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


Deconstructing Arabic in 45 Minutes


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.


The Russian Phonetic Menu, and…


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?]


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

  1. Hi Tim,

    Could you please post your actual deconstructions of the language and the step by step process you personally used to learn them. I am interested primarily in Mandarin,

    Thank you very much in advance,


  2. I currently speak 4 languages, but only 3 well. Some your insights resonate with my experiences. I think I could have save myself a lot of trouble had I read this post before tackling the language I am currently studying. I think this might very well help me shore up it up as well as help me decide which to tackle next. Thank you for this excellent post.

  3. Hey there,

    Thank you very much for posting this, this kinda systematic unravellening approach is what I’ve been looking for. Japanese is significantly less daunting now, plus, must finally understand the rules of grammar…!


  4. This was very helpful in figuring out how to break down a language. Maybe not so much in the detailed perspective, but the basic need in order to get through a conversation with a native speaker or to be able to work with the language. I am hoping to see more of these articles soon.

  5. great article! one of my main life goals is to be a polyglot, and I want to learn asian languages first! do write more of these, that would be awesome.

    thank you so much for mentionning GR, I never know this existed before and just by looking at it for 2 minutes I could tell how it would make my life so much easier since I sruggle so much with tones.

  6. Hello Tim,

    I was wondering if you have, in the case of the German language, a list of the most common words you would suggest to a beginner to start learning.

    I’m talking about vocabulary and not only verbs.

    Thank you in advance for your answer and greetings from…Romania!


  7. Hi

    I speak arabic 🙂 and want to learn English And spanish so I would love to know more about how to learn languages.

    Q: Can I learn Karate without a trainer if yes pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease help me to learn it.


  8. How to cure type 2 diabetes with exercise and dieting 40 pounds

    in 4 months. Don’t overeat and you can enjoy the food you eat is essential in cutting down your calories when dining out. 4 Learning to become more relaxed about your trip in your ideal body permanently you will want to stop doing the same thing it becomes easier but I often continue to try to lose weight. What’s for dinner on the internet?

    If you do, it will make them more liked.

  9. Hi.

    I started high school not long ago, and I am learning how to take notes (on my own). I am quite intelligent… So don’t think I can’t do this, and all the heads of LOTE think I have a spark for languages. I just need some help. I decided that I will take notes in another language… BUT WHAT LANGUAGE?

    Which was the fastest for you?

    I love this article.



  10. I feel like languages deserve more time and attention than we give them now-a-days. There is so much to uncover about other cultures, history, and people by truly learning a new language. It’s also a fascinating challenge for our brains. I understand that there exists a necessity for basic communication when traveling for pleasure or business, when spending a limited amount of time in a foreign place. I don’t think that we should frame all language learning in this mindset, though. Instead, we should be encouraging kids (the younger the better) to invest in second and third language acquisition.

    While I do find value in the blogger encouraging language learning and providing a more accessible method to language acquisition, I think we’d be better off being more thorough with the process. I think my point is supported by the mistake made in Arabic in the first photo, “akalty,” which actually refers to “she ate the apple,” not I eat the apple which would be “ana a’koul.”

  11. What sentence examples do you use for place and location?

    I’m learning mandarin and find the time and place of things is quite confusing sometimes (particularly the location aspect).

    I’ve made a few structures of my own to experiment with but am curious what examples you regularly use.

    Thanks for your tips.

  12. Very interesting. Don’t know if I agree that after 1 hour you will be ‘conversationally fluent’… but then again that’s a subjective term. Also as people learn at different rates, but I think understanding the grammar and sounds of any language is a necessity to speak it. Don’t know anyone that has really picked up a language in any less than 3- 6 months.

  13. In German, the verb always comes second.

    I go

    Ich gehe

    However, some words do send a verb to the end, like with modal verbs

    I want to go

    Ich will gehen

    Or words like ,weil and ,dass which also have a comma before them.

    Then of course there’s wenn which introduces verb-comma-verb. Overall, German grammar isn’t so bad= there are fewer cases than in some languages, and it isn’t so abstract as English.

  14. This requires a lot of determination. Given the fact that most people, including me, have a very low attention span, this is not targeted towards the audience. I thought to myself, well, learning a new language would be nice, but when I saw how much things you need to know to actually deconstruct a language, I refrained from continuing.

    In a world of instant gratification and addiction to it, you need to start slow with easy sentences and enable a first experience of success. This is what your blog post is lacking. This applies to all of your other blog posts regarding language as well.

    You need to pave the path first and then lead.

  15. Hi Tim, great article I have to say. Let me know please is there a minimal time per day which to invest in new language learning ? I read on internet that 20-30 minutes daily, is much effective than 2 time 2 hours a week.

    Thank you for all.

  16. I was wondering if there are any reliable English-to-Spanish translators that you recommend? Thanks for sharing these awesome Superlearning principles.

  17. Learnt basic French in about six weeks then passed a job interview in French! (Most help for knowing how to de-construct, and practising with Duolingo)

    I’m interested in knowing more about Arabic though. I’m a native Arabic speaker, I’ve been studying Arabic on an advanced level for over a decade. I teach basic Arabic for native-English speakers and I still find it very difficult to get students to build their first sentence within the first FOUR WEEKS!!

    help? 🙁

    1. Majed, The language is not the grammar or the pronunciation! They are only window dressing. The mountain to pick up and move into your brain is the vocabulary. I realized this only after a few months of working hard on Swahili, being aproximately a European multilinguist, with fluent Danish Swedish and English, and Near fluent German, and half fluent Dutch French Spanish and Italian, and basic comprehension of Portuguese and Icelandic, and a smattering of stuff from many other languages. – All but the last point involve European languages, so even more to limit my language ability is in the western end of the Indoeuropean languages.

      So the mountain is the vocabulary! I know this by how hard it is to make sentences in Swahili. Hardly any of the words connect with what I know. I imagine that my work for learning Arabic would be nearly as great, because it is the other great branch of the languages of the white cultures, i.e. not the branch that I grew up with. THAT is the reason, nothing in the vocabulary of the new language to connect with the old one, the vocabulary is the mountain.

      Let no one tell you that the vocabulary happens by itself by “mere” exposure. As an adult, your original language/s keep filling your brain and usually your activities, so that there is little time to immerse in the new language. So if the language is as different to a westerner as Arabic or Swahili or Chinese, they have a MAJOR task. That is the problem your students face! How can you expect such students to express full spontaneous sentences after only four weeks, when 10 words a day is an effort and 100 words a day is probably impossible. Four weeks then is either 280 words or 2800 words, and none of them have been much used because the effort was spent simply learning their meanings. Don’t expect too much. But of course I believe that the only successful language teacher is the one who can pretend that they are learning the language at depth while they are only learning to regurgitate some phrases, together with a small amount of vocabulary.

  18. As was just said, language is mostly about words and understanding. It takes time to learn words, lots of time. It also takes time to get enough of a feel of the culture to understand what is being said. No shortcuts, just a lot of exposure, determination, and attentiveness.Once we can understand we can speak. When we have no words, do not understand, we cannot speak. No deconstructing, no hacks, just a lot of time and enthusiasm.

    Simple really, yet people forever look for the easy way.

  19. Hi Tim

    Love your work work – if you have deconstructed polish can you email me please:)

    I have made a start here:

    The apple is red – Jab?ko jest czerwone

    It is John’s apple – To jest jab?ko Jana

    I give John the apple – Ja daje jab?ko dla Jana

    We give him the apple – My dajemy mu jab?ko

    He gives it to John – On daje to dla Jana

    She gives it to him – Ona daje mu

    I must give it to him – Ja musz? da? mu

    I want to give it to her – Ja chc? da? jej

    1. Updated Polish

      The apple is red – Jab?ko jest czerwone

      It is John’s apple – To jest jab?ko Jana

      I give John the apple – Ja daje jab?ko dla Jana

      We give him the apple – My dajemy mu jab?ko

      He gives it to John – On daje to dla Jana

      She gives it to him – Ona daje mu to.

      I must give it to him – Ja musz? da? mu to.

      I want to give it to her – Ja chc? da? jej to.

  20. This was really helpful! Thanks so much! After years of studying Spanish off and on I recently went to Panama to meet my husbands family and was dismayed to discover I understood almost nothing. Now I’m trying to figure out the best way to learn Spanish the way it is actually spoken. Thanks for the help!

  21. I can also give some tips from mine experience how to learn faster than ussual and in more easy way. Here you can see my suggestions- Tekstu vertimas , I think that combination with these ones mentioned in article can make you a successful learner.

  22. that was great but i found it really hard to understand it. think of a child and how much you would break it down for them, i would love that 🙂 thanks

  23. Hi Tim,

    I speak a few languages well and have always gone with the inductive approach: I try to read, listen to radio, watch TV as fast as possible and as much as possible. My feeling is that this extensive approach to learning is great if you either have a lot of time on your hands or learn a language similar to one you already know quite well. You pick up the rules, e.g. the answers to the questions you write about here from the context. I might not even be able to consciously answer these questions in some languages I know really well, but I sure stick to the rules when speaking.

    I think, though, that your approach works better for adults with little time and when learning a language that is very different from any language you know.

    Great post!


  24. I don’t get to choose. I’m of Albanian origin but was never taught it. Native English speaker. Learning standard albanian (my family speaks NW Gheg but if I know standard Gheg is actually easier) and what with 5 noun cases, 6 verb moods (more tenses than english), no infinitive in the standard dialect (thankfully gheg has an infinive), etc.

    Still I prefer the deconstruction method. I am currently on a 6 week trip in Albanian, the first three weeks I am taking an intensive couse in standard albanian. Currently on week two and already know so much more but only enough for very basic convos if the speaker speaks slower than normal.

    It’s all fun though.

  25. I just moved to Finland and am beyond frustrated learning the language. The class I am in is an immersion course with no English support or textbook. I was beyond frustrated and ready to quit when I came across your TedTalk. I am from St. Louis and my education at best was mediocre even though I was a gifted student. While I enjoy this post and plan to follow it, it is a small class of it’s own. To be able to truly understand what you are saying I need to revisit and relearn the structure of language. I have taken a linguistics course but it was not enough to prepare me to look at a language as you have instructed above. So what should be 3 steps has become 7. This is not a complaint. Where schools fail the community must not and I see you as my much cooler, smarter and wealthier neighbor that likes to give suggestions and hints while walking his dog. If I keep walking along when you do I will continue to grow. Thank you for this post and all that you do. Uplift those that want to rise, one person at a time. I now have a list of things to learn in order to deconstruct the Finnish language. I want to see how much I can learn in one weekend. Stop watch starts now!

    Kiitos paljon ja onnea!


  26. “German has a lot of verb-at-the-end construction” isn’t exactly true. The prefixes and infinitives will go at the end. However, the verb always stays in the second position.

    1. Always? What about all the “Ich glaube dass….” like relative-clause constructions that have a verb at the end?

  27. you said you deconstructed Brazilian Portuguese. Is that or any other “desconstruct” available in you site?

  28. I created a challenge for my polyglot self. I propose to fluently learn a new language every month for this entire year of 2015. This past January I was able to brush up on my Finnish and Spanish, plus I am a native English speaker…so I am already 3 languages in. February is French month for me and already I am able to understand basic conversation just from several hours of self study and having Spanish as a basis. I will then put this to the test at the end of each month by going to a town or area which has an abundance of the speakers of the language I just learned. It’s my reward. 🙂 That’s how sick I am about languages.

  29. what’s the most effective app or program or .. whatever? to learn a foreign language? My boyfriend wants to learn spanish, I’m fluent in Spanish but my intention is not to be a perpetual translator. Now he’s committed… going to Argentina (my home town) in August. He wants to learn. I support it 150%!

  30. If you’re learning Mandarin Chinese, I would definitely go with standard pinyin used in the mainland. The system advocated in this article will actually prove a hindrance to progressing in the language and performing basic tasks like using a dictionary or reading street signs.

  31. I’ve been thinking about learning a new language and I’ve planned to follow something similar to the technique you describe. Actually, after spending so (too) many hours trying to learn languages I definitely agree with you – there’s no other method of learning a language efficiently than to try to understand it’s structure by translation. Thank you for the very useful tips!

  32. Hi Tim,

    Help a Gringo out! I’m struggling to learn Spanish (arguably one of the easiest languages to learn?). I’m a typical white dude, but I have a significant advantage in obtaining the language. My wife is Peruvian, and as a result, the primary language in my household (wife+3kids+never-ending family members) is Spanish.

    I understand a reasonable amount, but no where near what I should after six years of marriage.

    How can I capitalize on this unique advantage that I have and get this thing in the bag once and for all?



    1. What’s the best way/system to learn spanish? My boyfriend and I are traveling to Peru and Argentina in August 2015. He’s got 3 months to learn. I say “he” because I’m fluent in Spanish (native of argentina), but I don’t want to be a translator. 🙂 Please help!

  33. I’m a native US citizen currently living in China. I have been for a year and a half and I desperately want to learn Chinese. This article was immensely helpful. Thank you.

  34. Hi Tim,

    This is awesome, thank you!

    Can I ask you a favor?

    I speak Chinese and English. Currently,I am learning Japanese.

    Can you share more with us how did you deconstructure Japanese?

    Thank you!!



  35. Like Lincoln said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” If you want to learn a language, work out how language works first. I recommend reading How Language Works by Stephen Pinker. Its easy to read and explains the mechanics of grammar quite well.

    After reading this book, I figured that languages only really have about six kinds of rules that capture about 80-90% of what happens. Once you’ve worked them out things become a lot easier. I haven’t used them for a while, but from memory they are:

    1) Pronounciation

    2) Writing (what letters correspond to which sounds)

    3) Word order (SOV vs SVO, prepositions vs postpositions etc)

    4) Case marking

    5) Tense marking

    6) Plural marking

  36. Thanks for sharing My Happy Planet with us. I am going to sign up right after posting this comment. How many languages do you speak exactly Tim? I’ve been following your work for many years now and I’m a huge fan of what you are doing. You’re truly an inspiration! Your work motivates and encourages me to live better.


  37. This is a very interesting topic, I have read the part of deconstructing the language on the 4-hour Chef, but I do not recall the part about the phonetic part of deconstructing the language.

    Anyway in the paragraph of “Sound and Scripts” Tim said about the use of “IPA”. I am not aware of that term. Can somebody please help me?



  38. This is a great idea. But I’m gonna add that unless your impromptutor is fluent in English, context is really important for helping get an accurate translation. When I use this method, I’m going to organise the sentences into a logical sequence that helps communicate meaning.

    1. The apple is red.

    2. I give John the apple.

    3. It is John’s apple.

    4. He must give it to Jane.

    5. He gives it to her.

    6. She gives it us.

    7. I want to give it to him.

    8. We give him the apple.

  39. Thank you so much – would love to know what languages would make sense for me: I grew up with german, but also am very good at english, good spanish, quite well with french. Would love Chinese, Mandarin, Janpanese or Tibetan. With much appreciation from Switzerland – Sabina Marti

  40. I thought this article was a very straight forward and easy to read guide to the learning strategy you outlined in the 4 hour chef. Very practical oriented. I’m not sure if you’ve written more articles on that ‘selection’ etc learning process that EXEMPLIFY how it’s done but I will certainly be scanning the database. I’m currently trying to do the same thing for poker

  41. Would love to know how well you retain the languages after you’ve learnt them, without a recap?

    I love the idea of being able to quickly(ish) become passable at speaking & understanding another language. Would be great to learn Tagalog & eventually Japanese. But I think I’ll skip the Brazilian Portuguese for now. 😉

  42. As a linguist, this makes a great deal of sense to me. For those without the benefit of a solid foundation in grammatical principles, syntactic theory, or morphological analysis this method might be less than ideal. The real question is: what are the goals of the learner? What this method makes possible is a large amount of linguistic knowledge – familiarity with the structure of a language – meaning it is possible to know a great deal ABOUT a language while having essentially no communicative proficiency. This starts getting into the territory of what differentiates a linguist from a polyglot.

  43. Could you create a system around this that determines similarity between languages? Could lead to a cool app in which a user can enter his current language proficiencies and then see all other languages sorted by ease of learning. Then of course monetize with courses. 😉

  44. I am currently learning Russian. Does anyone know where I can find these images at a bit higher resolution. I would like to copy them into my own notes for practice.

  45. Is there anywhere we can get a copy of your Princeton thesis? As an experienced Japanese learner, I’d love to read the details of your research and how it particularly pertains to learning Japanese as a native English speaker.

  46. This was a great article! Thanks for sharing. A concise document with step by step instructions for deconstructing any language would be great. More language articles are also great. I tried registering on Technorati, but I couldn’t figure out where to do that on their site and the link in your post was broken.

  47. I used Tim’s language learning techniques for learning Spanish while living in Chile during 2013 and achieved remarkable conversational fluency very quickly. I have not quiet mastered French yet (mostly because I am around so many expats when I am there), but am hoping to achieve similar results as I move on to learning Russian to converse with my friends there this April.

  48. Love this approach, are there coaches to take people through this kind of methodology on a one to one basis, i would pay fpr that in a heartbeat

  49. This actually is a great way to deconstruct a language – brilliant! I think this is a great ‘hands on’ tool to help. Great job!

  50. At least with Japanese, you’re going to miss some weird nuances.

    With “She gives it to him”, your impulse as an English speaker is going to be to use “kanojo” for “she”, and you’ll winding up communicating “My girlfriend gives it to my boyfriend”.

    Pronouns don’t get a lot of use in Japanese. If “she” is named Natsuko and “he” is named Akira, a Japanese person would always say “Natsuko give it to Akira.”

    Similarly, if you translate “You” as “anata”, the person you’re speaking to will think you’re calling them something like “darling”.

    You’re also going to miss that “She gives it to me” and “I give it to her” use completely different verbs for “give”.

  51. Would like to contact you for examples of what you look for when viewing materials in respect to whether you will take a class or not for learning a new language. You mentioned this as one of the first things you look at so by what do you evaluate it? I am developing new curriculum and could use your insight.

  52. Great, thank you!! Glad it came up in the search 🙂 Although I’m often sceptical about your seemingly frantic approach to picking up new skills this was really thorough, as well as concise 🙂

  53. The semi nonsense he writes about spanish vs portuguese makes me lose faith in the trustwortiness of the rest he says.

  54. I’m currently trying to learn Italian. I don’t have a teacher or access to a person who speaks Italian. How should I get accurate translations?

  55. Great Article Tim, Guys any of you already deconstructed Chinese or Japanese? would be helpful for all of us o have it, Thanks so much!


  56. Tim! I recently became a voracious consumer of your Podcasts. I was wondering where we could see a copy of your “Grammar Graph” from the Tagalog episode of the TFX?

  57. Given your fluency in Japanese, is there any chance of releasing your work on learning the Japanese (including writing / reading) specifically?

    Could make a fantastic eBook 😉

  58. Nice post, Tim! I grew up in Russia, and wish I knew this early on, when I first faced studying abroad in high school with extremely poor English skills. That would’ve been a gold mine. Without really realizing it, I’ve kind of employed the same logic when studying other languages. Vocabulary is far one of the most difficult aspects, in my case, but luckily Russian has lots of cognates with Latin-based languages. Really enjoy your Podcast, with a little-bitty exception of rather lengthy ads. Just a friendly side note. Look forward to new episodes! 🙂

  59. Thanks for the post Tim.

    I am in Minsk for the summer leading a team of engineers for my company back in the states. I have found it very difficult to learn Russian while I am here. I think it’s related to me not breaking down the language and being lost in all the new letters and sounds.

    Your post was interesting but to me it felt like there wasn’t enough specific detail. Can you create a post for how your learned Russian? From 0-3 months with a detailed timeline? That would be immensely valuable and give everyone a specific example of how language learning can be done quickly.


  60. Wonderful tips! I am brazilian from São Paulo and I learned by myself, using Assimil, a little of english, german, dutch and russian. However, it took much time, more or less 4 months each language and I am a mediocre in all of them. But I can speak in these languages, I can read and write, and it’s the most important thing. Now I will use your tips to learn more languages in less time. Let’s see what happens.

    Thanks for all.

    Felipe Leite

  61. You’re efficient since INXS.What you did in music is a millions times more difficult than languages.BRAVO SIR TIM👍👍👍👍👍…

  62. Hi Tim, awesome post. Not a quick read by any means, but makes sense and it definitely shifts the prospective. Just curious, have you ever looked into Albanian?

  63. What a brilliant scientific approach to understanding a language. Have you handled Hindi?

    Would love to hear your take on it.

  64. Tim, I am learning Danish now. Any other tips? I have no option here since I moved to Copenhagen with my husband, had a baby and work here.

  65. Brilliant! I guess it could be dense for someone who’s not familiar with grammar, but luckily I am and it’s been a great inspiration. Thanks a lot.

  66. Thanks for this. Would you consider posting your own deconstruction exercises here? (I’m specifically interested in Mandarin)

    Also – feature request for the blog. I’d like to be able to filter comments to only see the author’s response (and possibly the comment being responded to)

  67. Mate, I’m up late working on myself and simply wondering what I am here on this planet to become. I am still wondering, but I am totally blown away with the content on this site, and this is only the language article!. You guys write like your speaking opposite me, and you condense and simplify every topic I’ve currently read. I am trying to get my mojo back for success at whatever I choose to do, but I keep sabotaging myself and i wish I could understand why and action the solution. I think this post might be a good start because it’s honest and it’s my life right now. I’m going to focus and get started on some of the stuff I simply know works, and from there, I will begin the challenging aspects of my issues. i’m definitely going to try and add a language to my life as it now seems entirely possible for me. Your topics and experiences are just fabulous inspirations and I must start something today!

    Signing off as an awestruck man that has stumbled across this site for a reason, must now set a goal, and make it happen. I am already worried that I may just give up and stop. I guess I will have to have a go and see if I can get through whatever it is that is scaring me so much, that I give up. Thanks for the terrific articles and keep em coming, maybe I’ll be able to add a post in the not too distant future about conquering or controlling the fear, and achieving everything that I think about or desire, Stefan 🙂

    1. Stefan, I hear you, man. We can all feel a little lost sometimes. Tim’s blog as been a long time inspiration for me along with his books and all of his other content (TV shows, podcast, etc). Being inspired is a great first step on the path to finding purpose. What do you naturally gravitate to? Me personally, I’m an avid language learner and teacher and use part of this methodology in my lessons (not a phoney sales pitch, I only teach Japanese learners of English), but This blog has opened my eyes to so much more in the sphere of lifestyle design generally. I’d recommend not trying to establish your purpose in one step, but rather pursuing what instantly grabs you and then building on that as you’ll no doubt find opportunity where you find interest. As Tim says (one of his key tenets of starting a business, but I think it can be applied to all areas) ‘scratch your own itch’. Good Luck!

      1. Hey Nick, thanks for the reply and your perspective, much appreciated, and certainly not expected with all the traffic on that site. I’ve invested in some of the books Tim recommends to learn and create some time to eventually devote to the languages. I know I could master a few of them. I’ll certainly see if I can utilise the courses you offer when I’m ready to start. Thanks again

  68. Jabłko jest czerwone.

    To jest jabłko Jana.

    Daję Janowi jabłko.

    Dajemy jemu jabłko.

    On daje ono Janowi.

    Ona daje ono jemu.

    Tim, chcesz się nauczyć polskiego?

    Daj mi znać!



  69. Tim, you are blessed to have a platform with a wide audience. What better way to promote understanding between different cultures than to learn their languages. I nominate you to be ambassador of world peace. Please don’t let that go to your head. I have a challenge for you… Tim học tiếng Việt kế tiếp, rất đông người Viết sống khắp nơi trên thế giới.

  70. Hello Tim,

    What is the best resource and plan to learn German? I would to start in right way and learn very quickly.


  71. Hi is there a way for you to teach language in a product/service format? Like for example audio/video tutorial that you can send to people as they buy, in my case, I would like to be fluent in korean. (You’ve mentioned that you have deconstructed it and, as I understood, have taught MIT students.) I appreciate your time in responding. Thanks in advance

  72. This was really interesting! any chance I could get your notes on Norwegian. I’m in the A2-B1 stage and my heads hurts quite often. Hope to read more of these!

  73. This is misleading. Where in here do I learn a language in an hour? The article switches from one hour (in the title) to 2-12 months?? (And this is only conversational language; sounds like what people learn in language class) And yes of course it’s easier to learn a language you’re familiar with. The army acknowledges this too. I see you also mention using IPA to help you…how are people going to learn IPA in one hour?? It takes weeks for people to become familiar with IPA.

    I will say that more language classes should focus on differences between the native language and the target language, such as sentence structure. Learning to think in the grammar culture of the target language does help speakers sound more native.

  74. Try polish. I think its one of the hardesf to learn. So many different ways of saying “two” for example. I was born there, moved to the usa and kinda lost it. I can understand third grade level but damn its even difficult for me.

  75. This is a helpful learning a language blog for me. I know it is going to be beneficial for us all. Many thanks for a blog, so beneficial.

  76. The sample sentences that you listed are a great way to break into a language in a practical sense. I’m working on improving my intermediate Thai and these are the type of exercises that I need to work on. Cheers!

  77. Your way of thinking put my brain on high speed…that’s goood . I’m French, have mediocre knowledge of English, never finish school…. Svo or sov make PERFECT sense, and the simple comparaison with 5 to 10 sentences to mesure how difficult it will be…. 👏👏👏
    before I read your article I was going to learn 200 sentences and complet with the 2 or 3 thousand word with there variation to be familiar…i know it’s not the same way but I think finding what comfortable to me is the best I can try… Oh God why did I step on your paper sooner 😭😂👌 again thannnk youu

  78. There’s one other piece I want that eludes me.

    I want “The ABC song” – but written specifically to expose all core phonemes for a polyglot. For both listening and enunciation training.

    A start, I suppose, is simply “Phonemes for *a* language”. Along with ‘The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’ … for phonemes instead of letters.