How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language in 1 Hour (Plus: A Favor)

arabic-script.jpg

Deconstructing Arabic in 45 Minutes

deconstructing-russian.jpg

Conversational Russian in 60 minutes?

This post is by request. How long does it take to learn Chinese or Japanese vs. Spanish or Irish Gaelic? I would argue less than an hour.

Here’s the reasoning…

Before you invest (or waste) hundreds and thousands of hours on a language, you should deconstruct it. During my thesis research at Princeton, which focused on neuroscience and unorthodox acquisition of Japanese by native English speakers, as well as when redesigning curricula for Berlitz, this neglected deconstruction step surfaced as one of the distinguishing habits of the fastest language learners…

So far, I’ve deconstructed Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, German, Norwegian, Irish Gaelic, Korean, and perhaps a dozen others. I’m far from perfect in these languages, and I’m terrible at some, but I can converse in quite a few with no problems whatsoever—just ask the MIT students who came up to me last night and spoke in multiple languages.

How is it possible to become conversationally fluent in one of these languages in 2-12 months? It starts with deconstructing them, choosing wisely, and abandoning all but a few of them.

Consider a new language like a new sport.

There are certain physical prerequisites (height is an advantage in basketball), rules (a runner must touch the bases in baseball), and so on that determine if you can become proficient at all, and—if so—how long it will take.

Languages are no different. What are your tools, and how do they fit with the rules of your target?

If you’re a native Japanese speaker, respectively handicapped with a bit more than 20 phonemes in your language, some languages will seem near impossible. Picking a compatible language with similar sounds and word construction (like Spanish) instead of one with a buffet of new sounds you cannot distinguish (like Chinese) could make the difference between having meaningful conversations in 3 months instead of 3 years.

Let’s look at few of the methods I recently used to deconstructed Russian and Arabic to determine if I could reach fluency within a 3-month target time period. Both were done in an hour or less of conversation with native speakers sitting next to me on airplanes.

Six Lines of Gold

Here are a few questions that I apply from the outset. The simple versions come afterwards:

1. Are there new grammatical structures that will postpone fluency? (look at SOV vs. SVO, as well as noun cases)

2. Are there new sounds that will double or quadruple time to fluency? (especially vowels)

3. How similar is it to languages I already understand? What will help and what will interfere? (Will acquisition erase a previous language? Can I borrow structures without fatal interference like Portuguese after Spanish?)

4. All of which answer: How difficult will it be, and how long would it take to become functionally fluent?

It doesn’t take much to answer these questions. All you need are a few sentences translated from English into your target language.

Some of my favorites, with reasons, are below:

The apple is red.

It is John’s apple.

I give John the apple.

We give him the apple.

He gives it to John.

She gives it to him.

These six sentences alone expose much of the language, and quite a few potential deal killers.

First, they help me to see if and how verbs are conjugated based on speaker (both according to gender and number). I’m also able to immediately identify an uber-pain in some languages: placement of indirect objects (John), direct objects (the apple), and their respective pronouns (him, it). I would follow these sentences with a few negations (“I don’t give…”) and different tenses to see if these are expressed as separate words (“bu” in Chinese as negation, for example) or verb changes (“-nai” or “-masen” in Japanese), the latter making a language much harder to crack.

Second, I’m looking at the fundamental sentence structure: is it subject-verb-object (SVO) like English and Chinese (“I eat the apple”), is it subject-object-verb (SOV) like Japanese (“I the apple eat”), or something else? If you’re a native English speaker, SOV will be harder than the familiar SVO, but once you pick one up (Korean grammar is almost identical to Japanese, and German has a lot of verb-at-the-end construction), your brain will be formatted for new SOV languages.

Third, the first three sentences expose if the language has much-dreaded noun cases. What are noun cases? In German, for example, “the” isn’t so simple. It might be der, das, die, dem, den and more depending on whether “the apple” is an object, indirect object, possessed by someone else, etc. Headaches galore. Russian is even worse. This is one of the reasons I continue to put it off.

All the above from just 6-10 sentences! Here are two more:

I must give it to him.

I want to give it to her.

These two are to see if auxiliary verbs exist, or if the end of the each verb changes. A good short-cut to independent learner status, when you no longer need a teacher to improve, is to learn conjugations for “helping” verbs like “to want,” “to need,” “to have to,” “should,” etc. In Spanish and many others, this allows you to express yourself with “I need/want/must/should” + the infinite of any verb. Learning the variations of a half dozen verbs gives you access to all verbs. This doesn’t help when someone else is speaking, but it does help get the training wheels off self-expression as quickly as possible.

If these auxiliaries are expressed as changes in the verb (often the case with Japanese) instead of separate words (Chinese, for example), you are in for a rough time in the beginning.

Sounds and Scripts

I ask my impromptu teacher to write down the translations twice: once in the proper native writing system (also called “script” or “orthography”), and again in English phonetics, or I’ll write down approximations or use IPA.

If possible, I will have them take me through their alphabet, giving me one example word for each consonant and vowel. Look hard for difficult vowels, which will take, in my experience, at least 10 times longer to master than any unfamiliar consonant or combination thereof (“tsu” in Japanese poses few problems, for example). Think Portuguese is just slower Spanish with a few different words? Think again. Spend an hour practicing the “open” vowels of Brazilian Portuguese. I recommend you get some ice for your mouth and throat first.

russian-alphabet.jpg

The Russian Phonetic Menu, and…

reading-real-russian.jpg

Reading Real Cyrillic 20 Minutes Later

Going through the characters of a language’s writing system is really only practical for languages that have at least one phonetic writing system of 50 or fewer sounds—Spanish, Russian, and Japanese would all be fine. Chinese fails since tones multiply variations of otherwise simple sounds, and it also fails miserably on phonetic systems. If you go after Mandarin, choose the somewhat uncommon GR over pinyin romanization if at all possible. It’s harder to learn at first, but I’ve never met a pinyin learner with tones even half as accurate as a decent GR user. Long story short, this is because tones are indicated by spelling in GR, not by diacritical marks above the syllables.

In all cases, treat language as sport.

Learn the rules first, determine if it’s worth the investment of time (will you, at best, become mediocre?), then focus on the training. Picking your target is often more important than your method.

[To be continued?]

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Is this helpful or just too dense? Would you like me to write more about this or other topics? Please let me know in the comments. Here’s something from Harvard Business School to play with in the meantime…

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755 Replies to “How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language in 1 Hour (Plus: A Favor)”

  1. I admit I once criticized this article, but now I’ve come to appreciate it.

    The reality is, in context of the enormity of learning a language, it really does no harm, and probably does a lot of good to take command of the grammar.

    Just spend one evening to map it out, what I did, was simply place all the russian cases on a chart, what they mean, and what the endings become…both plural and singular. I did this for nouns and adjectives.

    Then I spent an evening reading a book. I’ve already gotten where I can read fairly well…amazingly enough without ever doing this before (I don’t recommend my method, its far too slow a way too learn).

    To my surprise, suddenly the choices were making sense. Take a movie title like ?????? ? ??????? You cannot understand this title by context, if there is no context and all you have is the title. Is it letter in america, or letter to america? And if it is ‘letter to America’ where is the verb of motion?

    Well, after mapping it all out, obviously the accusative case, implies a verb of motion. It makes sense, a letter travels.

    I thought this was great…why didn’t I just spend one little day on this.

    However, this ‘learning about’ a language in one hour, is not the same as being able to speak a language, which will still take one year of immersion, or 5 to 10 years of traditional study (if you cannot get immersion possibility).

    Figuring out how to allow someone without immersion opportunities to also master a language within a year….would be most helpful.

  2. Je ne connais pas l’anglais et je voudrais l’apprendre ainsi que l’allemand est -il possible d’avoir la traduction de ce site?

  3. This may have been said already but another very helpful technique I’ve found for many of the latin-based languages helped immensely with my Spanish, and I’ve applied it since to Italian, French, and Portugese.

    Focus on committing to memory conjugations at first, in only 2 tenses. Present and Past. For future, simply conjugate the infinitive ‘to go’, and use the infinitive. Take for example the phrase “I shall speak”. Traditionally this would be the future first person conjugation “hablaré”. No no no. If you said this in Mexico, it would be very clear you were not a native speaker. Instead, conjugate “to go”, “ir”, and add the infinitive for “to speak”, or “hablar”. The result is “voy a hablar”, or the equivalent of “I am going to speak”. Bang, done.

    My note on learning only past will have some of you saying “But the past imperfect is the correct tense in many cases.” And you’re right. It’s the difference between relaying a story to someone and saying “I was speaking to my son…” and “I spoke to my son…” The first is the past imperfect and the right tense. The second is the past simple and is not… BUT PEOPLE WILL UNDERSTAND YOU and you get off the ground in the language that much faster.

    Learn Present simple, and Past simple, and for future conjugate ‘to go’ and use the infinitive verb.

    I’ve used techniques like these to become fluent in Spanish in 2.5 months. The other languages came easier once the patterns are recognized.

    Hope this helps!

  4. Hi sir/madam,

    Im Christine 22 years of age and a registered nurse here in the Philippines. I enrolled myself into a norwegian class here in my native land but I have found it difficult to learn. Can you give me the sites where I can learn the language faster and easier? I am very eager to learn so I can work in Norway. Please help about this matter. Thank you and have a good day!

  5. Great website. Does this apply to Latin? I am learning it at the moment and it helped me a little bit to learn the language. However, since Latin is an unspoken language, I think this technique may not apply to it. It is still very hard to learn Latin. (eventhough I can speak 4 languages). Nevertheless, your website is still great! Keep up the good work! Looking forward to the next updated book!

  6. I’m not sure about the 1 hour strategy …..

    I’m learning a new language and when I’m a bit busy ( but not too busy !) I would open winamp or last.fm with my favorite French songs and have the French lyrics in front of me and sometimes it helps to have also the translation. It’s very subtle and not demanding activity but subconsciously you still learning the language.

    So I created a small utility – “Sing and Study” to help me organize the whole process of having everything on the screen. The lyrics + finding the lyrics + translating them 🙂

    It’s free utility , install and enjoy .

  7. Quite an interesting article.

    For learning foreign languages, I highly recommend the “Pimsleur” and “Berlitz” courses. Basically with both there’s a lot of repitition done, which allows you to absorb commonly used words and phrases within a relatively short amount of time (I remember once reading somewhere that in most every language there are a 100 words that come up in about 90% of everyday conversation, so if you’re keen on learning a foreign language it’s important to learn these words, words and phrases such as

    “I,” “good,” “thank you,” “I want,” etc.).

    With both of the above-mentioned methods, one of the things I find helpful is that there’s much less of an emphasis on grammar than in others on the market. I think many get discouraged because of the gramar of a foreign language, which can seem quite daunting, but once you begin to recognize patters then the process of learning the foreign language becomes much easier.

    I also find that music is very helpful, as you get to learn a lot of simple phrases. I learned Portuguese mostly by listening to songs in the language (of course it helped that I grew up speaking Spanish, which is closely related, at home). I’m currently trying to learn Russian and have learned a lot by listening to (a lot of times in bed right before sleeping!) pop music in the language, and find that I’ve learned many words and phrases this way.

    And most important–don’t get discouraged! It’s not easy to learn a foreign language, but neither, in my opinion, is it as difficult as many may think it is.

  8. I’m curious, what other sentences have you used to help you in your deconstruction of languages? I’m trying to find out how to develop a career in linguistics, specifically gathering information from a wide array of languages and am looking for information on how to realize this dream of mine.

    Thanks.

    Tristan

  9. thanks for the article, it seems very useful. However, this ‘learning about’ a language in one hour, is not the same as being able to speak a language, which will still take one year of immersion, or 5 to 10 years of traditional study (if you cannot get immersion possibility).

    Thanks

    Mark Brown

  10. linguists studying chomsky, etc.

    anthropologists, etc. studying origins of language, etc.

    english professors studying deconstruction, etc.

    etc.

    same subject, right? what’s different about these groups, or approaches?

    maybe… it’s the language they speak. vocabulary.

    chomsky may be right that there is uni grammar. but that may be more to do with how people think. that is, how they communicate with “themselves”. in other words, how they “see the world”. the metaphors they employ. metaphors are built from language. deep structure (chomsky) may give clues to another person of one’s thinking, to one’s metaphors, to intent, to whatever you fancy to know about them, but….

    the anthropologists and their colleagues in “closely related fields” know (or should know) there’s a form of communication that predated language. it didn’t disappear when language evolved. we still use it.

    unlike language, and all the cognitive debate, it is (or at least we expect it to be) *transparent*. no ‘guesswork’ involved.

    it starts with an “e”.

    @mitch ronco – this is what would be ‘worth patenting’. going with the IP metaphor. the language patent holder would need a license. because (effective, or should i say ‘affective’) language uses this ‘other means of communication’.

    soon come

  11. The point that seems to be overlooked here is that all people learn differently.

    Is prescribing *one* way to learn the wisest or most effective course to take?

    An oversimplified example that illustrates this fact, i.e. that people learn differently, is the typical live lecture/home study options of many courses, be they language, exam preparation, etc.

    This is a very simplified example. I believe it goes much deeper than this. The more you know yourself the more you may understand how it is you learn. And it may not be the ‘prescribed ways’ that you have been exposed to, whether you’re earning a degree at an Ivy League university or studying a language on your own or… the list is endless.

    I undertand it’s very difficult to go outside the prescribed methods. Especially if you are in academia.

    I sometimes see a tremendous amout of effort placed by students in what amounts to learning someone else’s learning technique. This is wholly apart from learning the subject matter. But they are only doing what they are told to you, and indeed compelled to do. Some adjust to the system of learning, some do not. Again, this is wholly apart from the subject matter.

    The point is that the system is not what’s important. Learning the subject matter is what’s important.

    I advise people to aim, at all points along the path, to understand how they learn. Pay attention to what works. Forget about what doesn’t work, no matter what anyone tells you. Develop your *own* system, tailored by you, for you.

  12. I like your ideas about learning a language. That’s a smart way to do it.

    What languages do you think would be easiest for me?

    I am fluent in english(native language) and spanish.

    Thanks for the tips!

    -Ryan

  13. Thanks for the site. I am working in China and need to learn the language (mandrian) yesterday. I will soon be visiting Japan and Korea. I have tried to learn languages all my life. I am now 47, not much has stuck. I am not dense just working up to 16 hours a day so I could use some assistance with the deconstruction of the above languages including English and/or American English. If you have another site or a book that would help me let me know. It has been a few years since high school English classes.

    I have already spent a fortune on programs that haven’t helped me much.

    My children want to learn different languages also so anyone that has a language deconstructed, please email me.

    coffeebreak61@yahoo.com please no spam.

  14. As a linguist and language teacher I’m very impressed with your grasp of the principles of language. I’m also interested by the method you propose – no beating round the bush with pedagogical niceties, just straight onto academic concepts. While I personally like this approach, my experience suggests that it would not be suitable for the majority of learners.

  15. And if you want to read Kanji, get Remembering the Kanji. I was able to learn 2000 Kanji in a month. Got a job translating for a computer company, now I am a freelance translator working from a virtual office.

  16. Hi Tim,

    While I didn’t get to read your article completely, I must say that while scanning through it just there it seemed to be really interesting and innovative and I shall be reading it over the weekend.

    It would be useful is someone could create a ‘dependency chart’ for native English speakers to suggest which languages to learn in what order. This could mitigate the risk for example of someone mixing up languages thinking that ‘Portuguese is just slower Spanish with a few different words’.

    ~~Shane H.

  17. Dear Tim,

    Would you be willing to share your Russian learning techniques in the future? I was planning to begin taking courses at Berkeley, but after reading your posts I’m going to try teaching myself first.

    I’m quite amazed by your Mandarin btw, can’t really hear an American accent – same with your Japanese, though it’s much easier to pronounce, I wouldn’t be able to tell you weren’t native just by listening.

    Thanks!

  18. This is great! I’m in the middle of expanding my Japanese vocabulary and have considered other languages (ie. Korean, re-vitalizing my Spanish, Hebrew, German, etc.) This is a great approach. I will keep this article in mind.

    Cheers.

    P.S. any websites on language learning (especially the ones mentioned) that are easy enough to use this approach? Cheers!

  19. Correct me if I am missing his point, but this is just an approach to how to start and choose a language, not a way to actually gain skills, right? There’s a reason some people take years of study to learn basics in another language and I don’t think it’s only because they forgot to spend 45 mins deconstructing it first.

    No offense to all the fans of this method, but take 60 mins to learn a new language before posting. I mean it’s only 60 mins.

    “How is it possible to become conversationally fluent in one of these languages in 2-12 months?” Fluent? Most people are not fluent in a second language (YES, I’m including Europeans). They might be very good, but fluent is an entirely different level of skill and understanding. In 2-12 months? I’ll take a wild stab and say that 2-12 months of intense immersion and hard work is how they do it.

    Sorry. I’m not meaning to complain. It just seems very disrespectful to say that people have wasted years of their lives trying to learn something because they didn’t have your silver bullet.

    It may be a great learning tool for anyone serious enough to sit down and really TRY to learn, but can you all at least agree to avoid jumping on the bandwagon of devaluing the life experience of some very smart people who have been practicing a new language in a foreign country for years until you’ve actually tested it?

  20. por favor é possivel indicar algo mais sobre como estudar outro idioma de forma facil.

    Tentei ler teu artigo mas com o tradutor do google.Pessimo ao entendi nada.

    aguardo resposta.

    na realidade gostaria de ser fluente no ingles, ja fiz varios cursos mas acho dificil ser fluente na lingua.Quero tambem o frances e o espanhol.

    Comprei teu livro e amei.

    beijos

    1. Mumei,

      I’ll save us some time — just watch “Trial by Fire”, the show I did with History Channel in Japan, and you’ll hear me speaking Japanese.

      Cheers,

      Tim

  21. The infinitive trick is dope!

    I started learning Spanish on my own and couldn’t stand going at the pace of instruction books. I wanted all the rules right there in front of me. So i created an excel spreadsheet, a worksheet for each part of speech, and put all the rules i could find at the top of the page. Then as i learn words, i add them to the spreadsheet, and write sentence examples for each language.

    This method has worked beautifully and in very short time i am able to decipher just about any Spanish sentence, and know what part of speech each word is despite not knowing the definitions.

    It’s all in the grammer in my opinion. thanks for touching on this point and giving me some shortcuts.

    To answer your question, if you were to undensify the post i’d def read.

  22. By the way,

    Here is a good multi level marketing strategy that i developed indirectly through reading your book. (nothing to do with language, sorry)

    (I call my good friend chuck)

    Me: “Hey chuck, you got $20”

    Ch: “ya”

    Me: “great, have it ready, because i am buying you a book. I can tell you to read it but you probably won’t get around to buying it. I am at the bookstore now. Can you have the $20 ready?”

    Ch: “I was planning on getting some guerilla marketing books”

    Me: “well, i’m getting you this book and your going to read it first”

    Ch: “Okay”

    This was the 4-hour workweek of course. The principle could apply to inexpensive MLM, if you believe in the product. Just tell the guy to get out his cash.

    Anyway, i have recently felt rather religious in dissemination of your book. Thanks for communicating that which i totally agree with, yet everyone seems to be ignorant of.

  23. Very good thoughts, but I’m left wondering how often people have such freedom to choose which languages they learn. Of course, they *can* do whatever they want, but I’d think more often the case is that someone is traveling/relocating to a new country, and they *have* to learn the language no matter what. But even so, your thoughts are still helpful, but more helpful for those who set their own agenda.

  24. Well this is certainly a new way to look at languages. Despite being a writer I have always had an issue with languages yet, can pick up swear words in many languages no problem. I shall study your method as there is a certain logic to picking a language to pirces to get at the source of it.

  25. Tim,

    Thank you for your work on languages, as well as body, fitness and health.

    I’ve recently discovered I have a half-sibling born and raised in Norway to a Norwegian mother! As such, I am planning a trip there to get to know my sibling and the country better. I’d love to use your methods to increase my effectiveness in learning Norwegian.

    I notice you have learnt Norwegian (and have a Scandinavian heritage) and was hoping you might point me in some useful directions in learning this fascinating language. Any notes on its deconstruction you would be happy to share would also be very useful. As for interesting topics: for me its all about sport, culture and the outdoors: skiing, hiking, environment, geology, the sagas. If any of these overlap with your interests and you’ve found good Norwegian material on them, please let me know.

    Any other people out there learning or teaching Norwegian, please get in touch!

    Many thanks,

    Ash

  26. Enjoyed the book; moving to Scotland for grad school. Can a VA help find, maybe help clean up essays, scholarships? Do you have a reference? Seems I could even use a VA to find housing? I’ve been discussing with a couple other readers of your book and thinking of ideas to get going on the internet bus. while in school; can this be done inexpensively? I noticed some of the prices out of my budget (e.g. researching hits on a name/URL, using a VA, making DVD’s, etc.)

    Thanks,

    Michael C

  27. Great Work!

    I came to similar conclusions after ‘relearning’ the structure of English and listening to the language tapes by Michel Thomas. He works on structure and leaves you to learn the vocabulary.

    I also found ‘marking out’ the sentence kinaesthetically and spacially also helped in the beginning..

    People WILL compliment you on your word salad BECAUSE you made the effort. The owner of the Jazz Club in BlissStrasse, Berlin loves to hear my attempts at ‘getting it wrong’ in order to getting it right.

    I hope to brush into you in Kolwitzstrasse sometime Tim!

  28. Tim,

    I noticed you had a note in the first image above that said “Dubai, 3 bedroom, $2000.

    I moved there from the United States 3 years ago to promote skateboarding. Would be stoked to show you around if you plan on coming.

    Hope all is well,

    Brad

  29. I just wanted to say that I find it so cool that a blog post can live so long and remain so lively. That’s testimony to how interesting and well-written it is.

    Neat stuff. Loved this article and of course “The 4-Hour Workweek.”

  30. Another view point. As per educational psychologists, the best way to master a language is to learn through a favourite subject of yours. That is what made the products of Espoir Technologies made a huge success. They have products like “Smarten Your English through Love & Romance”, “Smarten Your English through Success Secrets”, Smarten Your English through Movies” etc.

    Language is directly linked to your passion, isn’t it?

  31. Hey Tim,

    I’ve started Thaï from scratch, I’m gonna use your tips on languages.

    When I started Chinese with my book, I knew the name of 10 fruits by the first week, but couldn’t ask my way back home … Lets do it differently this time 🙂

  32. I am amazed that I have never heard of the GR system used to learn Mandarin. Whilst pinyin allows you to visualize the tones and is a good starting point to establish an awareness of the phonemics, GR naturally creates the tones when reading the word. How much simpler this would have made my endeavors to conquer the language!

  33. Hi Tim,

    This is my first time on your blog. I love your posts.

    How do you maintain and remember the language after you learn it? I learn quickly, but I also forget quickly.

    Thank you!

    Xixi

  34. I have just discovered my passion for learning languages. It is the first time I am trying to learn a language by myself. I found it pretty easy to get free materials over the internet, also to listen to native speakers. I think this helps a lot at the beginning… than in order to master the language I am sure you need real conversation.

    I am looking for tehniques and any material in order to improve my learning tehnique.

    I am fluent in romanian and hungarian, in italian (also venetian dialect) and english. I have some knowledge of german and french, but never really studied them, even if I can mostly understand them and can say a few simple phrases.

    I am learning swedish now. Many people say it is no point in learning this language but I have a good motivation and I enjoy learning it. I’ve started 10 days ago and try to learn something new every day.

  35. Hi!

    thanks for this

    I’m 16 and teaching myself Korean, its really annoying not being able to spend as much time as i would like and require to study korean as i also have my school subjects to study for too… so i’m assuming it will take my some time to even get to intermediate level!

    but thank you very much this does help

    thanks

    <3

  36. The title of this post is a bit misleading, but i agree with your conclusion.

    What i advice everybody:

    – Learn English and learn it well. It has the most native speakers and used as a “lengua franca” in most of the world. A lot of documents, websites, … only come in English, … the reasons are endless.

    – Next to that, pick a language that’s useful and interesting to you. Don’t start Japanese one sunday just cause you think it sounds cool. Motivation is the biggest factor why people succeed or fail.

  37. excellent article. I did the same thing with Arabic script and deconstructed the alphabet from written material, and a library copy of Rosetta Stone (as my… um… rosetta stone).

    RE: your question:

    No, this is not too dense. More material like this would be great.

  38. Hi Tim

    I was wondering what the best method was for learning Korean. As you stated above, it doesn’t follow the auxilliary verb pattern that many European languages do. It is making studying Korean a pain in the arse.

    Nina

  39. Can somebody delete this fake “linguist” Steve Kaufmann from here?! I’ve tried his idiotic method and it doesn’t work at all!

    Mr.Kaufmann please stop annoying the people here and let us read some useful info.

  40. Hey Tim,

    Great post. What books would you recommend for learning Korean? I am also trying to learn piano and get in shape in the process so I have a lot on my plate. Do you suggest that I pick up some Korean piano books–killing two birds with one stone?

    Thank you for this wonderful post.

  41. Hi!

    That was a really interesting article. Though I must say, you seem to have been very unlucky in your choice of Arabic speaker. The Arabic phrases you “deconstructed” were mostly inaccurate, or spelled wrong.

    You see, the thing about Arabic is, no one really speaks it. Really. Arabs speak their own dialects of the language (sometimes more mutually unintelligible than some Romance languages), which are *not* standardized, but we study a… version, you could say, of Arabic that is called ??????? ?????? (al-3arabiyya al-fus7aa) at school. This is called Classical Arabic or Modern Standard Arabic in English. This is the kind of Arabic the Quran (or, more accurately, al-8ur2aan) was written in, and the one you hear on TV, read in newspapers, books, etc.

    So it’s basically the same case as an Italian being made to study Latin, to read and write in Latin, to watch TV in Latin, while having absolutely no way whatsoever of expressing himself in his native language in writing. Add to that the unbelievably convoluted intricacies of the Arabic language, and you end up with innumerable grammatical and orthographic mistakes everywhere, from official newspapers to religious chants.

    Fus7aa Arabic is a beautiful, beautiful language, with an inherent musicality and an elaborate grammatical system that facilitates incredible brevity and eloquence. It is, however, *not* the native language of Arabs, so they tend to write very poorly and ungrammatically in it (most of the time). But really, who can blame them?

    Anyway, I would just like to point out a few serious errors in the sentences you deconstructed:

    “I eat the apple.” Would be:

    ????? ???????????

    Transliteration: Aakulu ‘t-tuffaa7ata. (do not pronounce the ‘. It just marks an absent alif (moon and sun letters; long story))

    N.B.: The vowel “Aa” in “Aakulu” is different from the vowel used in the original sentence. It is called “madda”, and it is long and extended, while the normal “alif” of the original has a staccato sound to it.

    The numbers represent Arabic sounds impossible to accurately transcribe using Latin letters. For more information on these, read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabic_transliteration#Online

    The original literally means: “You (feminine) ate the apple.” It is misspelled though; there should not be a yaa2 in “akalti”, but a kasra.

    Dhabee7a more literally translates to “kill”, as in “The lion proceeded to devour his kill.” A better word would be “la7m”. This is the generic word for “meat”.

    If you’re interested in learning more about this elegant and poetic language, do email me. However, if you merely want to communicate with Arabs, I’d suggest learning one of the myriad Arabic dialects spoken today in the Arab world. Egyptian Arabic would be good, since almost everyone understands it, but it sounds slightly… umm, rough and sort of, crude. Lebanese Arabic is much sexier, and extremely fun to speak.

    Anyway, hope that helped, and good luck learning Arabic!

  42. Interesting explanation of modern Arabic, Sofian Rahmani. Could you comment further, on the following? I ask, because I suspect that the magnitude of effort required to learn Arabic has been underestimated in the west. Further, westerners do not understand that most Arabs use Arabic principally as a written form of communication, but speak face to face in local languages, that are usually mutually unintelligible with each other, as well as Arabic. Arabic is nowhere near an international language in the sense that English is. A speaker of English can easily communicate in spoken or written form, with any American, Canadian, or Australian, as well as the English, the Scots, Irish and most Scandinavians. Not to forget a more limited ability to communicate with the Philippines, Singapore, and other oriental countries were English is used as a second language.

    On the other hand, a knowledge of Arabic might not give someone a similar capability to understand all written and spoken communications, across the entire Arab world.

    If I can believe what I read in the history books, Latin served the same purpose in Europe, before modern languages emerged, after the year 1500 A.D., approximately. At that period in history, the printing press and the Protestant Reformation led to the development of national languages, from local languages. For example, Italian developed from the regional language of the city of Florence, not Rome.

    So… at one time, in the distant past, your hypothetical example of an Italian needing to learn Latin was actual fact. Further, before the year 1500 A.D., the principal way Christian scholars and clergymen could communicate, across the vast territory of Christendom, was to learn to read and write Latin.

    To give a factual example, by about 1600, English was established as a national language, through the works of Shakespeare and others. However, as late as 1687, Sir Isaac Newton published his universal theory of gravitation in Latin, not English, doubtlessly for the widest distribution of his ideas.

    On the other hand, I wonder how often Latin was actually spoken, in face to face conversations, outside of the Pope’s territory. I doubt that Isaac Newton actually spoke Latin in a face to face conversation, but I cannot find any information on that.

    You mentioned that Modern Standard Arabic is rarely spoken, out loud. When Arabs speak, face to face, do they usually use a local language, their primary language, learned from their parents? Is that the case?

    But today, in the Islamic world, I gather that Arabic does serve as a common language, permitting communication across a wide territory. But as you pointed out, Modern Standard Arabic is very difficult, leading Arabs to many mistakes and confusion in printed media.

    I ask, from the standpoint of learning Modern Standard Arabic. In the west, I suspect that the difficulty of teaching and learning Arabic has been underestimated. It just ain’t as easy as learning to speak French, Italian, or German, for example, languages with relatively clear and standardized styles of speaking and writing, and a large population that uses the language for both spoken and written communication.

    Please explain further, if you can, concerning that mysterious language, Arabic. Is Modern Standard Arabic used in a similar manner, as was Latin, some 600 years ago? Instead of the broader manner in which English is used, in the 21st century?

  43. How are you, Tim?

    Please delete my post of 22Feb. My 25Feb revision got to the point, faster, and with more clarity. Believe it or not! LOL.

    Casey

  44. I also found the following sentences to be helpful:

    * I should have/would have done something (for conditional)

    * If I were a rich man (for subjunctives)

    Also the thing that helped me the MOST in achieving fluency was filling notebook after notebook with conjugations. When verb forms are available to the brain and tongue on demand it adds a whole new dimension to fluency.

  45. Casey,

    The amount of effort required to learn Arabic is not really that much different from that required to learn another case-intensive language, such as German. Of course, for native English speakers, learning German would be much easier since both languages are Germanic, and since both share the same alphabet. Here, this might be of interest:

    http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/e/languages/german/the-awful-german-language.html

    Now the trickiest thing about Arabic is the “harakaat”, or the diacritic marks. These are not written, most of the time, and when learners try to read unmarked text (and even native speakers), it is *extremely* difficult to get them all right. Consider this:

    I see the man.

    (Anaa) 2ara ‘r-rajula. (my note about transliteration in the previous post applies here)

    (Anaa) –> I. This is optional (like in Spanish) and sounds quite odd if used.

    2ara –> imperfective first-person singular form of triliteral root ra-alif-ya

    ‘r-rajula –> the man. Notice how the “a” in “al” (the definite article) assimilates into the vowel preceding it, and how the “l” is not pronounced, but rather the consonant following it is geminated (sun and moon letters). And notice how the final vowel is “a”.

    Now let’s flip the roles:

    The man sees me.

    Ar-rajulu yaraanee.

    Notice how the root ra-alif-ya is conjugated. Conjugation is extremely complex in Arabic and I have encountered many, many Arabs (including a few teachers) who mixed up their masculine and feminine verb conjugations.

    Okay, now notice how the final vowel in “Ar-rajulu” is “u”. Now this may be extremely frustrating for learners since there’s absolutely no way of knowing which case-ending to use (or to assume is being used when you’re reading a text) unless you analyze the position of the word in the sentence carefully. The example I gave is rather straightforward, but sometimes it can get unbelievably complicated.

    So yes, Arabic grammar is *extremely* difficult to learn, but it’s not really much more difficult than, say, Finnish or Japanese. (Finnish grammar is devilish!!)

    That aside, I don’t think it would really be accurate to say that Arabs speak mutually-unintelligible “local languages” among themselves. An analogy might be drawn within the Anglosphere, where everyone can speak, understand and write in standard English, but the dialects different people speak may sometimes be mutually unintelligible. Of course, it’s much more… err, polarized, so to speak, in the Arab world, but when was the last time you had any clue what the heck Sean Paul was singing about? Some Scottish sitcoms are even subtitled when broadcast on American TV. Though you wouldn’t say that they’re speaking a different language, would you? And you could always communicate with them using Standard English (unless they’re really uneducated). This might be of interest:

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1711

    So basically, this is what it’s like in the Arab World:

    Everyone understands everyone else most of the time but most Arabs have a hard time trying to understand Maghrebi (Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan) Arabic. Communication is possible most of the time among educated speakers (though, interestingly, I was attending a lecture about Ottoman art last year—given in Arabic—and I was surprised to see that after the lecture was over, all the Arabs that were there: Syrians, Iraqis, Moroccans, Lebanese… they were all speaking with each other in French!! I think that’s because French would allow them to express themselves more freely in intellectual terms and using Classical Arabic would simply be too cumbersome. Dialectal Arabic in this case is hopeless).

    So basically, it boils down to this:

    Advantages of learning Classical Arabic:

    – you get to read written Arabic

    – communication is possible 90% of the time, unless the person you’re speaking to is uneducated

    – everyone understands it, but not everyone can speak it fluently

    – you can convey more complex concepts

    – lots of learning resources (thanks to the huge worldwide Muslim community)

    Disadvantages:

    – frustratingly difficult to learn

    – you would not understand dialectal Arabic. This means you won’t understand what people say amongst themselves, you won’t understand most songs, and you won’t understand what is being said on certain TV and radio channels

    Advantages of learning one of the many dialects of Arabic:

    – you’d be able to communicate with the speakers of that dialect more freely

    – you’d be able to understand songs and common people’s conversations

    – if you learn Egyptian or Lebanese Arabic, everyone should be able to understand you (though you might have a tough time trying to understand others)

    – they’re much, much, much, much, much (this cannot be overstated) easier than Classical Arabic

    Disadvantages:

    – written Arabic would be all but inaccessible to you. (though you could learn both Classical Arabic and one of the dialects, and many people do this)

    – understanding other Arabs might be pretty hard at times

    – you can’t write it down; there’s no standardized orthographic system. This means fewer resources for learning

    Now, if you wish to live in the Arab World, you *should* learn Arabic, since not that many people speak English or French, and those that do may not be sufficiently proficient in the language for you to be able to have meaningful and deep conversations with. And, if you learn Classical Arabic, I daresay that 90% of the time, you’ll have very little trouble communicating with Arabs, no matter where they come from. Thanks to the pan-Arab policies our governments adopt, people are exposed to CA a lot, and communication shouldn’t really be all that difficult. A bit awkward at first, perhaps, but for all intents and purposes, assuming you’re good enough at the language, communication is possible with most (80-90%) Arabs.

    When Arabs speak with each other, they usually use their own dialect, which most of the time is understood by the other person. EXCEPT Maghrebi Arabs, such as myself, who quite often happen to find themselves in the precarious situation of having to speak Arabic with a person can’t speak French or English, and who thinks they can’t speak Arabic at all and who doesn’t understand their dialect (it’s really frustrating how most Arabs actually believe Maghrebi Arabs speak “Frenchified” Arabic or Berber, and how they don’t realize that the only reason we understand them is because of their popular TV shows, not because their dialects are any more “Arabic” than ours are).

    So when we DO speak with other Arabs, we either use our own dialect just to spite them, or try to imitate their dialect (conversations of this sort are hilarious at times) or, for Maghrebis who live in the Gulf, use a form of Levantine Arabic that pretty much everyone understands. I’ve been mistaken for a Lebanese many a time, and I’m starting to think I should just speak in my own Eastern Algerian dialect whether or not people understand it, as a sort of cultural statement.

    As for your last question, well, that’s kind of hard to answer. I’d say Arabic neither acts as a liturgical, written language that no one speaks (like Latin in the 15th Century), nor as a spoken language with certain mutually-unintelligible dialects (like English). It’s somewhere in between.

    I think, though, that the really great thing about learning Arabic is being able to read and listen to poetry in the language. Arabic is known for its poetry that can move men to tears even if they don’t understand what is being said. There’s just something about the structure of Arabic that makes it so… emotional, so emphatic. Research it.

    Anyway, hope this helped!

  46. Your ideas are very interesting, and I’d really like to learn more. I’ve been playing around with something similar to this to learn Spanish and French…basically learning the grammar of the languages first, because vocabulary comes pretty easy after that, but you’re lightyears beyond where I am. I’d be VERY interested if you chose to elaborate on your methods and techniques…in a new book or learning product perhaps? 🙂

    Thanks for “The Four Hour Work Week”. Although I don’t really plan to ever work only 4 hours per week, your book has helped me to see a lot of possibilities I may have otherwise missed, and helped me to put into words an idea that has nagged at me for almost 15 years – the idea of making a living as an entrpreneur. By that, I meant learning about and putting into practice those things that REALLY interest me, and by the way, making a few bucks while I’m at it. I tried explaining this once to someone, and that person thought that I was saying that I didn’t want to “hold down a job” and “work for a living”. In a sense I suppose that person was right, But, while it’s true that I don’t want to “hold down a job” or “work for a living” in the futile, meaningless sense that most people mean it, I actually LOVE working, which is why I doubt I’ll ever have a four hour work week. What your book has done is to help me see how I can spend my work hours doing things that actually MEAN something, to me, and to others as well. Thank you for that.

  47. It looks very interesting. A couple of years ago I tried to learn English in two months but I failed. Probably because I didn’t know how to do this 🙂 I was really frustrated. Later I realized that I used the old school methods to learn single words and it was a big obstacle. I tried to guess how to say this or that word in English. That was real nightmare 🙂

  48. Hi, I found this page very interesting!

    Being born in an english-speaking country despite being a native Macedonian speaker. I started Spanish this year and we were comparing the different forms of ‘the’ (el, la) to other languages. I was asked what the word for ‘the’ was in Macedonian, I had to repeat phrases such as the chair and the apple before I realised like Russian, there isn’t one but instead is represented as a suffix depending if on its size, associated gender, possesion etc.

    Your post helped me understand grammar in languages which I have never fully understand (only today did I find out what a adverb, pronoun or a adjective is)

    Thanks!

    After star

  49. Tim,

    Great post -as usual!- I speak Spanish as my mother tongue -I’m from Argentina, though I live in Barcelona- and I *MUST* learn Italian in one month. Is there any good book that you would recommend me?

    Thank you so much for the book and the blog! I’m getting the new version as soon as I got my next payment! 🙂 -The old edition is now with my friends, who loved it so much that they won’t give me it back to me- 🙂

    Take care,

    /m@cs

  50. Hey Tim,

    just briefly, I’ve just begun learning Mandarin and have spent a considerable amount of time searching for a good learning tool to approach the Gwoyeu Romatzyh method. What is your recommendation as to the best method to learn GR? The internet has proven illusive in giving me anything significantly easy to identify with and understand.

    And as you hear from everybody else, the blog and book is simply fantastic. Looking forward to hearing from you!

    All the best,

    Ryan

  51. As a long-standing lover of grammar (French, English, spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Hindi, Punjabi, medieval Punjabi ) I agree with you up to a point. It is invaluable to get a quick overview of the general system. It would work better in Hindi than in Mandarin. Word-order rules are more fixed and systematic. In Mandarin it would be hard to induce the difference between:ta zài zhu?zi shang tiào and t? tiào zài zhu?zi shang. I also think that the semantic difference between rén lái le and lái le rén le would be awfully tough to get. Things like coverb use and adjectival verbs are also very alien to westernerss. Word order has such vastly different criteria and rules that deconstruction would be very tough without guidance.

    @Tim

    I would use standard pinyin. FInding materials, online dictionaries will be very difficult with any other system. Google translate tool and all internet web translate tools use the same official Chinese Pinyin. Once you break the code and understand the equivalence, it is extremely efficient and systematic. The tonal accents are highly convenient and there are many free online tools that will help you type if you need to write.

    Start learning characters at the same time, you’ll be glad you did!. Use Pinyin to really get the sounds, learn basic vocab fast and decipher characters.

  52. I don’t quite see how this post tells anyone how to learn in one hour? It seems vague.

    It would be great if there was something written that said one should learn a, then b, then c, to memorize this and that – so that it’s not just a leap in the dark all the time.

  53. Hi there!

    I find your way of learning languages very interesting, I am a teacher and a learner of languages and it fascinates me! Especially the fact that you focus on the most used, frequent words of a language is very useful!

    I saw you first in your TED speech, where you talk about how the table of 1000 Kanji characters helped you learn Japanese. I am really interested in learning Japanese, but could you explain more exactly how you used the Kanji? Did you just repeat the symbols over and over again? Can anyone else tell me how to master this language and their ortography in “Ferris Style”? I’d really appreciate it!

  54. Hello Tim,

    Thank you for your ideas. They get me on my track. I do sense that what you have given is only the bare skeleton of your process. And I do suspect that the time you suggest for the learning is very shortened from what it will really take, although I do believe that you will save a lot of time.

    But what I think you missed or have not got to yet on this page, is in my mind a major step; get the list of the most commonly used words/ ideas for 1. your own language, 2. the general average of languages, 3. the language you are working on. – And then learn them as the most urgent words! Well learn the ones of top level urgency first, and then the next level urgency, and the next and so on.

    I suppose that this is a step after the above steps, and in that case, great. And since I came from Swedish, with a natural love for, even if ignorance of Finnish, which I have only touched on learning, now I can use this developed idea for that, because I am sure that I still haven’t covered those words of urgency.

    By the way, when you learn Finnish you realize that cases is only an attached form of prepositions (/postfixings). (Prepositions in all languages are very hard to learn to accurately use.) So what is the problem with cases, well in Finnish they have a complicated sound harmony system, which is not just spoken as in English but written as well (in English t becomes d between vowels, in Finnish k disappears altogether, and much more). The complications of cases in German (and probably Russian) is that being a form of preposition, the language(/s) do/es/n’t need the cases any more, so the cases become like the Spots on a peacocks tail, mainly just something fancy, and complex for no reason.

    So the sound harmony is what complicates cases/affixed post positions in Finnish, and unnecessary decoration is what complicates the cases in German (and probably Russian)

    But somehow prepositions are also very complex, in their meanings, so I suspect that this is an element that adds to the complexity of cases, as in you cannot always be sure which case to use, of 20 or more.

    If life were only as simple as Papua New Guinea pidgin, with two prepositions, long and blong (the first more abstract and the second more concrete).

  55. I think the more important question is not how difficult a language will be to learn but rather why do you want to learn it? Will you use it? If you are planning a trip to Japan, it makes no sense to start learning Spanish no matter how much easier it might be.

  56. language as sport, eh?

    then I’m wrestling with portuguese (because I married a brasileira) and it’s undefeated.

    but with your helpful info, maybe I can get a takedown and score some points.

    muito obrigado!

  57. Hello Duff, I wish you luck and energy. You can probably get a lot out of Tim’s ideas, but the most you will get anything out of on your way to command of the Portuguese language is honest and systematic work and effort.

    Vocabulary is the biggest mountain in any language, automatic vocabulary. If you learn 10 words a day, or 50 a week, or 200 a month, you will have 1200 in a year, You will have 10000 in 5 years, – yes 6000 plus 4000 because the help from your own language must be included when you know by the language system how to convert many of them correctly. From then you would be fluent, but still, if sensible, learning words at the same rate.

    List any word that you come across that obstructs your understanding into a list called “to learn, Chose 15 for each day, and learn at least ten, both ways as immediate response and correct spelling. List those ten in a list of “to revise” and cross them from your list of “to learn”, Every day you should pick 15 from your “to learn” to work on, and then you need a revision approach.

    If the first revision happens at an interval of 1 unit of time, then the second revision has to happen at least at an interval 7 such units of time. Otherwise you forget it. I would work on 5 times. And split the day up into 5 segments for 5 revisions of the items you learned today, Then I would revise them once tomorrow and once in a week (not 5 days), once in a month (not 25 days or 5 weeks) and once in half a year (not 5 months), and once in 1 year, and once in 5 years and then forget it. The revision obviously happens whenever you use a word in speech or thinking, so in the start your revisions have to be more spot on, but later when you know you know it, ….

    Creating a revision system that works systematically that way can probably be done by numbers; i.e. every word labelled with a number, representing next revision. You could have a number of books with a vocabulary for a particular interval before revision.

    I’m not clear on exactly how, but Start religiously with the (15, down to) 10 words per day and work on not forgetting the words by revising them, in a developing system, starting with a number of revisions of the day’s ten words and with the gradually more space out revisions for the others. Today’s words need (5) revisions today, yesterday’s words need 1 revision today, the words from last week on this day needs 1 revision, the words from last month on this date needs 1 revision, and the words from exactly 6 months ago needs one revision and the words from 2 to 5 years ago need one revision. This means that every day you learn 10 words, and revise 10×5+60 words every day. So once you have learned your words, you revise a total of 110 words, which won’t be hard because on the second run through you will have them, because you already really know them.

    Spend all your free time on it, because it is fun after the event, and it is your future! Even if your Brasileira decides to walk; even then it will be your future, because of the things you will be able to do with it. Make it, not “her language”, but “YOUR language”. I still know dutch from having learned it from my Dutch-Australian now ex-wife, and it is MY language, the only way to be. She learned a lot of Danish from me, and used it in visiting Denmark.

    Speak it as much as you can with her, and if she corrects you, which she won’t much, usually, take it in if it suits or not if it doesn’t, and get on with your own learning.

    Tell me I talk too much. But that is how I now can surf the web in Espanish. I have books and books of spanish vocabulary. Also I have done a lot of listening, and whatever words you are learning do not have to be tied to the items you are reading or listening to, because the words crop up, absolutely. Learn which ever word was a problem, and it will turn up again! for you to be able to apply your knowledge.

    Oh well I think I talk too much so I’ll stop. But I wish you well and just zest for it which you only get by getting stuck into it. Muy bién, créo que no acabo nunca de hablar, y por eso, ahora basta. ¡Fuerte! Cecilio.

  58. Hello Stefan, re your article nov 14th, 2007.

    No, No suggestions. They do not exist. People do not waste their time on halfhearted language learning. To learn a language you jump in boots and all, or you don’t. Then you either drop it or keep jumping in. Teachers and course makers of other kinds ONLY worry about those who would jump in boots and all because that is what they assume in a learner. Vocabulary is your task, your mountain. The grammatical structures and pronunciation, as whispy as clouds, are so minimal in the task of learning a language that nobody would create a course book in solely the structures and in ENGLISH for another language?

    Other than ME of course, I suggest you read especially Steve Kaufmann’s comments. He seems to know it right. I waffle and carry on unsystematically, but he knows, and seems to be able to explain!

    He mentions listening, vocabulary and fun. I can’t help thinking that he also would have mentioned somewhere to hear the language all day everyday if at all possible. VOCABULARY. And revise it. And revise it. And revise it. And revise it. That is the only way. The structure happens nearly by itself. That’s how kids get it right. They just learn words! The rest happens …

  59. To Benson Wallace, March 14th 2008:

    Will Your Spanish interfere with your learning of Portuguese? Yes and no, but I agree with Steve Kaufmann, that Spanish becomes your entry point to the Romance world…. I learned Spanish so that I could read it, and vaguely follow the news in Spanish, not much better, but I felt good about my ability. Then I watched and collected VHS tapes of Portuguese speaking soap operas, and finally, through my Spanish, got the gist of what they were saying with all those strange sounds. So with simply having watched a lot of Portuguese language soaps, and having learned Spanish much more thoroughly, I have here read and comprehended fully a number of articles in Spanish and Portuguese, as well as in my earlier French.

    Portuguese sounds so different that you will never mix it up with Spanish. It’s probably like my Danish and Swedish, around the table at a summer job, I spoke Danish to my boss and Swedish to his wife, at an extreme switch rate. It was no problem even if many would consider the closeness of those two languages terribly confusing. To me it was the sound, as if you sing country music or the blues or jazz. It is indeed the same between Spanish and Portuguese, not to mention a similar difference to French and to Italian. Italian singsongs and dances around, Spanish has its feet on the ground, Portuguese whines and twists and nazalizes, French is neat and formal with its nazalization. They are all so beautifully different that, NO, you will not mix them.

    Cecil

  60. When I worked in Elizabeth, NJ, where there’s a large population of Portuguese speaking people, I learned Portuguese in 2 months. I spent 2 years in Germany and I learned the language fairly well. So I speak Spanish, English, Portuguese, and German–but I am afraid to try a language with a different alphabet. Maybe I’ll give it a try and deconstruct it first.

  61. I love these articles. Please write more. You also said you would do an extensive verb post, “acquiring vocabulary is a simple process of proper spaced repetition, which will be the subject of a dedicated future post.”

  62. Here’s my contribution, as a native French speaker.

    The apple is red. La pomme est rouge.

    It is John’s apple. C’est la pomme de John.

    I give John the apple. Je donne la pomme à John.

    We give him the apple. Nous lui donnons la pomme.

    He gives it to John. Il la donne à John.

    She gives it to him. Elle la lui donne.

    I must give it to him. Je dois la lui donner.

    I want to give it to her. Je veux la lui donner.

      1. De rien. Si tu as besoin d’aide ou tu as d’autres phrases à traduire, tu peux me contacter.

    1. Thanks! I’m learning French and tried to translate using Google, which didn’t come out right. Your comment is spot on! This method really helps pull together concepts I’ve been learning; it’s simple and makes sense.

    2. Thank you!

      Currently, I only speak English, a smattering of Spanish and recently decided I’m going to learn Korean. After reading Tim’s article (which I LOVED) I started an Excel sheet with his sentences to which I will add new languages. I didn’t know enough French to do it so… Thank you!!!

      Next I will look to see if I can find that thesis he was talking about.

      Lori

      1. Thank you, Tim, for the articles!!! I just wanted to give feedback on your system that I applied to learning German and French. I’m not a linguist or bilingual from birth. I do think the fluency bit in your claim is overhyped (depends if you go by international standards as in the EU framework), but getting to the intermediate level with good pronunciation has been tested and achieved with your method. And I can sometimes even hear some different accents in the language.

        I hope the poster above me is doing well with her studies in Korean! I wanted to point out though, she might have missed one of the points of Tim’s article. Korean, for example, is tempting because it’s very easy in terms of reading/writing, but when you do a bit of research, the phonemes are very very difficult for non-Koreans to hear. The honorifics and verb conjugations are also quite complicated relative to English. Japanese pronunciation is much purer and easier to hear. The grammar is not particularly complicated (just a bit different at first), and the number of grammar constructs/vocabulary used in daily conversation is rather repetitive. So if you’re a Westerner not living in the country where you’ll hear native speakers daily and you want an East Asian language, I recommend to try Japanese first. (And if you’re a man, try finding a Japanese boy as a language partner! 😛 Otherwise, practicing with a typical Japanese girl, you will sound much too cute and feminine in your speaking.) Reading takes a while.

        Anyways, back to me. Your system was great! I did not learn German in 3 months, but after 6 months of living in Germany and no classes, I could communicate comfortably, understand the basic themes of newspaper articles without a dictionary, and people were amazed because they can’t always hear where I am from unless they listen carefully for a while. Such as my blind linguist/speech coach not guessing where I was from. I took one weekend seminar on German pronunciation taught by her plus one actual German class, and 6 months later, I passed the TestDaF (equivalent to TOEFL) with 18/20 across all 4 sections. That puts me about the B2.2.-C1 level, or university-level studies, which takes about 5-6 years of formal classroom instruction to get there, and I did it in 14 months. (C2 is fluency or native speaker). It is still difficult to get the full nuances of complicated textbooks or literary German, and my brain poops out after too many hours speaking, so I can’t say I’m fluent yet.

        For French, I was able to achieve this level in 6 months, but that was because I had studied Latin in school and was more familiar with the vocabulary.

        I just wanted to add some things that helped me: a) prime myself in the sounds of a language like a child before hitting the books and b) learn not so much word-for-word translations but what I call “language chunks”. I at least sound less like a foreigner. For example, when I learned German, I first learned children’s songs before I seriously studied the grammar and watched dubbed episodes of TV shows or films whose plots I knew. You get a feeling for the natural rhythm and cadence of the language. For example, German has a tendency to drop in tone at the end of sentences or with certain types of verbs. Plus you know what words rhyme or at least ought to sound similar or helps you remember stuff like when a D becomes a T. You can choose any type of music really (rap really is good too for this). The advantage of children’s songs for beginners is that they’re repetitive and easy to stick in one’s head. After one year of German, I still struggle with noun cases and other advanced grammar. But people can’t tell where I come from based on my accent, and they don’t have a problem understanding me because of pronunciation. I took one class to make sure I had the grammar properly, and 6 months later, I took the TestDaF and scored 18/20 across the 4 sections.

        When I learned French, I realized the problem with the language wasn’t so much the grammar as the auditory part. Words aren’t so distinctly pronounced as in German. Plus there are a lot of “silent” sounds, despite the spelling (like aient, ait, ais, etc). So I learned the language by chunking. Instead of ” tu” “es”, I just learned “tues” as if it were one word.

        After learning these two representative languages of western Europe, it was easier to move on. Dutch is hard to speak because of the phonemes, but I can read a lot of it and if someone speaks slowly/clearly, I can understand a lot of it. I can read basic Norwegian and Danish. Spanish and Italian are pretty easy to read now. I have not touched into the Slavic languages at all.

        Just wanted to thank you again!