordinary evidence to back them up. Anecdotal stories will not be enough though.
    I’d suggested doing further investigation of his revolutionary language learning method. I’d need a volunteer. Let’s assume, just for argument’s sake, that Luke would be willing to follow Mr. Lonsdale method for learning French during the next six months. After six months if Luke is able to start his brand new Luke’s French language podcast then this would be certainly amazing! And I’ d be the first one to subscribe to his new podcast.

    • Andrzej

      I’d have to disagree with you that “It’s also a well known fact that children learn languages way faster than adults”. As far as I know it’s only partly true. Recently I listened to somebody who presented various studies which had dispelled this myth. Children can acquire knowledge faster than adults because their brains are like sponges but they can’t learn something, for example a language, faster than adults mainly, but not only, because their motivation, concentration and determination is incomparably lower and cannot be kept high either at all or for a very long time. In addition to that adults use their experience and existing knowledge to built new one and go faster. Children don’t have ones. Over the course of a year of learning something an average adult can make much bigger progress than an average kid.

      • carlos

        Hi Andrzej,
        It’s alright to disagree with me, after all I can’t force you to be right! Just joking. We can agree to disagree. Okay, I’ll rephrase my “it’s a well known fact…” to: It’s a wide held belief that children learn languages faster than adults. It seems to me that children are born to learn languages just in the same way that a spider is born to make webs. What I mean by this is that language, just like a spider web, is an important tool for survival. There are arguments in favour of a critical period in language acquisition. This period, I believe, is between 0 to 11 years of age. After this period, our ability to learn language decline dramatically. This is so because we need to learn other things in order to survive, reproduce and have more children. Of course that adults can learn a new language, however I still think that children are better at it.