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Get To Know Why

Lesson learned: Clearly define your goal at the very beginning and then plot a route
towards this goals achievement.

The twins set themselves the challenge of learning a language in a week in order to
stretch themselves, and then it was a question of choosing which language to learn.
Turkish presented itself as a natural option; there are nigh on 300,000 Turkish speakers
in Germanys capital, and the areas of Kreuzberg and Neuklln are dotted with stores
adorned with signs in Turkish. Truly understanding ones environment in these
neighbourhoods requires one to first understand Turkish.

2. Get Sticky
Lesson learned: Map and label your immediate environment in the new language from
the very first moment. Youll build and reinforce associations passively while going about
your daily life.

The first operational step in the twins learning process was to decorate the entire
apartment with sticky notes. This had an almost ceremonial touch to it as the twins
delved into dictionaries and proceeded to label everything with its corresponding Turkish
name. Within the space of about an hour it was impossible to carry out any menial task,
be it making a coffee or flicking off a light switch, without first being presented with at
least three different words related to this action.

3. Get A Partner
Lesson learned: There are few better motivations than a peer with the same goal.
Whether youre motivated by competition or a sense of mutual responsibility, the mere
presence of a learning partner is likely to exert just the right amount of pressure to keep
you on track.

The importance of the other twins presence became immediately apparent as Matthew
and Michael delegated responsibilities for rooms to decorate with sticky notes. This
simple task was augmented by continuous little tests that they would spring on one
another, and the fact that they split up their day slightly differently and studied different
topics meant that each twin became a source of knowledge for the other; the
question how do you say that again? was met surprisingly often with an answer. The
most extraordinary moment came towards the end of the week when the twins simply
switched their everyday conversations to Turkish, asking one another if they wanted tea
or coffee, were ready to cook dinner or when they were going to leave the house the
next day.

4. Prepare Mini-Motivations
Lesson learned: You need landmarks on your route towards your goal. These landmarks
can consist of small challenges - real life interactions in the language, for example -
which force you to prepare areas of vocabulary to overcome them. The gratification that
will come with their completion will serve to spur you on to ever greater heights.

Matthew and Michael had numerous micro-challenges throughout the week. On the first
day they were visited by a Turkish friend who greeted them in Turkish and complimented
them on how quickly theyd picked up their first words and phrases. They then learned
the names of fruits and the numbers from one to a billion so that they could visit the
Turkish market in Kreuzberg (although they refrained from purchasing nine hundred
thousand kumquats). Displaying their haul after their first functional exchange in Turkish,
they beamed with pride and a palpable sense of accomplishment before marching back
home to study further.

5. Eat The Language

Lesson learned: Find a way to tie everything you do to learning. Surround yourself with
the food, the music and the films, so that even in your downtime you can prime your
mind towards the language and perhaps trigger further areas of interest and motivation.

On our second visit to the brothers apartment 24 hours into the week, we found them
sampling dozens of different kinds of Turkish snacks. Like kids staring at the backs of
cereal packs before heading to school, the nutritional information and various special
offers and competitions on the packaging were analysed during snack breaks. There
was no moment of complete removal from the language learning process during the
eight hours that the twins had allotted to it. The intensity ebbed and flowed, but it never
dissipated entirely.

6. Use What You Already Know

Lesson learned: The greater the depth of processing, the more likely the information will
be remembered. Find pleasure in drawing parallels and making comparisons between
the language(s) you already know and your new language.

One of the twins most common phrases was, ah, thats a bit like in ? They were
constantly using their existing knowledge to support the ever-growing knowledge of
Turkish. Not only did this spark some energetic exchanges regarding the etymology of
various words, but it also ensured new words would never be forgotten once woven into
their web of associations. Even if you are learning your second language, you will likely
come across words that share common origins with words in your native tongue.

7. Variation is the spice of life

Lesson learned: So you have your route plotted and an idea of your favored methods,
but do remember to try new things; your new language has just as many sources as
your native language.

The twins spent a lot of time engrossed in books or on their computers and apps,
flicking and swiping their way through exercises eagerly, but at other times they were to
be found searching busily for Turkish radio stations and write-ups of Turkish football
games on the web. There is no definitive method to learn a language, nor any tool or
teacher that will single-handedly deliver you to the holy grail of fluency. Language is
written, spoken, read and heard. Each of these areas is considered a core skill within
which there are myriad potential inputs; would you restrict yourself to one in your native
language? All too often, people enter their weekly language class to converse with their
teacher, but then barely have any contact with other native speakers or the media being
broadcast in their target language. Try something new every day. Listen to a cheesy
song, read a newspaper article from a newspaper whose politics differ from your own,
write a story for kids, attempt some improvised theatre and talk to yourself while
cooking. Spice it up and add some flavour to your language learning!

I get told so many times that someone has been studying

Spanish/French/Japanese/etc. for five, ten (or whatever) years. Despite this, in
most cases, if they tell me how many years they have been studying it, it's
usually a precursor to but I don't speak it!

This is usually to justify how hard their language is, how untalented they feel,
or how the universe is against them and that they will never speak the
language. If I plan to speak a language in just a few months, they say that
clearly it's because I have some secret formula I've been hiding from you all,
or it's down to my superior language genes, right?


Once again this is due to a way of looking at their work and progress that I
have to say is flawed. It's a grossly inefficient measuring system, and
understanding that will help you see why you can't speak your language
despite years of work.

The questionable quality of your years

The idea for this post were inspired by Anthony Lauder's video Become a
polyglot in minutes not years. He explains it very nicely, but I am going to be
much more frank, because I am sick of people telling me how many years
they have spent to get no results and complaining about it. The problem is
pretty obvious.

The idea is very simple when you say you have spent five years learning a
language (or doing anything for that matter), then you may actually be kidding
yourself. The only thing you have actually spent the last five years doing is
But perhaps in this time you have actually just put an hour every few days into
studying your language. I did this myself I studied German for five
years but didn't speak it after all that time. But then again, I was barely
interested and gave it minimal attention. It's amazing I passed my university
entrance exam at all.

Maybe you were a more serious learner than I was and even spent an hour a
day studying grammar, or several hours a day doing passive listening! That's
great, but it's not good enough if you start talking about the long-term time
investment you are actually making.

Thought experiment: Let's measure your

hours for real
If it were possible to measure work honestly, where actively speaking a
language for an hour counts as a real hour unit, studying grammar would be
0.2 units etc. (you may disagree with this that depends on your end-goals
and mine is to speak). Then continuing from this, the unit also gets reduced if
you are not passionate enough to put all your energy and focus into it
(then passive listening would be worth 0.01 units in my opinion i.e.
something, but barely better than nothing).

Now add up your hours based on this new system, but actually counting
the time you put in and you will see a dramatic difference. Five years of two
hours of passive listening a day, four hours of grammar studying a week and
two hours of actual practise with natives per month would give you about 364
hours (based on my weighted units) of genuine work. That's fifteen days
worth of work in your five years.

Sure, that's fifteen days no sleeping and no eating. Add in eight hours to
sleep, and three hours for eating and other activities per day (i.e. your double
time job is just to learn the language) and it's an extra twenty days. So your
five years is about the same as someone exactly as intelligent as you
are totally devoted to their task for a month.

In my experience this is closer to the truth than you might think after a few
weeks of total devotion, someone of average intelligence can reach the same
level as (or usually better than) someone who has studied it for half a

If I were to measure my original school German using a similar system, I'd

probably arrive at a week of actual work after five years considering how little I
really cared about my task.

Solution: measure your progress in devoted

hours, not years
I'm not trying to tell you to quit your job and only think about the language
whenever you aren't sleeping or eating. That's not realistic.
Even I'm not 100% devoted to my language learning tasks myself. I write in
this blog in English, and have had many full-time jobs that don't contribute to
my language abilities, as well as exercising, travelling, making videos etc. that
don't contribute to my mission, since life or your varied interests require you to
do these things.

Despite this, I can tell you that successful language learners (not just me) are
way more devoted than most people are to their language learning projects.
The quality and devotion they put into their task are what makes the
difference. They make sacrifices, accept making mistakes and
embarrassment as an essential part of their journey, expose themselves to the
language at every opportunity, and do whatever it takes to make progress

When you look at these people, it's clear that the number of hours they put
in, is way superior to the number of years other people do. This is nothing to
do with having more time, it's using their time efficiently.

Particular learning approaches help a lot, but devotion is what makes

language learning possible in shorter times. Being in the country isn't the
game changer either. There are plenty of expats that don't make progress
despite years of living among native speakers. In my first week of devoted and
active learning, I usually overtake them simply because I look for any way
possible to make it happen, rather than focusing on excuses why I can't.

The good news is that when you think about the hours you have actually put
in, you'll see that you have achieved so much more than you thought you had.
The example I gave above would give someone a pretty decent understanding
and grasp of a language in a month of work, rather than five years. This is
something to be proud of.

To learn a language in hours and not years, you have to count those hours for
what they are worth and make them worth it. If you try to do the same, and
realistically measure your true time and passion investment in your language
learning project, you'll see that maybe you are actually doing pretty well for the
first month you have truly put into it.

Now try to increase that devotion and see your next month of progress happen
much quicker

How I learned a language in 22 hours

He's never been good with languages, so can Joshua Foer really hope to learn
Lingala in a day?

Joshua Foer: 'What if, instead of tabbing over to the web browser in search of
some nugget of gossip or news, we could scratch the itch by engaging in a
meaningful activity, such as learning a language?' Photograph: Christopher
Lane for the Guardian

View more sharing options



Joshua Foer
Friday 9 November 2012 22.59 GMTFirst published on Friday 9 November
2012 22.59 GMT

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"What do you know about where I come from?" That was one of the first
questions I ever asked Bosco Mongousso, an Mbendjele pygmy who lives in
the sparsely populated Ndoki forest at the far northern tip of the Republic of
Congo. We were sitting on logs around a fire one evening four years ago,
eating a dinner of smoked river fish and koko, a vitamin-rich wild green
harvested from the forest. I'd come to this hard-to-reach corner of the Congo
basin a spot at least 50km from the nearest village to report a story for
National Geographic magazine about a population of chimpanzees who
display the most sophisticated tool-use ever observed among non-humans.

Mongousso, who makes his living, for the most part, by hunting wildlife and
gathering forest produce such as nuts, fruits, mushrooms and leaves, had teeth
that had been chiselled to sharp points as a child. He stood about 1.4m (4ft
7in) tall and had a wide, wonderful grin that he exercised prolifically. He
considered my question carefully.

"I don't know. It's far away," he told me finally, through a translator.
According to UCL anthropologist Jerome Lewis, the Mbendjele believe that
the spirit world is inhabited by people with white skin. For them, the afterlife
and Europe go by the same word, putu. "Amu dua putu" is a common
euphemism for death literally, "He's gone to Europe." For me to have come
all the way to the Ndoki forest was a journey of potentially metaphysical

"Have you ever heard of the United States of America?" I asked Mongousso.

He shook his head. "No."

I didn't know where to begin. "Well, the United States is like a really big village
on the other side of the ocean," I told him. The translator conveyed my
explanation, and then had a back-and-forth exchange with Mongousso.

"What did he say?" I asked.

"He wanted to know, 'What's the ocean?'"

There was a brief moment this summer, a little over a year after the
publication of my first book, Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art And Science
Of Remembering Everything, when I thought I had finally put the subject of
my memory into my memory. No phone interview with an obscure
midwestern talk radio station or lunchtime lecture in a corporate auditorium
was going to prevent me from finally moving on to another topic and starting
work on my next long-term project inspired by my encounter with
Mongousso about the world's last remaining hunter-gatherer societies and
what they can teach us.

As part of my research, I had begun planning a series of logistically

complicated trips that would take me back to the same remote region where I
had met Mongousso. My goal was to spend the summer living in the forest
with him and his fellow Mbendjele pygmies. It's virtually impossible to find
pygmies in northern Congo who speak French, much less English, and so in
order to embed to the degree I was hoping, I needed to learn Lingala, the trade
language that emerged in the 19th century as the lingua franca of the Congo
basin. Though it is not the first language of the pygmies, Lingala is universally
spoken across northern Congo not only by the pygmies, but by their Bantu
neighbors as well. Today, the language has about two million native speakers
in both the Congos and in parts of Angola, and another seven million,
including the Mbendjele pygmies, who use it as a second tongue.

You might think that learning a language with so many speakers would be an
easy task in our global, interconnected age. And yet when I went online in
search of Lingala resources, the only textbook I could find was a US Foreign
Service Institute handbook printed in 1963 when central Africa was still a
front of the cold war and a scanned copy of a 1,109-word Lingala-English
dictionary. Which is how I ended up getting drawn back into the world of
hard-core memorising that I had written about in Moonwalking.

Readers of that book (or the extract that ran last year in this magazine) will
remember the brilliant, if slightly eccentric, British memory champion named
Ed Cooke who took me under his wing and taught me a set of ancient
mnemonic techniques, developed in Greece around the fifth century BC, that
can be used to cram loads of random information into a skull in a relatively
short amount of time. Ed showed me how to use those ancient tricks to
perform seemingly impossible feats, such as memorising entire poems, strings
of hundreds of random numbers, and even the order of a shuffled pack
of playing cards in less than two minutes.

Since my book was published, Ed had moved on to other things and co-
founded an online learning company called Memrise with a Princeton
University neuroscience PhD named Greg Detre. Their goal: to take all of
cognitive science's knowhow about what makes information memorable, and
combine it with all the knowhow from social gaming about what makes an
activity fun and addictive, and develop a web app that can help anyone
memorise anything from the names of obscure cheeses, to the members of
the British cabinet, to the vocabulary of an African language as efficiently
and effectively as possible. Since launching, the site has achieved a cult
following among language enthusiasts and picked up more than a quarter of a
million users.

"The idea of Memrise is to make learning properly fun," Ed told me over coffee
on a recent visit to New York to meet with investors. "Normally people stop
learning things because of a bunch of negative feedback, such as worries about
whether they'll actually get anywhere, insecurities about their own
intelligence, and a sense of it being effortful. With Memrise, we're trying to
invert that and create a form of learning experience that is so fun, so secure, so
well directed and so mischievously effortless that it's more like a game
something you'd want to do instead of watching TV."

I have never been particularly good with languages. Despite a dozen years of
Hebrew school and a lifetime of praying in the language, I'm ashamed to
admit that I still can't read an Israeli newspaper. Besides English, the only
language I speak with any degree of fluency is Spanish, and that came only
after five years of intense classroom study and more than half a dozen trips to
Latin America. Still, I was determined to master Lingala before leaving for the
Congo. And I had just under two and a half months to do it. When I asked Ed
if he thought it would be possible to learn an entire language in such a
minuscule amount of time using Memrise, his response was matter-of-fact:
"It'll be a cinch."

Memrise takes advantage of a couple of basic, well-established principles. The

first is what's known as elaborative encoding. The more context and meaning
you can attach to a piece of information, the likelier it is that you'll be able to
fish it out of your memory at some point in the future. And the more effort you
put into creating the memory, the more durable it will be. One of the best ways
to elaborate a memory is to try visually to imagine it in your mind's eye. If you
can link the sound of a word to a picture representing its meaning, it'll be far
more memorable than simply learning the word by rote.

Memrise encourages you to create a mnemonic, which it calls a "mem", for

every word you want to learn. A mem could be a rhyme, an image, a video or
just a note about the word's etymology, or something striking about its
pronunciation. In the case of languages such as French and Chinese, where
there are thousands of people learning it at any one time, you can browse
through a catalogue of mems created by other members of the Memrise
community. This is especially fun for Chinese, where users have uploaded
videos of various logographic characters morphing into cartoons of the words
they represent.

Joshua Foer in the Republic of Congo

As I was the only user trying to learn Lingala at the time, it was up to me to
come up with my own mems for each word in the dictionary. This required a
good deal of work, but it was fun and engaging work. For example, engine
is motele in Lingala. When I learned that word, I took a second to visualise a
rusty engine revving in a motel room. It's a specific motel room I stayed in
once upon on a time on a cross-country road trip the cheapest room I ever
paid to occupy. Twenty dollars a night, as I recall, somewhere in central
Nevada. I made an effort to see, hear and even smell that oily machine revving
and rattling on the stained carpet floor. All of those extra details are
associational hooks that will lead my mind back to motele the next time I need
to find the Lingala word for engine.

Likewise, for motema, which means heart, I visualised a beating organ

dripping blood on a blinking and purring computer modem. To remember
that bondokimeans gun, I saw James Bond pointing a gun at Dr No, and
saying, "Okey-dokey." If this all sounds a little silly, it is. But that's also the
point. Studies have confirmed what Cicero and the other ancient writers on
memory knew well: the stranger the imagery, the more markedly memorable.

Memrise is built to discourage cramming. It's easy to spend five minutes

learning vocabulary with the app, but hard to spend 50. That is by design. One
of the best-demonstrated principles of memory proven both in the
controlled setting of the laboratory and in studies conducted in the wilds of
the classroom is the value of what's known as "spaced repetition". Cognitive
scientists have known for more than a century that the best way to secure
memories for the long term is to impart them in repeated sessions, distributed
across time, with other material interleaved in between. If you want to make
information stick, it's best to learn it, go away from it for a while, come back to
it later, leave it behind again, and once again return to it to engage with it
deeply across time. Our memories naturally degrade, but each time you return
to a memory, you reactivate its neural network and help to lock it in. The effect
on retention of learning in this manner is staggering. One study found that
students studying foreign language vocabulary can get just as good long-term
retention from having learning sessions spaced out every two months as from
having twice as many learning sessions spaced every two weeks. To put that
another way: you can learn the same material in half the total time if you don't
try to cram.

One of the great challenges of our age, in which the tools of our productivity
are also the tools of our leisure, is to figure out how to make more useful those
moments of procrastination when we're idling in front of our computer
screens. What if instead of tabbing over to the web browser in search of some
nugget of gossip or news, or opening up a mindless game such as Angry Birds,
we could instead scratch the itch by engaging in a meaningful activity, such as
learning a foreign language?

If five million people can be convinced to log into Zynga's Facebook

game Farmville each day to water a virtual garden and literally watch the grass
grow on their computer screens, surely, Ed believes, there must be a way to co-
opt those same neural circuits that reward mindless gaming to make learning
more addictive and enjoyable. That's the great ambition of Memrise, and it
points towards a future where we're constantly learning in tiny chunks of our

The secret of Zynga's success has been endless iteration of its product through
A/B testing. Show two groups of users two slightly different versions of the
same game, and see which group sticks around longer. Then change another
variable and re-run the experiment. Memrise is beginning to use the same
aggressive empirical testing to figure out not just how to make learning
appealing, but also how to make it more effective. If it turns out that users
remember 0.5% better when words are shown in one font versus another, or
that their memories are 2% more durable when prodded at 7am versus 11am,
those changes will be logged in Memrise's servers and affect the next day's
updates to the app. The software is beginning to act as a massively distributed
psychology experiment, discovering on a daily basis how to optimise human

In a nod to Farmville, Memrise refers to the words you're trying to learn as

"seeds". Each time you revise a given word, you "water" it in your
"greenhouse" until it has fully sprouted and been consolidated in your long-
term memory "garden". When you've been away from Memrise for too long,
you receive an email letting you know that the words you've memorised have
begun to wilt and need to be watered.

Because Memrise knows what words you already know plus exactly how well
you know them and what words you haven't yet got a handle on, its
algorithm tests you only on the information just at the edge of your knowledge
and doesn't waste time forcing you to overlearn memories that you've already
banked in your long-term garden.
My own pattern of using the app worked like this: each morning there would
be a message waiting in my inbox, prodding me to water a few of my memories
that were in danger of wilting, and so I would dutifully log in and spend a few
minutes revising words I had learned days or sometimes weeks earlier.
Sometime mid-morning, when I was ready for my first break from work, I'd
log back in and get a new bundle of seeds to start watering. Two or three times
after lunch, just after checking email and Facebook, I'd go back and do some
more watering of whichever plants Memrise told me needed the most
attention. All the while, I kept a close eye on all the points I was accumulating,
and took meaningless satisfaction in watching my ranking among Memrise
users inch up day by day.

After two and a half months, I'd not only planted my way through the entire
Lingala dictionary, but also watered all of my mems to the point where they
were secure in my long-term memory garden. You could pick any word in the
dictionary and I could translate it into Lingala. Still, even after memorising an
entire dictionary, I was only the 2,305th highest-ranked Memrise user.

I asked Ed if one of his software engineers could mine the data stored on
Memrise's servers and put together a report on how much time I ended up
whiling away with the software. When the figures were finally tallied, I had
clocked 22 hours and 15 minutes learning vocabulary on Memrise, spread out
over 10 weeks. The longest single uninterrupted burst that I spent learning
was 20 minutes, and my average session lasted just four minutes. In other
words, it took a little less than one full day, spread out over two and a half
months, devoting bite-sized chunks of time, to memorise the entire dictionary.

But did it work?

It took me almost a week by plane, truck and ferry to get back to the Ndoki
forest and Mongousso's village of Makao, the last small outpost on the Motaba
river before you reach the uninhabited wilderness of Nouabal-Ndoki National
Park. For several days, I was stuck 120km west of Makao in a village called
Bomassa, while I waited for a truck. It was a frustrating experience, but it gave
me an opportunity to begin to test my Lingala with the locals. On my third day
in town, a pygmy named Makoti came to visit me early in the morning. I
couldn't tell within a decade in either direction how old he was, but he had a
long, intimidating scar down his left cheek and an intense demeanor. "Yo na
ngai, totambola na zamba" "You and me, let's walk in the forest," he said.
He pointed at me and pointed at himself, and then held his index and middle
finger together to suggest it should be just the two of us.

I had brought with me a translator from Brazzaville, who spoke not only
English, French and Lingala, but also a little bit of Mbendjele and four other
tribal languages to boot. Though he was helpful in getting me settled, we
quickly ran into a problem. The pygmies have a complicated relationship with
their Bantu neighbours, one that in some ways resembles medieval serfdom.
Pygmies are relentlessly discriminated against by the Bantu, who refer to them
as subhuman and often refuse even to touch them. Each pygmy has an
inherited Bantu "proprietor" for whom he does menial labour, often in return
for little more than cigarettes or alcohol. The pygmies in turn put on a
completely different face among the village Bantu to whom they refer as
gorillas behind their backs than they do when they're alone out in the forest.
Even the presence of an affable, urban, educated outsider such as my
translator immediately caused the pygmies to tighten up.

I followed Makoti out of the village and on to an elephant trail, where we

found a comfortable log on which to sit, smoke a cigarette and talk in hushed
tones about relationships between the Bantu and the pygmies. "Bantu,
mondele, babendjele: makila ya ndenge moko" "The Bantu, the whites, the
pygmies: we all have the same blood." He pinched the skin of his forearm.
"Kasi, bayebi te," he told me. "But they don't know that." He meant the Bantu.

This was my first conversation in Lingala without a translator at my side. Even

though I had to keep telling him, "Malembe, malembe" "Slow down, slow
down" I realised I was understanding quite a bit of what he was telling me
and that my drilling with Memrise had given me a far better grounding than I
had thought possible.

It goes without saying that memorising the 1,000 most common words in
Lingala, French or Chinese is not going to make anyone a fluent speaker. That
would have been an unrealistic goal. But it turns out to be just enough
vocabulary to let you hit the ground running once you're authentically
immersed in a language. And, more importantly, that basic vocabulary gives
you a scaffolding to which you can attach other words as you hear them. It also
lays down the raw data from which you can begin to detect the patterns that
define a language's grammar. As I memorised words in Lingala, I started to
notice that there were relationships between them. The verb to work is kosala.
The noun for work is mosala. A tool is esaleli. A workshop is an esalelo. At
first, this was all white noise to me. But as I packed my memory with more and
more words, these connections started to make sense and I began to notice the
same grammatical formulas elsewhere and could even pick them up in
conversation. This sort of pattern recognition happens organically over time
when a child learns a language, but giving myself all the data points to work
with at once certainly made the job easier, and faster.

Makoti, who had worked with European foresters, American primatologists

and even for a brief spell with the UCL anthropologist Lewis, seemed to
understand what I was after, and why I had come such a long way to spend
time with his family and friends. As he stubbed out the last ashes of his
cigarette, he suggested, in Lingala sentences that had to be repeated three or
four times before I fully grasped them, that I abandon my Bantu translator
and make him my assistant instead. It was a tremendous, if perhaps
unwarranted, statement of confidence in my Lingala. "Nakokende na ya na
Makao" "I'll come with you to Makao." It was only a four-hour truck
ride away, but the farthest he'd been from home in his entire life.

I told him, "Omona, nayoka Lingala malamu mingi te. Nasengeli kozala na
mosalisi koloba Anglais" "Look, I don't understand Lingala very well. I need
to have a helper who speaks English."

He shook his head. "Te, te, oyoka malamu" "No, no, you understand well."

Then a thought occurred to him, which I was surprised it had taken him so
long to express. "Wapi oyekolaka Lingala?" "Where did you learn Lingala?"

I thought about trying to tell him about the internet, about my computer,
about this web app developed over in putu but once again I didn't know
where to begin. Instead, I held out my hand to shake his and told him he
should let his wife know that he'd be travelling with me to Makao. As for
explaining Memrise, that conversation would have to wait for a little more

Could you learn Chinese in a weekend? Take our test


This article was edited on 26 November 2012. The original said the
anthropologist Jerome Lewis was affiliated to Oxford university. This has been
corrected to UCL.


ow I Learned a Language in 90

Maneesh Sethi

7/09/12 10:00am

Filed to: LANGUAGE


Becoming bilingual opens up a whole new world of different people, different cultures,
and different emotions. It also takes a huge time commitmentone that many of us
can't dedicate to. But what if fluency was only 90 days away?

The Benefits of Bilingualism

Learning a second language has many cognitive benefits. For example, it has been
shown to delay Alzheimer's, boost brainpower, reduce cognitive biases, and even
increase concentration and the ability to tune out distractions. But, more so than
cognitive effects, the ability to speak a second language has a ton of social benefits.
There's bliss in having the ability to order food in the waiter's native language, to
eavesdrop on people in an elevator, or to impress natives by speaking with and
understanding them.

The coolest thing about learning your second language is that it makes learning a third,
fourth, or fifth language much easier. The challenge isn't in learning a new language, but
rather learning how to learn a language. Once you know the techniques, you'll be able to
apply the same grammatical patterns and language techniques in every new language
you learn.

Why Most People Are Wrong About Language Learning

I studied Spanish for several years in high school, and even got good grades on national
exams. But one day, when I actually tried to speak the language, I suddenly
realized: four years of studying Spanish in school, and I couldn't even order a burrito.
So what went wrong? According to official standardized tests, I was an expert in
Spanish. But I couldn't even do the most basic of tasks!

The fact is that we are not taught languages in the ideal way. Students study languages
in huge groups and think that a few worksheets and grammar exercises will be enough
to learn a language. Yet almost no one actually learns to speak. In actuality, by doing
worksheets, we are practicing for just thatdoing worksheets. But if you want to learn to
speak, well, you actually have to practice by speaking.

So when people try to learn to speak a language out of a book, or with Rosetta Stone, I
try to show them that they won't achieve their goals that way. If you want to speak, you
have to practice speaking. And if you want to speak a language rapidly, well, you have to
start speaking. A lot.

The Basic Strategy Of Rapid Language Learning

Learning a language can seem daunting, so I'm going to provide an overview of the
general strategy, before we get into the specifics.

Here is the breakdown:

1. Get the right resources for learning: A grammar book, memorization software, and

2. Get a private tutor. You want one for at least a month. I recommend four hours/day.

3. Attempt to speak and think only in the new language. Every time you can't
remember a word, put that word into your memorization software. Practice your
vocabulary daily.

4. Find friends, language partners, and other speakers of the language. Once
you can have basic conversations with your private tutor, you need to find other
partners. If you haven't already, think about moving to the country where the language is
spoken. Consider a group class. Practice continuously. Stop speaking English.

That's the basic strategy. Again, this strategy is intensive, because learning a language in
three months is a difficult task. If you'd prefer to learn the language more slowly or you
don't have the ability to move to a new country and practice 4-8 hours a day, then you
can modify the plan. It is extremely important that you practice every day, however20
minutes a day is much better than once or twice a week.
The Resources You Need To Learn A Language

In order to learn a language, you'll need some items that you can practice with. Here are
the resources I always use.

A good grammar book. This is essential if you want to learn a language. I

recommend Dover's Essential Grammar series: the books are very cheap, concise, and

A phrase book. This is similar to a dictionary, but for phrases. You can start
memorizing full sentences and phrases, and you'll naturally learn the individual words.
I'll talk more about memorization tactics shortly.

An online dictionary. For most romance langauges, I recommend Word Reference.

For German, try Translate can be useful, but it easily becomes a crutch.
Use it sparingly.

A memorization app. You have to memorize vocabulary. I always put new words in
my app, and practice them every night. If you're on a Mac, check out the app Genius. It
uses time-spacing techniques to test our knowledge. You'll randomly be quizzed on
words or phrases you are trying to learn, and the more often you make a mistake, the
more often you'll be tested. I recommend you put English on the left column and your
desired language on the right, so that you'll learn to speak in a new language, not
translate from it. If you're on a PC, I've heard good things about Anki.

Memorize Anything with Genius

Mac OS X only: Freeware flash card application Genius helps you memorize information by
testingRead more
A tutor. I highly recommend getting an in-person private tutor through Craigslist or a
nearby language school. However, if you can't find anyone in your area or they are too
expensive, check out Edufire. Edufire is a website that allows you to take private and
group classes online over the Internet.

Free language partners. The Mixxer is an incredible resource. It's a site that allows
you to connect, via Skype, with language partners all over the world. Just choose your
native language, and what you are trying to learn, and The Mixxer will find partners
with opposite needs (who speak your target language and want to learn your native

At the beginning, online partners are a big help. Why? First, because chatting is much
easier than speaking, so you get a chance to practice your language. Second, chat gives
you a log of what you've been sayingand it makes it easier for your partner to correct

I use and to find language partners and language

meetups, no matter where I live. Check out Benny's article to learn about finding
language partners through Couchsurfing. I don't recommend Rosetta Stone. Rosetta
Stone is incredibly slow. In Level 1, which takes 1-2 months to complete, you'll only be
familiar with the present tense. This is not a good use of your time.

The 90 Day Plan to Learning a Language

It's possible to achieve fluency, or at least a high speaking level, in just 90 days, but it
requires intense focus. The biggest shift was in mindset: I had to change my self
conception from Maneesh: a blogger who wants to learn Italian' to Maneesh: Italian
learner (who blogs in his extra time). If you don't have the freedom to focus fulltime on
learning a language, that's okay, but the process will take longer than 90 days. Just
make sure that you continue to practice every day, or else you'll lose your knowledge
Days 1-30
The first thirty days are critical to learning a new language. You need to immerse
yourself as fully as possible. I highly recommend moving to a country where the
language is spoken if you want to learn a language in 90 days. This will help you get into
the language learning mindset, and will allow you to surround yourself with the new
language. If you are able to move to a new country, try to live with a host family. You'll
learn a lot by eating meals with a family that hosts you.

In any case, during the first month, work one on one with a private tutornot group
classes. Group classes allow you to sit back and be lazy, while a private tutor forces you
to learn.

This is important: you must be an active learner. Most people allow themselves to be
taught to, but you have to take an active role in asking questions. The best way to
understand this process is via video-part of the video series I made to supplement this
post includes a sample of a class I took while studying Swedish, with explanations of the
questions I ask during private training. Check out the language learning videos I've
made for this post here.

You're going to start encountering a lot of words and phrases that you don't know, both
with your private tutor, and when you practice languages on your own. Enter these
words in your memorization software.

You want to start memorizing 30 words and phrases per day. Why 30? Because in 90
days, you'll have learned 80% of the language.

This great article talks about the number of words in the Russian language.

the 75 most common words make up 40% of occurrences

the 200 most common words make up 50% of occurrences
the 524 most common words make up 60% of occurrences
the 1257 most common words make up 70% of occurrences
the 2925 most common words make up 80% of occurrences
the 7444 most common words make up 90% of occurrences
the 13374 most common words make up 95% of occurrences
the 25508 most common words make up 99% of occurrences

As you can see, you need to learn around 3000 to hit 80% of the wordsprobably
enough before you can start learning words easily by context. At 30 words/day, you'll
have learned almost 3000 in 90 days.

Days 31-60
After your first month, it's time to focus on exposing yourself to the language as much as
possible. After a month of private tutoring, you'll have the ability to have basic

If your private tutor is getting expensive, you might consider doing advanced group
classes at this pointit'll save you money and give you access to other friends who are
learning the language. Just be careful of speaking only in English. Try to make it a rule
to speak in the new language as much as possible. Continue with your private tutor, if

Now is the time to start finding language partners. Check out The Mixxer and
Couchsurfing to find people who speak the language you want to learn. Attempt to
spend a few hours everyday practicing your language. At this point, because you have a
basic grasp of the language, it shouldn't be a choreyou are basically spending time
socializing with new friends.

Try reading simple books in your target language and underlining words that you don't
know. You can add these to your memorization app.
You should start trying to think in the new language. Every time you try to express a
thought to yourself, but can't remember the word, write it down in your memorization
software. Continue learning 30 words and phrases per day.

Days 61-90
By day 60, you should be in a good position to speak the language. You just simply need
to keep practicing. Have deeper conversations with your language partners. Continue
studying 30 words a day and practicing the ones you've already learned, and you'll be
approaching the 3000 word markenough to speak a language close to fluently.

By now, you can start watching TV and reading books in your target language. Rent
some DVDs in the foreign language and try to follow along. If you need to, turn on the
subtitles. Don't worry if you have trouble, because understanding film is a lot more
difficult than having a one-on-one conversation.

Keep on working on the language for several hours per day, and by the end of the
month, you'll find that you have a good grasp on the language. It's pretty amazing what
you can do in just 90 days with intense focus.

How to Learn (But Not Master)

Any Language in 1 Hour (Plus:
A Favor)
Share this:




Written by Tim FerrissTopics: Filling the Void, Language

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.

Heres 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, Ive deconstructed Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian

Portuguese, German, Norwegian, Irish Gaelic, Korean, and perhaps a dozen others. Im far
from perfect in these languages, and Im terrible at some, but I can converse in quite a few
with no problems whatsoeverjust 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

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, andif sohow long it will take.

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

If youre 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.

Lets 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 doesnt 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 Johns 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

First, they help me to see if and how verbs are conjugated based on speaker (both according
to gender and number). Im 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 dont
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, Im 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 youre 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 isnt 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 doesnt 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

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 Ill
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 languages writing system is really only practical for
languages that have at least one phonetic writing system of 50 or fewer soundsSpanish,
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.
Its harder to learn at first, but Ive 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 its 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

[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. Heres something from Harvard Business School to
play with in the meantime

Other Popular Posts on this Blog:

How to Lose 20 lbs. of Fat in 30 Days Without Doing Any Exercise

From Geek to Freak: How I Gained 34 lbs. of Muscle in 4 Weeks
Relax Like A Pro: 5 Steps to Hacking Your Sleep
How to Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less (Plus: How to Negotiate Convertibles and
Luxury Treehouses)
The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen (and Weapons of Mass Distraction)
How to Outsource the Inbox and Never Check Email Again


Odds and Ends:

Please help me break the Technorati 1000 today!

Im around 1070 on Technoratis rankings, and its killing me. Can those of you with blogs
PULEEEEASE register your blogs with Technorati and find something interesting to link to on
this 4HWW blog? It would really be a milestone for me and Im so close! Just breaking 1000
would be enough. If you can find something to link to in the most popular posts or

Preface by Tim Ferriss

Ive written about how I learned to speak, read, and write Japanese, Mandarin, and Spanish. Ive also
covered my experiments with German, Indonesian, Arabic, Norwegian, Turkish, and perhaps a dozen

There are only few language learners who dazzle me, and Benny Lewis is one of them.
This definitive guest post by Benny will teach you:

How to speak your target language today.

How to reach fluency and exceed it within a few months.
How to pass yourself off as a native speaker.
And finally, how to tackle multiple languages to become a polyglotall within a few
years, perhaps as little as 1-2.
It contains TONS of amazing resources I never even knew existed, including the best free apps and
websites for becoming fluent in record time. Want to find a native speaker to help you for $5 per hour?
Free resources and memory tricks? Its all here.

This is a post you all requested, so I hope you enjoy it!

Enter Benny

You are either born with the language-learning gene, or you arent. Luck of the draw, right? At least, thats
what most people believe.

I think you can stack the deck in your favor. Years ago, I was a language learning dud. The worst in my
German class in school, only able to speak English into my twenties, and even after six entire
months living in Spain, I could barely muster up the courage to ask where the bathroom was in Spanish.

But this is about the point when I had an epiphany, changed my approach, and then succeeded not only
in learning Spanish, but in getting a C2 (Mastery) diploma from the Instituto Cervantes, working as a
professional translator in the language, and even being interviewed on the radio in Spanish to give travel
tips. Since then, I moved on to other languages, and I can now speak more than a dozen languages to
varying degrees between conversational and mastery.

It turns out, there is no language-learning gene, but there are tools and tricks for faster learning

As a polyglotsomeone who speaks multiple languagesmy world has opened up. I have gained
access to people and places that I never otherwise could have reached. Ive made friends on a train in
China through Mandarin, discussed politics with a desert dweller in Egyptian
Arabic, discovered the wonders of deaf culture through ASL, invited the (female) president of
Ireland to dance in Irish (Gaeilge) and talked about it on live Irish radio, interviewed Peruvian
fabric makers about how they work in Quechua, interpreted between Hungarian and Portuguese at
a social event and well, had an extremely interesting decade traveling the world.
Such wonderful experiences are well within the reach of many of you.

Since you may be starting from a similar position to where I was (monolingual adult, checkered history
with language learning, no idea where to start), Im going to outline the tips that worked best for me as I
went from zero to polyglot.

This very detailed post should give you everything you need to know.

So, lets get started!

#1 Learn the right words, the right way.

Starting a new language means learning new words. Lots of them.

Of course, many people cite a bad memory for learning new vocab, so they quit before even getting

Butheres the keyyou absolutely do not need to know all the words of a language to speak it (and in
fact, you dont know all the words of your mother tongue either).
As Tim pointed out in his own post on learning any language in 3 months, you can take advantage of
the Pareto principle here, and realize that 20% of the effort you spend on acquiring new vocab could
ultimately give you 80% comprehension in a languagefor instance, in English just 300 words make up
65% of all written material. We use those words a lot, and thats the case in every other language as well.
You can find pre-made flash card decks of these most frequent words (or words themed for a subject
you are more likely to talk about) for studying on the Anki app (available for all computer platforms and
smartphones) that you can download instantly. Good flashcard methods implement a spaced repetition
system (SRS), which Anki automates. This means that rather than go through the same list of vocabulary
in the same order every time, you see words at strategically spaced intervals, just before you would
forget them.
Tim himself likes to use color-coded physical flashcards; some he purchases from Vis-Ed, others he
makes himself. He showed me an example when I interviewed him about how he learns languages in the
below video.
Though this entire video can give you great insight into Tims language learning approach, the part
relevant to this point is at 27:40 (full transcript here).

#2 Learn cognates: your friend in every single language.

Believe it or not, you alreadyright nowhave a huge head start in your target language. With language
learning you always know at least some words before you ever begin. Starting a language from scratch
is essentially impossible because of the vast amount of words you know already through cognates.

Cognates are true friends of words you recognize from your native language that mean the same thing
in another language.

For instance, Romance languages like French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and others have many
words in common with English. English initially borrowed them from the Norman conquest of England,
which lasted several hundreds of years. Action, nation, precipitation, solution, frustration, tradition,
communication, extinction, and thousands of other -tion words are spelled exactly the same in French,
and you can quickly get used to the different pronunciation. Change that -tion to a -cin and you have the
same words in Spanish. Italian is -zione and Portuguese is -o.
Many languages also have words that share a common (Greek/Latin or other) root, which can be spelled
slightly differently, but that youd have to try hard not to recognize, such as exemple, hlicoptre (Fr),
porto, capitano (Italian) astronoma, and Saturno (Spanish). German goes a step further and has
many words from Englishs past that it shares.
To find common words with the language you are learning, simply search for [language name] cognates
or [language name] English loan words to see words they borrowed from us, and finally [language
name] words in English to see words we borrowed from them.

Thats all well and good for European languages, but what about more distant ones?
Well, it turns out that even languages as different as Japanese can have heaps of very familiar
vocabulary. To show you what I mean, have a listen to this song (to the tune of Animaniacs Nations of
the World), which is sung entirely in Japanese, and yet you should understand pretty much everything
that I and the other Japanese learners are singing:

This is because many languages simply borrow English words and integrate them into the new language
with altered pronunciation or stress.

So to make my life easy when I start learning a language, one of the first word lists I try to consume is a
list of cognates, or English loan words, which can be found quickly for pretty much any language.

#3 Interact in your language daily without traveling.

Another reason (or excuse, depending on how you look at it) people cite for not learning languages is that
they cant visit a country where its a native language. No time, no money, etc.
Take it from methere is nothing in the air in another country that will magically make you able to speak
their language. Ive done a lot of experiments to prove this (e.g. learning Arabic while living in Brazil).

Ive met countless expats who lived abroad for years without learning the local language. Living abroad
and being immersed is not the same thing. If you need to hear and use a language consistently to be
immersed, cant virtual immersion be just as effective? Of course. Technology makes it possible for
immersion to come to you, and you dont even have to buy a plane ticket.

To hear the language consistently spoken, you can check out for a vast selection of live-
streamed radio from your country of choice. The app (free) also has a list of streamed radio stations
ordered by language.
To watch the language consistently, see whats trending on Youtube in that country right now. Go
to that countrys equivalent URL for Amazon or Ebay (,,, etc.) and buy
your favorite TV series dubbed in that language, or get a local equivalent by seeing whats on the top
charts. You may be able to save shipping costs if you can find one locally that includes dubbing in the
appropriate language. Various news stations also have plenty of video content online in specific
languages, such as France24, Deutsche Welle, CNN Espaol, and many others.
To read the language consistently, in addition to the news sites listed above, you can find cool blogs and
other popular sites on Alexas ranking of top sites per country.
And if full-on immersion isnt your thing yet, theres even a plugin for Chrome that eases you into the
language by translating some parts of the sites you normally read in English, to sprinkle the odd word into
your otherwise English reading.

#4 Skype today for daily spoken practice.

So youve been listening to, watching, and even reading in your target languageand all in the comfort of
your own home. Now its time for the big one: speaking it live with a native.

One of my more controversial pieces of advice, but one that I absolutely insist on when I advise
beginners, is that you must speak the language right away if your goals in the target language involve
speaking it.

Most traditional approaches or language systems dont work this way, and I think thats where they let
their students down. I say, there are seven days in a week and some day is not one of them.

Heres what I suggest instead:

Use the pointers Ive given above to learn some basic vocabulary, and be aware of some words you
already know. Do this for a few hours, and then set up an exchange with a native speakersomeone who
has spoken that language their whole life. You only have to learn a little for your first conversation, but if
you use it immediately, youll see whats missing and can add on from there. You cant study in isolation
until you are vaguely ready for interaction.

In those first few hours, Id recommend learning some pleasantries such as Hello, Thank you, Could
you repeat that? or I dont understand, many of which you will find listed out here for most
But waitwhere do you find a native speaker if you arent in the country that speaks that language?

No problem! Thousands of native speakers are ready and waiting for you to talk to them right now. You
can get private lessons for peanuts by taking advantage of currency differences. My favorite site for
finding natives is (connect with my profile here), where Ive gotten both Chinese and
Japanese one-on-one Skype-based lessons for just $5 an hour.
If you still think you wouldnt be ready on day one, then consider this: starting on Skype allows you to
ease yourself in gently by having another window (or application, like Word) open during your
conversation, already loaded with key words that you can use for quick reference until you internalize
them. You can even reference Google Translate or a dictionary for that language while you chat, so
you can learn new words as you go, when you need them.
Is this cheating? No. The goal is to learn to be functional, not to imitate old traditional methods. Ive used
the above shortcuts myself, and after learning Polish for just one hour for a trip to Warsaw to speak at
TEDx about language learning, I was able to hold up a conversation (incredibly basic as it was) in Polish
for an entire half hour.
I consider that a win.

#5 Save your money. The best resources are free.

Other than paying for the undivided attention of a native speaker, I dont see why youd need to spend
hundreds of dollars on anything in language learning. Ive tried Rosetta Stone myself and wasnt
But there is great stuff out there. A wonderful and completely free course that keeps getting better
is DuoLingo which I highly recommend for its selection of European languages currently on offer, with
more on the way. To really get you started on the many options available to help you learn your language
without spending a penny, let me offer plenty of other (good) alternatives:
The Foreign Service Institutes varied list of courses
The Omniglot Intro to languages
BBC languages intro to almost 40 different languages
Abouts language specific posts that explain particular aspects of languages well
You really do have plenty of options when it comes to free resources, so I suggest you try out several and
see which ones work well for you. The aforementioned italki is great for language exchanges and lessons,
but My Language Exchange and Interpals are two other options. You can take it offline and see about
language related meet-ups in your city through The Polyglot Club, or the meet-ups pages
on Couchsurfing,, and Internations. These meet-ups are also great opportunities to
meet an international crowd of fellow language learning enthusiasts, as well as native speakers of your
target language, for practice.
But wait, theres more. You can get further completely free language help on:

The huge database on Forvo, to hear any word or small expression in many
languages read aloud by a native of the language
Rhinospike to make requests of specific phrases youd like to hear pronounced by a
native speaker. If you cant find something on either of these sites, Google
Translate has a text-to-speech option for many languages.
Lang 8 to receive free written corrections.
The possibilities for free practice are endless.

#6 Realize that adults are actually better language learners

than kids.

Now that youre armed with a ton of resources to get started, lets tackle the biggest problem. Not
grammar, not vocabulary, not a lack of resources, but handicapping misconceptions about
your own learning potential.
The most common I give up misconception is: Im too old to become fluent.

Im glad to be the bearer of good news and tell you that research has confirmed that adults can
be better language learners than kids. This study at the University of Haifa has found that
under the right circumstances, adults show an intuition for unexplained grammar rules
better than their younger counterparts. [Note from Tim: This is corroborated by the book In
Other Words and work by Hakuta.]
Also, no study has ever shown any direct correlation between reduced language acquisition skill and
increased age. There is only a general downward trend in language acquisition in adults, which is
probably more dependent on environmental factors that can be changed (e.g. long job hours that crowd
out study time). Something my friend Khatzumoto ( once said that I liked
was, Babies arent better language learners than you; they just have no escape routes.
As adults, the good news is that we can emulate the immersion environment without having
to travel, spend a lot of money, or revert back to childhood.

#7 Expand your vocabulary with mnemonics.

Rote repetition isnt enough.

And while its true that repeated exposure sometimes burns a word into your memory, it can be frustrating
to forget a word that youve already heard a dozen times.

For this, I suggest coming up with mnemonics about your target word, which helps glue the word to your
memory way more effectively. Basically, you tell yourself a funny, silly, or otherwise memorable story to
associate with a particular word. You can come up with the mnemonic yourself, but a wonderful (and free)
resource that I highly recommend is
For instance, lets say you are learning Spanish and cant seem to remember that caber means to fit,
no matter how many times you see it. Why not come up with a clever association like the following one I
found on Memrise:

This [caber -> cab, bear -> fitting a bear in a cab] association makes remembering the word a cinch.

It may sound like a lengthy process, but try it a few times, and youll quickly realize why its so effective.
And youll only need to recall this hook a couple of times, and then you can ditch it when the word
becomes a natural part of your ability to use the language quickly.

#8 Embrace mistakes.

Over half of the planet speaks more than one language.

This means that monolingualism is a cultural, not a biological, consequence. So when adults (at least in
the English speaking world) fail at language learning, its not because they dont have the right genes or
other such nonsense. Its because the system they have used to learn languages is broken.

Traditional teaching methods treat language learning just like any other academic subject, based on an
approach that has barely changed since the days when Charles Dickens was learning Latin. The
differences between your native language (L1) and your target language (L2) are presented as vocabulary
and grammar rules to memorize. The traditional idea: know them all and you know the language. It
seems logical enough, right?

The problem is that you cant ever truly learn a language, you get used to it. Its not a thing that you
know or dont know; its a means of communication between human beings. Languages should not be
acquired by rote alonethey need to be used.

The way you do this as a beginner is to use everything you do know with emphasis
on communication rather than on perfection. This is the pivotal difference. Sure, you could wait until you
are ready to say Excuse me kind sir, could you direct me to the nearest bathroom? but Bathroom
where? actually conveys the same essential information, only removing superfluous pleasantries.
You will be forgiven for this directness, because its always obvious that you are a learner.
Dont worry about upsetting native speakers for being so bold as to speak to them in their own

One of the best things you can do in the initial stages is not to try to get everything perfect, but
to embrace making mistakes. I go out of my way to make at least 200 mistakes a day! This way I know I
am truly using and practicing the language.

[TIM: I actually view part of my role as that of comedian or court jesterto make native speakers chuckle
at my Tarzan speak. If you make people smile, it will make you popular, which will make you enthusiastic
to continue.]

#9 Create SMART goals.

Another failing of most learning approaches is a poorly defined end-goal.

We tend to have New Years Resolutions along the lines of Learn Spanish, but how do you know when
youve succeeded? If this is your goal, how can you know when youve reached it?

Vague end goals like this are endless pits (e.g. Im not ready yet, because I havent learned
the entire language).

S.M.A.R.T. goals on the other hand are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
To start developing your SMART goal in a language, I highly recommend you become somewhat familiar
with the European Common Framework that defines language levels. This framework provides you
with a way of setting specific language goals and measuring your own progress.
In brief, A means beginner, B means intermediate, and C means advanced, and each level is broken up
into lower (1) and upper (2) categories. So an upper beginner speaker is A2, and a lower advanced
speaker is C1. As well as being Specific, these levels are absolutely Measurable because officially
recognized institutions can test you on them and provide diplomas (no course enrollment necessary)
in German, French, Spanish, Irish, and each other official European language. While the same
scale is not used, you can also get tested in a similar way in Chinese and Japanese.
So what do you aim for? And what do words like fluency and mastery mean on a practical level?

Ive talked to many people to try to pinpoint the never-agreed-upon understanding of fluency, and Ive
found that it tends to average out around the B2 level (upper intermediate). This effectively means that
you have social equivalency with your native language, which means that you can live in your target
language in social situations in much the same way that you would in your native language, such as
casual chats with friends in a bar, asking what people did over the weekend, sharing your aspirations and
relating to people.
Since we are being specific, its also important to point out that this does not require that you can work
professionally in a language (in my case, as an engineer or public speaker, for instance). That would
be mastery level (generally C2).

Though Ive reached the C2 stage myself in French, Spanish and am close to it in other languages,
realistically I only really need to be socially equivalent in a language I want to communicate in. I dont
need to work in other languages. Its essential that you keep your priorities clear to avoid frustration.
Most of the time, just target B2.
To make your specific goal Attainable, you can break it down further. For example, Ive found that the
fluency (B2) level can be achieved in a matter of months, as long as you are focused on the spoken

In phonetic languages (like most European ones), you can actually learn to read along with speaking, so
you get this effectively for free. But realistically, we tend to write emails and text messagesnot essays
on a day-to-day basis (unless you are a writer by trade, and you may not have those goals with your L2).
Focusing on speaking and listening (and maybe reading) makes fluency in a few months much more

Finally, to make your project Time-bound, I highly recommend a short end-point of a few months.

Keeping it a year or more away is far too distant, and your plans may as well be unbound at that point.
Three months has worked great for me, but 6 weeks or 4 months could be your ideal point. Pick a definite
point in the not too distant future (summer vacation, your birthday, when a family member will visit), aim to
reach your target by this time, and work your ass off to make it happen.

To help you be smarter with your goals, make sure to track your progress and use an app like Lift to track
completing daily essential tasks.

You can join the Lift plan for language learning that I wrote for their users here.
#10 Jump from Conversational (B1) to Mastery (C2).

The way I reach spoken fluency quickly is to get a hell of a lot of spoken practice.

From day one to day 90 (and beyond), I speak at least an hour a day in my L2, and my study time is
tailored around the spoken sessions to make sure that my conversation is whats improvingnot just my
general language skills through some vague list of words I may never use.
So, for instance, I may start a session by asking what my native friend or teacher did over the weekend,
and tell them what I did. Then I will share something that is on my mind lately and attempt to express my
opinion on it, or allow the native speaker to introduce a new topic. Its important to take an active role and
make sure you are having varied conversations. Have a list of topics you would like to discuss and bring
them up (your hobbies, hopes for the future, dislikes, what you will do on your vacation etc.) and make
sure the conversation is constantly progressing.
Lots of practice and study to improve those spoken sessions tends to get me to lower intermediate (B1)
level, which means I can understand the other person speaking to me fine as long as they are willing to
speak clearly and adjust to my level and mistakes. Its a LOT of work, mind you! On typical learning days I
can be filled with frustration or feel like my brain is melting whenin factIm truly making a lot of
But the work is totally worth it when you have your first successful conversation with a native speaker.
Youll be thrilled beyond belief.
To see what this B1 level looks like, check out these videos of me chatting to a native in Arabic (in person
with my italki teacher!), and in Mandarin with my friend Yangyang about how she got into working as a
TV show host:
At this level, I still make plenty of mistakes of course, but they dont hinder communication too much.

But to get over that plateau of just good enough, this is the point where I tend to return to academic
material and grammar books, to tidy up what I have. I find I understand the grammar much better once Im
already speaking the language. This approach really works for me, but there is no one best language-
learning approach. For instance, Tim has had great success by grammatically deconstructing a
language right from the start. Your approach will depend entirely on your personality.
After lots of exercises to tidy up my mistakes at the B1 level, I find that I can break into B2.

At the B2 stage you can really have fun in the language! You can socialize and have any typical
conversation that youd like.

To get into the mastery C1/C2 levels though, the requirements are very different. Youll have to start
reading newspapers, technical blog posts, or other articles that wont exactly be light reading.
To get this high-level practice, Ive subscribed to newspapers on my Kindle that I try to read every day
from various major news outlets around the world. Here are the top newspapers in Europe, South
America and Asia. After reading up on various topics, I like to get an experienced professional (and
ideally pedantic) teacher to grill me on the topic, to force me out of my comfort zone, and make sure Im
using precisely the right words, rather than simply making myself understood.
To show you what a higher level looks like, here is a chat I had with my Quebec Couchsurfer about the
fascinating cultural and linguistic differences between Quebec and France (I would have been at a C1
level at this stage):

Reaching the C2 level can be extremely difficult.

For instance, I sat a C2 exam in German, and managed to hold my ground for the oral component,
when I had to talk about deforestation for ten minutes, but I failed the exam on the listening component,
showing me that I needed to be focused and pay attention to complicated radio interviews or podcasts at
that level if I wanted to pass the exam in future.

#11 Learn to sound more native.

At C2, you are as good as a native speaker in how you can work and interact in the language, but you
may still have an accent and make the odd mistake.

I have been mistaken for a native speaker of my L2 several times (in Spanish, French and Portuguese
including when I was still at the B2/fluent level), and I can say that its a lot less related to your language
level, and more related to two other factors.

First, your accent/intonation

Accent is obvious; if you cant roll your R in Spanish you will be recognized as a foreigner instantly.
Your tongue muscles are not set in their ways forever, and you can learn the very few new sounds that
your L2 requires that you learn. Time with a native, a good Youtube video explaining the sounds, and
practice for a few hours may be all that you need!
What is much more important, but often overlooked, is intonationthe pitch, rise, fall, and stress of your
words. When I was writing my book, I interviewed fellow polyglot Luca who is very effective in adapting a
convincing accent in his target languages. For this, intonation is pivotal.
Luca trains himself from the very start to mimic the musicality and rhythm of a languages natives by
visualizing the sentences. For instance, if you really listen to it, the word France sounds different in I
want to go to France (downward intonation) and France is a beautiful country (intonation raising
upwards). When you repeat sentences in your L2, you have to mimic the musicality of them.
My own French teacher pointed out a mistake I was making along these same lines.

I was trying to raise my intonation before pauses, which is a feature of French that occurs much more
frequently than in English, but I was overdoing it and applying it to the ends of sentences as well. This
made my sentences sound incomplete, and when my teacher trained me to stop doing this, I was told that
I sounded way more French.

You can make these changes by focusing on the sounds of a language rather than just on the words.

Truly listen to and and mimic audio from natives, have them correct your biggest mistakes and drill the
mistakes out of you. I had an accent trainer show me how this worked, and I found out some
fascinating differences between my own Irish accent and American accents in the process! To see for
yourself how the process works, check out the second half of this post with Soundcloud samples.
Second, walk like an Egyptian
The second factor that influences whether or not you could be confused for a native speaker, involves
working on your social and cultural integration. This is often overlooked, but has made a world of
difference to me, even in my early stages of speaking several languages.

For instance, when I first arrived in Egypt with lower intermediate Egyptian Arabic, I was disheartened that
most people would speak English to me (in Cairo) before I even had a chance for my Arabic to shine. Its
easy to say that Im too white to ever be confused for an Egyptian, but theres more to it than that.

They took one look at me, saw how foreign I obviously was, and this overshadowed what language I was
actually speaking to them.

To get around this problem, I sat down at a busy pedestrian intersection with a pen and paper and made a
note of everything that made Egyptian men about my age different from me. How they walked, how they
used their hands, the clothing they wore, their facial expressions, the volume theyd speak at, how theyd
groom themselves, and much more. I found that I needed to let some stubble grow out, ditch my bright
light clothes for darker and heavy ones (despite the temperature), exchange my trainers for dull black
shoes, ditch my hat (I never saw anyone with hats), walk much more confidently, and change my facial

The transformation was incredible! Every single person for the rest of my time in Egypt
would start speaking to me in Arabic, including in touristy parts of town where they spoke excellent
English and would be well used to spotting tourists. This transformation allowed me to walk from the
Nile to the Pyramids without any hassle from touts and make the experience all about the fascinating
people I met.
Try it yourself, and youll see what I meanonce you start paying attention, the physical social differences
will become easy to spot.
You can observe people directly, or watch videos of natives youd like to emulate from a target country.
Really try to analyze everything that someone of your age and gender is doing, and see if you can mimic
it next time you are speaking.

Imitation is, after all, the most sincere form of flattery!

#12 Become a polyglot.

This post has been an extremely detailed look at starting off and trying to reach mastery in a foreign
language (and even passing yourself off as a native of that country).

If your ultimate goal is to speak multiple languages, you can repeat this process over multiple times, but I
highly recommend you focus on one language at a time until you reach at least the intermediate level.
Take each language one by one, until you reach a stage where you know you can confidently use it. And
then you may just be ready for the next ones!

While you can do a lot in a few months, if you want to speak a language for the rest of your life it requires
constant practice, improvement, and living your life through it as often as you can. But the good news is
once you reach fluency in a language, it tends to stick with you pretty well.

Also, keep in mind that while the tips in this article are an excellent place to start, there is a huge
community of polyglots online willing to offer you their own encouragement as well. A bunch of us came
together in this remix, Skype me Maybe.

Enter Gabriel An overview of what this is and why it works

Two Foreign Words

Lets compare two experiences. Heres the first one: you come into a language class, and your
(Hungarian) teacher writes the following on the board:

Kitchen cabinet konyhaszekrny

She tells you that this is going to be on your vocab quiz next week, along with forty other words you dont
care much about.
Experience two: You and your most adventurous friend are sitting in a bar, somewhere in Scandinavia.
The bartender is a grey-bearded Viking, who places three empty shot glasses in front of you in a line.
From behind the counter, he pulls out a bottle labeled Moktor and pours a viscous, green liquid into the
three glasses. He then grabs a jar and unscrews the lid. Its full of something that looks and smells
disturbingly like slimy, decaying baby fish, which he spoons into each shot glass. He then pulls out a silver
cigarette lighter and lights the three shots on fire.

This Moktor, he says, picking up one of the glasses. The locals in the bar turn towards you and your
friend. Moktor! Moktor! Moktor! they all begin to shout, laughing, as the bartender blows out the
flame on his shot glass and downs the drink. Your friend your jackass friend picks up his glass,
screams Moktor! and does the same. The crowd goes wild, and you, after giving your friend a nasty
look, pick up your glass and follow suit.

As a result of this experience, you are going to remember the word Moktor forever, and if you still
remember the Hungarian word for kitchen cabinet, youre likely going to forget it within a few minutes.

Lets talk about why this happens. Your brain stores memories in the form of connections. Moktor has a
(bitter, fishy) taste, which connects with its (rotting) smell. That taste and smell are connected to a set of
images: the green bottle, the jar of rotting fish, the grey-bearded barkeep. All of that, in turn, is connected
to a set of emotions: excitement, disgust, fear. And those emotions and images and tastes and smells are
connected to the writing on that green bottle and the sound of that chanting crowd: Moktor.

Konyhaszekrny, in comparison, just doesnt stand a chance. In English, kitchen cabinet

may evoke all sorts of multi-sensory memories over the course of your life, youve probably seen
hundreds of cabinets, eaten wonderful foods in their presence, and assembled your own cabinets from
IKEA but konyhaszekrny has none of these things. Youre not thinking about IKEAs weird metal
bolts or bags of Doritos when you see konyhaszekrny; youre just associating the sound of the
Hungarian word (which youre not even sure how to pronounce) with the sound of the English words
kitchen cabinet. With so few connections, you dont have much to hold on to, and your memory for the
Hungarian word will fade rapidly. (For a more in-depth discussion about memory and language
learning, check out this video excerpt)

In order to learn a language and retain it, youll need to build Moktor-like connections into your words.
The good news is that if you know what youre doing, you can do this methodically and rapidly, and you
dont even need to travel to Scandinavia.

The Components of a Memorable Word

If we strip a word down to its bare essentials, a memorable word is composed of the following:

A spelling (M-o-k-t-o-r)
A sound (MAWK-tore, or, if you want to get fancy)
A meaning (A viscous green drink, served on fire with dead, baby fish in it.)
A personal connection (Ick.)

If you can assemble these four ingredients, you can build a long-lasting memory for a word. So thats
exactly what were going to do. In addition, were going to use a Spaced Repetition System. This is a
flashcard system that automatically quizzes you on each of your flashcards just before you forget
whats on them. Theyre a ridiculously efficient way to push data into your long-term memory, and well
take advantage of that, too.

My language learning method relies on four stages: Begin by learning your languages sound and spelling
system, then learn 625 simple words using pictures. Next, use those words to learn the grammatical
system of your language, and finally play, by watching TV, speaking with native speakers, reading books
and writing.

Keep in mind that different languages will take different amounts of time. The Foreign Service Institute
makes language difficulty estimates for English speakers, and Ive found their estimates are spot on
in my experience, Russian and Hungarian seem to take twice as much time as French, and I expect that
Japanese will take me twice as long as Hungarian. For the purposes of this article, Ill assume that youre
learning a Level 1 language like French, and you have a spare 30-60 minutes a day to dedicate to your
language studies. If youre studying something trickier or have different amounts of spare time, adjust

Here are the four stages of language learning that well go through:
Stage 1: Spelling and Sound: Learn how to hear, produce and spell the
sounds of your target language
1-3 weeks

One of the many reasons that Moktor is easier to memorize than konyhaszekrny is that Moktor looks
and sounds relatively familiar. Sure, you havent seen that particular set of letters in a row, but you can
immediately guess how to pronounce it (MAWK-tore). Konyhaszekrny, on the other hand, is completely
foreign. Whats sz sound like? Whats the difference between and e? The word is a disaster when
it comes to spelling and sound, and it gets even worse if you were looking at Russians , or
Mandarins .

Before you can even begin assembling memories for words, youre going to need to create a spelling and
sound foundation upon which you can build those memories. So spend your first 1-3 weeks focusing
exclusively on spelling and sound, so that the foreign spellings and sounds of your target language are no
longer foreign to you.

To break down that process a bit, youre learning three things:

How to hear the new sounds in your target language,

How to pronounce the sounds, and
How to spell those sounds.

Well tackle those in order.

How to hear new sounds

Many people dont think about hearing when they approach a new language, but its an absolutely
essential first step. When I began Hungarian, I discovered that the letter combinations ty and gy
sounded basically identical to my ears.

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If I had rushed ahead and started learning words and grammar immediately, Id
have been at a severe disadvantage whenever I learned words with those letter
combinations, because Id be missing the sound connection when trying to build
memories for those words. How could I remember a word like tyk (hen) if I cant
even hear the sounds in it, let alone repeat them aloud?

There are a few different ways to learn to hear new sounds, but the best that Ive seen comes from a line
of research on Japanese adults, learning to hear the difference between Rock and Lock.

Ive made a little video summarizing these studies, but heres the short version: to rewire your ears
to hear new sounds, you need to find pairs of similar sounds, listen to one of them at random (tyuk!),
guess which one you thought you heard (Was it gyuk?), and get immediate feedback as to whether you
were right (Nope! It was tyuk!). When you go through this cycle, your ears adapt, and the foreign
sounds of a new language will rapidly become familiar and recognizable.

For Hungarian, I built myself a simple app that performs these tests. In the end, it took me ten days at 20
minutes a day to learn how to hear all of the new sounds of Hungarian (of which there are quite a few!). It
is a ridiculously efficient way to learn pronunciation; after experiencing it myself, I made it my personal
goal to develop pronunciation trainers for 12 of the most common languages, a goal that thanks to
Kickstarter is coming to fruition. These trainers will walk you through ear training tests and teach you the
spelling system of your target language in ~2 weeks. As I finish them, Ill be putting them on my
website, here. But if Im not covering your language yet, or if you prefer to do things on your own, I have
an article on my site explaining how to make them yourself for free.

How to pronounce new sounds

With your ears out of the way, you can start mastering pronunciation. But wait! Is it even possible to
develop a good accent from the start? Ive long heard the claim that developing a good accent is only
possible if youve been speaking a language before the age of 7, or 12, or some other age that has long
since past.

This is simply not true. Singers and actors develop good accents all the time, and the only thing special
about them is that theyre paid to sound good. So yes, you can do this, and its not that hard.
Once your ears begin to cooperate, mastering pronunciation becomes a lot easier. No one told you, for
instance, how to pronounce a K in English, yet the back of your tongue automatically jumps up into the
back of your mouth to produce a perfect K every time. Most of the time, your ears will do this for you in a
foreign language, too, as long as youve taken the time to train them. That being said, there may be
occasions when you can hear a foreign sound just fine, but it just wont cooperate with your mouth. If that
happens, you may benefit from a bit of information about where to put your tongue and how to move your
lips. Ive made a Youtube series that walks you through the basics of pronunciation in any
language. Check it out here. Itll teach your mouth and tongue how to produce tricky new sounds.

This gives you a few super powers: your well-trained ears will give your listening comprehension a huge
boost from the start, and your mouth will be producing accurate sounds. By doing this in the beginning,
youre going to save yourself a great deal of time, since you wont have to unlearn bad pronunciation
habits later on. Youll find that native speakers will actually speak with you in their language, rather
than switching to English at the earliest opportunity.

How to spell new sounds

Spelling is the easiest part of this process. Nearly every grammar book comes with a list of example
words for every spelling. Take that list and make flashcards to learn the spelling system of your language,
using pictures and native speaker recordings to make those example words easier to remember.

Those flashcards look like this:

Spelling Flashcard 1
(Trains individual letters and letter combinations)
Spelling Flashcard 2
(Connects a recording of an example word to the spelling system of your

And I have a guide to building them on my website.

Authors note: For Japanese and the Chinese dialects, youre going to be learning the phonetic
alphabets first Kana (Japanese) or Pinyin (Chinese). Later, when you get to Stage 2, youll be learning
characters. You can find an article on modifying this system for those languages over here.

Stage 2: Learn 625 Basic Words: Learn a set of extremely common, simple
words using pictures, not translations
1-2 months

To begin any language, I suggest starting with the most common, concrete words, as theyre going to be
the most optimal use of your time. This is the 80/20 Rule in action; why learn niece in the beginning
when youre going to need mother eighty times more often?

On my website, I have a list of 625 basic words. These are words that are common in every language
and can be learned using pictures, rather than translations: words like dog, ball, to eat, red, to jump.
Your goal is two-fold: first, when you learn these words, youre reinforcing the sound and spelling
foundation you built in the first stage, and second, youre learning to think in your target language.

Often, when someone hears this advice, they think its a good idea and try it out. They pick up a word
like devushka (girl) in Russian, and decide to learn it using a picture, instead of an English translation.
They go to Google Images (or better, Google Images Basic Mode, which provides captions for each
word and more manageably sized images), and search for girl. Heres what theyll see:
How to Learn a Language in
Just 30 Minutes a Day

Sean Kim

Who says learning a language needs to be a full-time job? With the right
strategy, scheduling, and tools, youll only need 30 minutes a day.

Unfortunately, most of us have fallen into the trap of relying on learning

methods that are ineffective and require a significant amount of time
upfront to see any results. This leads to a lack of momentum, motivation,
and purpose, where the most logical action is to quit.

In fact, before we share with you how to learn a language by spending

only 30 minutes a day, lets share the most common mistakes language
learners make.

The wrong methods of learning

The first and most common mistake is the choice of method one uses.
This is the most deadly mistake, because its the first decision we must
make when weve committed to learning a language, and most people
dont know the options available when they first get started.
Whats more dangerous is that once theyve committed to a method, its
harder to explore other options, and they often blame their lack of innate
learning power, age, or convince themselves that learning a language
isnt for them.

What are some of these ineffective methods?

First off, any solution that doesnt give you the real-life interaction of
speaking the language with another human should be crossed off. Were
not saying these solutions are completely ineffective, but they should not
be relied on as your main method of learning. Instead, they should
be complementary to your main method. This includes free mobile apps
like Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, language schools, and audio

The best way to learn a language is the same way youll be using the
languagefrom another human. This could be in the form of undergoing
a language immersion program, going through a conversation exchange,
or working with a private, professional teacher.

Being overly optimistic about results

The second common mistake is something many of us have facedbeing
too optimistic. This leads to unrealistic expectations that cannot be
fulfilled, like learning a language in 30 days, or making a million
dollars in the stock market
Its important to have clear goals we can visualize, but we must also be
realistic and understand that the best things take time. Think about how
you first learned English or your native language. Did it happen in one

The more realistic answer is that you will face what we call the training

This curve pattern can be represented for just about anything you want
to learn and achive, no matter how talented you already are. Well all
have our high moment and low moments. Its important to make sure we
understand this pattern versus having expectations that well always be

A lack of persistency
Most of us can achieve any goal we set for ourselves, as long as we stick
with it long enough. So, why do we quit too early?

We already talked about having overly high expectations. But the other
main reason is explained by Simon Sinek, the bestselling author of Start
With Why, as not having an inner purpose. Most of us are fascinated by
the what and the how-to solutions of learning something, but never
take the time to reflect why were trying to learn it in the first place.

For language learning, you could start by asking questions like:

What opportunities will you open yourself up to?

Who will you be able to connect with?

Who will you become as an individual?

This doesnt have to be limited to language learning, and taking even 5

minutes to carefully think about these questions and answer them will
change the outcome of your inner motivation, drive, and purpose to push
you forward when things inevitably become difficult.

Now, lets talk about effective strategies for learning.

Heres the most effective 3 areas you can focus on to learn a language in
less than 30 minutes a day.

*Note: 30 minutes a day spent learning is equivalent to 210 minutes

(3.5 hours) per week.

1. Learning and reviewing the most

common words (10 minutes a day)
If youre starting out, theres no better bang for your time than learning
the most common words. Studies by linguists have shown that:
Studying the 2000 most frequently used words will familiarize
you with 84% of vocabulary in non-fiction, 86.1% of vocabulary
in fictional literature, and 92.7% of vocabulary in oral speech.

Whats worth pointing out is that:

Studying the 3000 most frequently used words will familiarize

you with 88.2% of vocabulary in non-fiction, 89.6% of vocabulary
in fiction, and 94.0% of vocabulary in oral speech.

This means that, while the first 2,000 most common words helped
familiarize you with 92.7% of the language, learning an additional 1,000
words helped you gain only 1.3% more of the language. Talk about a time

Knowing that 2,000 should be our initial target of words to learn,

spending only 10 minutes a day to learn and review 20 words will help us
reach 2,000 words in just 100 days (about 3 months).

Total time required: 10 minutes a day

2. Working with a private teacher

online (three 30-minute sessions per
Just understanding vocabulary isnt going to help us speak fluently with
a native speaker. The only way to achieve this level of fluency is to work
with a private teacher who can work with you live and give you the
immediate feedback you need to correct your mistakes.

Luckily, we no longer have to commute or sign up for language schools

that require a 6-hour daily commitment. By taking advantage of the
technology and communication solutions we have available, we can work
with a professional teacher in the comfort of our home, wherever we go,
while spending only 30 minutes per session.

Websites like Rype offer unlimited one-on-one sessions with a

professional language teacher online, allowing you to learn on-the-go,
anywhere, and anytime you want, even on the weekends and at night.

By leveraging the on-the-go and on-demand solutions we have at our disposal, a lack of time should
be out of the equationespecially when we can learn in our PJs!

Total time required: (30 minutes per session) x (3 sessions per

week) = 90 mins divided by 7 days = about 13 minutes a day

3. Follow-up review and practice (15

minutes of review per session)
If you want to see accelerated results, theres no question that time
invested learning outside of your private sessions will benefit you.

This could be homework assigned by your language teacher, Spanish

classes to watch, articles to read, or anything to keep you immersed in
between your sessions. For some of us, this might mean having 4 private
sessions per week without the need to review, or working with an
accountability partner to help each other practice the language.

Either way, keep it short and sweet to make sure youre digesting the
materials you learned during the lesson.

Total time required: (15 minutes per session) x (3 sessions per

week) = 45 minutes divided by 7 days = about 7 minutes a day

**Final total: 10 minutes a day (studying the most common

words) + 13 minutes a day (private sessions) + 7 minutes a day
(follow-up review)

= 30 minutes a day to learn a language.

Thats all there is to it! With the right solutions, strategy, and tools, you
can take the shortcut approach without wasting years of time and
hundreds of dollars on ineffective methods.

In just 30 minutes a day, you can learn a language

How Long Should it Take to Learn a


How Long Should it Take to Learn a Language?

Language learning depends mostly on three factors: the attitude of the
learner, the time available, and the learners attentiveness to the language. If
we assume a positive attitude and reasonable and growing attentiveness to
the language on the part of the learner, how much time should it take to learn
a language?
FSI, the US Foreign Service Institute, divides languages into groups of
difficulty for speakers of English:

Group 1: French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian,

Spanish, Swahili
Group 2: Bulgarian, Burmese, Greek, Hindi, Persian, Urdu

Group 3: Amharic, Cambodian, Czech, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian,

Lao, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese

Group 4: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean

FSI has 5 levels of proficiency:

1. Elementary proficiency. The person is able to satisfy routine travel

needs and minimum courtesy requirements.

2. Limited working proficiency. The person is able to satisfy routine social

demands and limited work requirements.

3. Minimum professional proficiency. The person can speak the language

with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in
most formal and informal conversations on practical, social, and professional

4. Full professional proficiency. The person uses the language fluently and
accurately on all levels normally pertinent to professional needs.

5. Native or bilingual proficiency. The person has speaking proficiency

equivalent to that of an educated native speaker.

On this scale, I would call 2 above basic conversational fluency.

FSI research indicates that it takes 480 hours to reach basic fluency in group
1 languages, and 720 hours for group 2-4 languages.
If we are able to put in 10 hours a day to learn a language, then basic fluency
in the easy languages should take 48 days, and for difficult languages 72
days. Accounting for days off, this equates to two months or three months
time. If you only put in five hours a day, it will take twice as long.
Is ten hours a
day reasonable to learn a language? It could be. Here is a sample day.
8-12: Alternate listening, reading and vocabulary review using LingQ, Anki or
some other system.
12-2: Rest, exercise, lunch, while listening to the language.
2-3: Grammar review
3-4: Write
4-5: Talk via skype or with locals if in the country
5-7: Rest
7-10: Relaxation in the language, movies, songs, or going out with friends in
the language. depending on availability.
To some extent the language needs time to gestate and often things we study
today do not click in for months. On the other hand, intensity has its own
benefits. I have no doubt that someone following this intense program, or
something similar, would achieve basic conversational fluency in two months
for easy languages, and three months for difficult languages.
To go from level 2 to level 4, or full professional fluency would take quite a bit
longer, perhaps twice as long.
Active And Passive Vocabulary In Language Learning
What is active and passive vocabulary? A learners passive vocabulary is the
words that they understand but dont use yet. Active vocabulary, on the other
hand, is the words that learners understand and use in speaking or writing.

When learning a language, should we focus more on developing an ability to

speak or on building up our understanding of the language? This is a common
question language learners ask, especially at the beginning of their language
learning journey. Here are my views.

It is impossible to be fluent if you cant understand. The native speaker with

whom youre going to speak is always going to have a bigger vocabulary than
you, so your understanding needs to be of a higher level than your speaking.
Whats more, in any language, even our own, we usually spend more time
listening than we do speaking. Youve got to understand what people are
saying around you.

What do they often do in classrooms? They encourage people to speak, and

speak correctly right from the beginning. But beginner learners have no
context, no familiarity with the language. It just becomes a matter of rote
cramming of information that is relatively meaningless.

I read recently that anything we cram or learn against the grain is only going
to stay in our short-term memory. Things that we acquire through longer term
and enjoyable engagement will stay with us longer. That is why a language-
learning method that is based on lots of listening and reading I know Im a
bit repetitious on this will ensure longer term retention of the language.
Youre going to be able to revive and refresh those languages more easily if
you leave the language for a while. A couple of weeks of listening and reading,
and perhaps speaking a bit, and it comes back stronger than ever before. Its
in there soundly because its built up based on this very large passive

I recently watched a TED talk by linguist Conor McDonough Quinn. In it he

said things that I consider to be simply untrue. He said the biggest obstacle
people have in language learning is their fear of not being able to speak. He
proposed that the way around that is to learn fewer words, just a few key
words and then speak. But if you do that, you wont understand much, and
thats an even worse situation. To me, the biggest fear I have is not
understanding what people are saying to me.

Of course theres no question that when you speak you are going to struggle
and stumble. Its embarrassing, you cant say what you want. All of those
things are true. If, however, you at least understand what the person is saying,
if you have a large passive vocabulary, youre going to feel more comfortable
and more confident. This gives you more time to think, and reduces the
pressure on you, so that you can try to use, try to activate, some of your
passive vocabulary. This passive vocabulary will be activated once you start to
speak more. At some point you have to speak, and speak a lot. However, it is
amazing how much you can learn just through a very consistent program of
listening and reading. Eventually, however, you have to activate it through lots
of speaking.

In the initial stage of your listening and reading program, its important to listen
to the same limited material over and over because you cant even, at first, tell
where one word ends and the next word begins. You have to allow your brain
to get used to the language. However, in my case, after a month or two, I
listen less often to the same material. I tend to do more extensive reading and
listening, moving on to new material sooner, because I want to cover lots of

In the LingQ reader, which is where I do most of new language reading, its
possible to deal with texts that have 30-40% unknown words. This enables me
to engage with difficult material, listening and reading, with the goal of building
up my passive vocabulary. Thats why at LingQ the easiest and most useful
thing to measure is the learners passive vocabulary.

How many words can you more or less recognize when you see them or hear
them in a given context? Even if you are helped by the context, it still counts
because all of these words youre going to see again and again. If they matter
to you, if theyre important, theyll come up again and again. If you are
listening and reading in an extensive way, theyll keep coming up. Youll see
them in different contexts and youll gradually get a better sense of what they

You dont have to nail down a word or phrase the first time you encounter it.
When you are ready to speak, and as you speak more and more, the
vocabulary will activate naturally. The idea that, as you start into a language,
youre going focus on trying to speak the language, to me is simply nonsense
from a language-learning efficiency point of view. It may be what people want
to do. Perhaps that is so. But then most people are not that successful at
language learning. Maybe it is because the can speak but dont understand
very well. This makes it difficult to have a meaningful conversation.

It is true, however, that different people have different reasons for wanting to
learn a language. Some people simply want to be able to say hello and give
the impression that they speak the language. If that is the case, then to focus
on a few key sentences and phrases is probably quite useful. However, if the
goal is to be able to participate comfortably in conversations, or understand
what people are saying around you in the workplace, if the goal is to gain that
kind of comprehension, then you have to focus on your passive vocabulary.

Im not saying you have to know every word in the dictionary, but you need a
substantial vocabulary, and it doesnt matter whether you only count words as
word families or whether you count every occurrence of the word the way we
do at LingQ. Its arbitrary. I have compared pursuing passive vocabulary to
dogs pursuing the mechanical rabbit in dog races. Its something that you
pursue as a measurable goal, in order to build up that familiarity with the
language through massive listening and reading.

There are people who read very well and cant speak well. But people who
read well and understand well when listening are eventually going to be able
to speak well. If they dont speak well yet, its because they havent spoken
enough. But if they decide to go and speak with that kind of a grasp of the
language based on passive vocabulary, they will very quickly become good
active users of the language.
How to Learn Any Language
I always try to do the things that are the least amount of work when learning a
language; I like to engage in effortless language learning when I learn any
language, not completely effortless of course, but as effortless as possible.
I borrow the word effortless from two sources. One is AJ Hoge, who is a
great teacher of English. His channel and website are both called Effortless
English. My other source is Taoist philosophy.

Effortlessness and the Parable of the Crooked Tree

When I wrote my book The Linguist: A Personal Guide to Language Learning,
I began with what I called The Parable of the Crooked Tree. The author of the
parable was Zhuangzi, an early exponent of Taoism, a school of Chinese
philosophy from over 2,000 years ago. I referred to Taoism on a number of
occasions in my book. Zhuangzis basic principle in life was to follow what was
natural, what was effortless and not try to force things.
Typically, the Taoist philosophy was in opposition to Confucianism, which
prescribed rules of what you should and shouldnt do in order to be a great
person. In Zhuangzis Parable of the Crooked Tree, his friend Huizi tells him
that a tree they are both observing is crooked because the lumber is not good
for anything, like Zhuangzis philosophy.
Neither your philosophy nor the tree is good for anything, says Huizi.
Zhuangzi replies You say that because you dont know how to use them. You
have to use things for the purpose intended and understand their true nature.
You can sit underneath a crooked tree and enjoy its shade, for example. If you
understand the true nature of things, you will be able to use them to achieve
your goals.
Im in the lumber business and sometimes those gnarly old trees produce very
expensive and decorative wood. Compared to trees in a planted forest,
however, their wood is less uniform and less suitable for industrial end uses.
Zhuangzi defends his philosophy saying it is useful if we accept its nature and
know how to use. His philosophy was based on effortlessness, called wu wei
() in Chinese.
In other words, you want to learn better, stop resisting, and stop fighting it; go
with the flow.That has always been my approach. Language learning does
require some effort, of course, but we learn best when effort is minimized and
pleasure is maximized.

If Im reading in a language that I read well, where there are few unknown
words, then I dont bother looking up these unknown words. Its too much
trouble. On the other hand, if I cant read well enough to enjoy reading away
from the computer, or my iPad, then I usually dont bother. Its too much
trouble looking words up in a dictionary, since the minute I close it I forget the
meaning. So I just I read on LingQ, usually on my iPad. LingQ is where I have
learned 7 languages in the last 10 years.
Once Ive looked the word up on LingQ its highlighted. The word appears
highlighted in any subsequent material, so Im reminded that Ive looked it up
before. I can see the meaning right away, and eventually it becomes part of
me, without any effort on my part. Im not just looking words up in a dictionary
and then forgetting them. I am creating a personal database of words and
phrases for easy review as I continue reading.

When I read grammar and I believe we should occasionally read grammar
rules as it helps give us a sense of the language I dont try to remember
I dont try to learn or understand anything. I just treat it as a spark, an
exposure of something that might help me eventually get a sense of the
language. I dont worry about grammar. I know it will gradually become clearer
for me.

Comprehension Questions
I dont do questions. When I was learning Czech I found an old Teach
Yourself Czech that I had bought many years ago. I found it kind of useful. It
had questions and grammar drills, but I never did them. It was, however,
useful to go to the back of the book and find the answers.
This way, rather than having to try to answer the question and wracking my
brain, I just read all the answers. This gives me a concentration of examples
of whatever the book is trying to test me on, case endings, pronouns or
whatever else. I dont like doing the questions because its too much work.
By the same token, when I read something I dont like answering
comprehension questions. I would rather have misunderstood the text and
have my own interpretation of it than have to answer a list of questions. I have
mentioned the great Brazilian educator Rubem Alves before. He once said
that nothing destroys the pleasure of reading as much as being asked
questions about what you have read.

I use flashcards only occasionally as a break from reading. Theyre easy to
do, if you do them the effortless way, for exposure.
I dont set the flashcard with the new word on the front and then the answer
on the back. Instead I put everything on the front. The new word, or phrase,
the meaning in English and the phrase, which LingQ captures. I just look at
the front of the flashcards and go through them very quickly. I dont have to
think, Im just being exposed to them effortlessly.

Sometimes the purists will tell you that you must only use a monolingual
dictionary. I never use a monolingual dictionary. Its much easier to use a
bilingual dictionary. If Im starting out in a language and I know few words, a
monolingual dictionary is useless.
Even when Im quite advanced I just find that a bilingual dictionary is more
useful. I get a hint of what that word might mean and return to what I am
reading, wanting to continue the discovery of what the content is all about. My
interest in the text drives my learning. I dont want to be distracted by a
dictionary definition which may contain even more words that I dont know.
I know that only through a lot of exposure will I eventually get the hang of that
word, but I dont want to spend my time trying to figure it out from a
monolingual dictionary. To me it is more effortless to use a bilingual dictionary,
and whatever is effortless to me is good.

Strange Language Features

I dont worry about things that I dont understand or elements of the new
language that I am not used to. One example is the custom, in some
languages, to have a large number of very specific terms for relatives, much
more than we have in English.
These names are often introduced early in a language, since they are
perceived as interesting aspects of the new culture. I cant be bothered with
them. Those are concepts we dont have in English, and so theyre very
difficult for me to relate to or remember. Eventually, after enough exposure,
these things will become easier to learn, as is the case with much that is new
and strange in a language.
Similarly, if youre a speaker of a language which doesnt have articles, like
Russian or Japanese, youre going to find articles difficult in English. I wouldnt
worry about it. Its going to take a long time before those things sink in.
As for me, I find it difficult to understand the explanations about certain
grammatical concepts, like the aspects of verbs in Russian. I naturally get it
right some of the time, and some of the time I dont. I am aware that such a
thing exists. Ive read the explanations and kind of get it but not really. I dont
worry about it. Similarly, in Japanese dont worry about polite language at first
because it takes a lot of exposure in order to have a sense for that. So I stick
with a neutral form of the language, and try to avoid being too polite or too
casual. There is less strain that way.
So in summary my advice is as follows:
Do whats easy.
Do what comes naturally and is satisfying.
Dont answer questions if you dont want to.
Dont force yourself to learn things.
Dont cram things into your brain.
Just expose yourself to the language, follow your curiosity, trust your brain and
you will learn any language effortlesslyor almost.

Can you learn a language in 10 days, 30 days

or 90 days?
Whenever you browse for language courses on the Internet you will find grandiose
claims of learning a language in 1, 2, 7, 10, 30, or 90 days. Is there some truth behind
that? Can you really learn a language that fast or do most advertisers just sell snake

Lets have a detailed look at it:

What does it mean to learn a language?

Here we present five possible definitions of what it means to learn a language of

course you are free to break it further down. But with these five you can easily see
already how ill defined the term to learn a language actually is. So, how could you
define what learning a language really means?

Level 1: I bought a language book or listened to a radio or TV program and

picked up some words.

Level 2: I have invested some time learning some hundred words and I am
capable of saying some very easy things like Hello, how are you doing?.

Level 3: I am learning many more words and am able to hold a decent every day
conversation such as How was your day? and I am not lost when I go shopping
or ordering my lunch in a restaurant.

Level 4:I have learned many more words and am able to understand pretty much
all the TV shows on general topics and can actively participate in most
Level 5: I have learned many, many, many, many more words and am able to
read about pretty much any topic and am able to entertain a reasonable and
fluent conversation even about philosophy, science or any other subject. I realize
however, that there are still occasionally some words or sentence structures
which I do not fully understand and I have to look them up or ask a native person.

Level 6: (Bonus) I am a native speaker and cant really understand what the fuzz
about all the language learning is doesnt everybody speak or understand
(insert your native language here)?

Now, looking at above possible definitions it is rather easy to categorize the language
courses and methods, which claim to make you learn a language in (pick your
number) of days or months.

What are the limits of your brain?

Your brain can learn and remember only so much at the time. Learning a language is a
rather huge task. If you intend to *really* learn a language in e.g. 10 days, you will most
likely suffer from brain overload, which essentially means you will have invested the
time in vain since whatever you have learned is only crammed into your short term
memory. Dropping your efforts after these 10 days again, will cause you to forget about
90% of what you have learned within a matter of a few days. In fact, all that is likely to
remain, is the unpleasant memory of stressing and overloading your brain and the
realization that you will never want to do such a thing again. Learning a language
however means that you are able to internalize every learned word to such an extent
that you really know it that is: you can use it without mental effort in any condition
and any time of day. Thus the words must come from your reliable long term memory.
Scientific studies have shown that the transfer from short term to long term memory
takes between 30 to 60 days depending on the relative importance of the memory trace.
And even if you manage to bring your words from short term to long term memory you
will still have to make sure that you repeat them regularly because although the long
term memory is much more resilient against forgetting (hence the name) forgetting
occurs nevertheless if not periodically refreshed.

How do you count 2 days and what can you

reasonably do in 2 days?
The obvious understanding is that by saying 2 days you mean for example today and
tomorrow. And consequently when you say 10 days you mean from to today on, the
next 10 days.
Obviously you cannot learn 24 hours a day thus the time when you can actively learn
new things is limited by your need for sleep. Most people experience a strong fatigue
after learning new things rather quickly. The more unknown the things youre learning
are (i.e. you cannot make any connections to what you know already) the faster the
onset of this fatigue, after which you simply will not be able to learn anything new
anymore. You have to give yourself a rest for maybe half an hour or an hour until you
can continue again. Optimistically you will be able to make 4-5 intensive learning
sessions of 1 hour a day which results in
about 8-10 hours in 2 days or 40-50 hours in 10 days.
In 10 such intensive hours you will be able to learn the basic grammatical structures of a
language (nothing fancy) and maybe about 100-200 words.
In 50 hours you will be able to get an overview over most of the grammar (excluding
special cases) and learn maybe about 800-1000 words.

Notice that this oversimplified back-of-the-envelope calculation assumes that you will
not be doing anything else but learning intensively with intermittent breaks for your
brain. If you try to do anything else demanding, any serious brain activity other than
your learning, you will flush your short term memory and destroy your previous learning

Looking at about 50 hours of work in 10 days the results dont seem too bad. However
there is a big catch: your brain does not work that way. Learning things intensively like
that does not impress the brain very much. As soon as you drop the learning you will
forget pretty much everything again unless you repeat what you have learned regularly.

Only because you have it in your short term memory does not mean you are able to
apply what you have learned.

Lets look at it another way. Instead of saying two days means today and tomorrow we
will just count 224 hours=48 hours. If you space those 48 hours of two days such that
you learn every day about 15 minutes, you will achieve the same thing as learning 10
days intensively. With one drastic difference: your brain had time to digest all what
you learned with enough breaks and if you kept repeating what you have learned
previously you will have made the transitions from short term to long term
memory which means, you actually really know those words.

Why would you want to learn a language in n days?

Before you read any further you maybe want to consider the question why you want to
learn a language at all. Obviously learning a language to a certain degree requires quite
a commitment and certainly a rather large number of hours of intensive learning
Whatever your reasons are for learning a language make sure that those reasons are
more important than what you have to pay for it in terms of hours and effort.
If you are still reading, you have probably made the conscious decision that it is worth it.
Maybe because of your boy- or girlfriend maybe because of your work or family or other
important circumstances.

Lets consider then why you possibly would want to have the language learned in 10
days or even 90 days. Whats the rush? Of course it would be really fantastic to invest
say 30 days and then be done with it and move on to the next great endeavor. BUT:
thats unfortunately not how your brain works.

Your brain learns only in one possible way. The more you are exposed to the
information you want to learn the better the brain remembers it. Notice that more does
not mean intensive as in 30 days but it means many times as in many times over a
long period of time best possibly years.

So if its not possible to go there fast what else can be done? Exactly! It should
take as little time as possible. And thats where spaced repetition comes into the
game. Because spaced repetition is scientifically proven to be the most time efficient
way to learn and retain any kind of information, in particular languages and the many
words you have to learn to reach proficiency.
Spaced repetition, such as our product Flashcard Learner, guarantees you that you
spend the least possible time learning and repeating and reaping the maximum benefit
from it.
Flashcard Learner makes sure you dont forget any more what you have learned! You
can try it out for free here.

Whats good about learning intensively only to forget soon thereafter again? This would
not be a smart investment of your time and efforts. By using spaced repetition you
will be able to spend as little as possible on learning or conversely to learn much
more in the same time as with any other learning method.

What is your goal?

As you have seen so far learning a language is a relative term. Depending on the goal
you set you will have to invest a different amount of time to reach it.

Here are some possible goals and some realistic, conservative estimates how long it
will take to learn a language up to a certain level:

1. Get an idea of a language and its grammatical structure: ~5-10 hours

2. Have very simple conversations such as Good morning, How are you, The
weather is nice etc.: 15-25 hours spaced over about 2 months with regular
repetitions so that you actually still remember what you have learned.

3. Have everyday small talk conversations (about 1500 words) 50-60 hours spaced
over 6 months.

4. Follow and understand TV and radio (about 5000 words): 200-300 hours spaced
over about 1 year.
5. Being fluent so that you are able to talk about what you just have heard on TV or
radio (about 6000 words and about 3000 sentences): 400 hours spaced over
about 1.5 to 2 years.

6. Being able to read pretty much any book and to talk about it freely and fluently
(about 12000-15000 words, ~8000-10000 sentences): 800 hours.

These are estimates which are still low in comparison to what an ordinary school
curriculum estimates (about 1800-2500 hours) for level 3, that is, intermediate language
skills. Good students might even achieve level 4 within this time, but only by taking
additional classes and working much outside school on their own. However we are
assuming that when you decide to learn a language on your own then your motivation is
much higher than that of a typical high school student. On the other hand, since you
possibly have a job, family or other obligations, your time is also much more limited than
that of the high schools students who are obliged to attend school.

By using spaced repetitions you will be able to learn the first 4000 words in about 60-80
hours (to long term memory) spaced over about 4-6 months. Our data suggests that this
is true for any language.

The first 3000-4000 words of a language are generally more difficult to learn than the
next 10000 because your brain will first have to create a feeling for the words and the
language. Also the first 3000-4000 words contain most of the basic and root words,
which are then later found in compound words. While the meaning of such compound
words still has to be learned, it is much easier to retain, because your brain knows
already all the components. For example, if you were an English learner, you might
have learned the words: to stand, and under, learning then the word to understand, will
be much easier. Or for example if you learn the word to estimate, and the
words under and over, then adding the words to overestimate or to underestimate is
fairly easy. Thus, in our experience, learning another 4000 words after the first 3000-
4000 words will be in the range of only 30-50 hours, nearly half the time needed for the
first 4000.

These are estimates, which we have seen by people using our software.

There are several factors which can lower the above figures significantly:

For example, it strongly depends which language you want to learn. Depending on the
similarity to your own language it will take you more or less time to correctly remember
the words and move them to your long term memory.
For example: if English is your mother tongue it will take you a much shorter time to
learn and remember a Germanic Language like German or Swedish, or a related
Romance language such as French, Italian, Spanish than a language, where you do not
find common words or grammatical structures: such as Russian, Arabic, Chinese or
Also it depends how difficult the language is (in absolute terms): Languages such as
French, Hungarian, Finnish, Russian, German and Chinese are generally perceived
more difficult than languages with simpler grammatical structures or less
declension/inflection and conjugation such as Indonesian, Esperanto, Italian, Spanish
and many others.

When learning one of the simpler languages, or learning another language of the
same language group, you can easily reduce above times by a factor of 2 to 3. The time
needed to learn another language also depends on your previous experience in
acquiring a new language.

Please note that these numbers are averages based on the feedback we have received
from active users of Flashcard Learner and cannot be a guarantee that the times are
accurate for any language and any particular individual.

How many hours should you put in?

The number of hours invested into learning a language entirely depends on your goal. If
you are fine having simple conversations only, then 50 to 60 hours are definitely

It is however really important to understand that learning 50 hours as 100x 1/2 hour
leads to completely different results than 77 hours (+ 1 additional hour).

If you are shooting for near native conversational, reading and writing skills be
prepared, however, to invest a large number of hours into your learning. It will take at
least several hundred if not thousands of hours to achieve this level of skill. No matter
what any language course will make you want to believe, learning a language requires a
huge effort, and before you even start you should have good reasons to do so.

So can you learn now a language in (put your number

here) days or months?
As we have seen from above discussion, it very much depends on your definition of
learning a language. Also it depends how you count the number of days: if you count
as x consecutive days then most definitely not. The reason being that your brain simply
will discard most of what you cram into it unless you dont actively repeat it many more
If however you actually count 10 days as 1024 hours = 240 hours spaced over a year
or two (for example 2401 hour or 480x 1/2 hour) you will have acquired a tremendous
skill and will be very close to proficiency.
So 10 full days of learning will indeed bring you at least to goal 3 if not 4 on the above
list. If you invest another 20 days or so, say 30 full days (= 2430 hours = 720 hours)
spaced over about two years you will be provided you use the right learning methods
like spaced repetition and direct conversation practice completely fluent with a rich
vocabulary of 10000-15000 words.

How to become an outstanding student and

expert in your field
If you are in school or at university you will surely have made the experience that there
are good students and not so good ones. And there are the outstanding ones. The
same goes for any field your might be working in. There are the doohs, the OK-guys
and the experts. In this article we will give you some advice how to become part of the
group of great and outstanding students as well as becoming leaders of the pack
experts in your field.

Mind you, this is not a guide how to become just a good boy (attaboy, anyone?) and it is
definitely not a guide how to game the educational system and cheat your way through.
It is about becoming genuinely good. It is about becoming a natural thought leader, a
top scientist, an expert, a creative mind and to land any kind of job you want.

What is an outstanding student?

An outstanding student is a person who has a natural curiosity and sees things
differently, he asks interesting questions, tries to connect things and relate them to other
experiences, has many ideas, and yes, usually gets good if not the best grades in
school or university.

You should not focus first on the grades, though .These are a natural consequence of
the mental attitude of such a student and his inquisitive mind. If all your focus is on
getting good grades then you miss the point. You dont start with good grades and then
become brilliant and outstanding. It is the other way around.

What is an expert?

An expert is a person who has a deep knowledge and experience in a particular field.
He knows the fundamentals, knows what people have done before him, what the
current frontiers are and what has been shown to work and what not. He is also a
person who moves the field forward by his own research. He has a genuine interest to
advance the field and to teach it actively to others, to popularize it and to help beginners
in the field to find their way. He does not hoard the knowledge but shares it with
everybody who wants to listen. He writes scientific papers, popular articles, blogs, and
tells people about his field. Others in the field know him and value his insights and

The perverse logics of cramming

If you care only about the grades, you start looking for ways to game the system, in
short to cheat. Examinations are part of your academic progress and by passing them
you move on to higher levels of your study. Or so they say. What happens in fact is that
for a very short period of time, say about a week or two you will cram everything that is
wanted from you into your short-term memory only to forget it right after the exam again.
Over a longer period, say several months or years at best 10-20% of what you have
presumably learned still stays in your long-term memory. And so you cram with every
exam until eventually you are done with your education in the best case or until you fall
flat because your system of cramming has failed.

The worst kind of memory you can have is to remember that you once knew that fact,
understood that algorithm or were able to perform that kind of procedure. This is as
useless as elderly people reminiscing about what they once were able to do in their
younger years.

There is a fundamental flaw in this kind of behavior, because all you do is trying to
circumvent the whole idea of exams. Exams are necessary, unfortunately, because it
gives us a way to measure the highly complex mechanism of transferring knowledge
from books or a professor or teacher to your brain that eventually should bring
understanding, which in turn leads you to a higher level of skill, ability and reasoning.
But, alas, this is just the theory. In practice you can never sample the understanding of
students accurately enough, so all educational institutions take the easy way out using
some more or less standardized tests to make sure that every student possesses at
least the minimum of text book knowledge to move on to the next grade.

Again, if you focus only on grades, you will find ways to reduce the amount of cramming
you have to do by preselecting only topics which have a high probability of being asked
during the exam. Instead of building up your knowledge, skill and understanding to
become knowledgeable and well versed in the topic you do the opposite, you just try to
pass exams only to forget the little, which you have temporarily stored in your short-term
memory right after the exam again.
Another drawback of this kind of learning is that it is extremely stressful, since you can
never be sure that what you have crammed will be enough to pass the exams.

Wouldnt it be nicer if there was another way that requires less time, less stress and you
will be knowing everything you have learned and you will be actually understanding
everything you have learned? And wouldnt it be nice if additionally to that there would
happen a change in your character and personality that came all by itself so that you
became more curious, more creative, more active, more questioning and critical, so as
to compare whatever comes your way with what you have learned already?

Well, there is.

And it is the natural way the brain learns and retains information.

The natural way of maintaining a perfect memory

Ask yourself: how does the brain know what is important to keep and what not? Some
information can be retained easily, as for example the latest gossip, whereas some
foreign words or mathematical formulae never seem to enter.

All else being equal the brain takes this information of relevance from the number of
times a piece of information has occurred in a certain time interval (lets say about half a
week). The brain does not discard information immediately but step wise, as if it first
wants to test if maybe the information is still relevant and important at some later point.
So if you learn something on day 1 and even repeat a couple of times but then leave it
at that for the brain this seems like you saw that piece of information once but then
never again. So what does it do? It discards most of it after about a week or two (this
corresponds to about 2-4 intervals of half a week: it sees 1-0-0-0, each time it checks if
the information occurred in the last two weeks, where 1 means Yes, I have seen it and
0 means This information has not occurred).

So for sure if after two or more weeks you have to recall what you have learned you will
most likely not recall it any more.

Lets change the repetition rhythm a bit: how about 1-1-0-0? Hmm, already better, but if
there wont be another 1 following soon, the same as in the first scenario will happen.
OK, one more time: how about 1-1-0-1? Bingo! You have refreshed the information in
almost every time interval so the brain will think Hey I saw that piece several times
now. That seems to be important. And so it will give that piece of information a higher
ranking so as not to discard it at the next occasion.

Hey wait a moment, I hear you say, Of course you will keep it in your brain if you keep
repeating everything twice a week. But if all I do is repeating, wheres the fun in life?
You are quite right, this would be rather pointless. Yet, the brain is smarter than that. By
giving higher ratings to information that has occurred several times over different
periods, those periods for the periodic cleanup get progressively longer. So, extending
the intervals of half a week you might do something like that: 1-1-0-1-0-0-1-0-0-0-0-1-0-
0-0-0-0-0-0-0-1- As you can see you have to make sure to repeat it, but the time
between repetitions gets longer and longer. Ultimately you might need to repeat this
piece of knowledge only every year of even only every 5 years.

When at first the brain would give a piece of information maybe two to three days of
brain shelf life after a while of seeing it repeatedly the time span will increase to weeks,
and later even months or years.

And thats really great because it means that you dont have to repeat stuff you have
learned that often at all in fact the number of times you have to repeat it is almost
negligible. But the word almost is the key difference between knowing and forgetting. By
making sure that you repeat the information before the brain discards it as unimportant
you can keep any information in your head indefinitely with very little additional effort. In
particular if you use a software that does all the scheduling for you. Try out Flashcard
Learner, you will be amazed at how well your brain will remember all the stuff you kept
forgetting simply by following the gentle reminders of the software.

But, I hear you say, all else equal is hardly ever the case. Some stuff enters easily in
my mind and I remember it even weeks or months afterwards.

Quite right, indeed. There are several factors that change the way we store and
maintain information. For example information that has a strong emotional or social
content will generally be remembered much more easily. Just think of some happy or
scaring memories and you will be almost reliving them again merely by thinking about
them. Also you will hardly forget what kind of relationships go on with your peers or

These facts are a results of our evolutionary development. Emotional and social content
was the most important part of our lives for the last, oh, 500000 years, so naturally we
have become quite good at storing that kind of information.

Unfortunately, this is not the information you are most likely supposed to learn. In fact
the information you have to learn will have hardly any social or emotional content at all.
They will be simply facts: for example words of a foreign language or facts of science,
engineering or technology and all the complex relations between them.

There is good news however. The basic principles for storing information are exactly the
sames for emotional and non-emotional content. The only difference is the rating, i.e.
brain shelf life, that the brain gives to those two. Non-emotional content is the one you
should learn but your brain remains pretty unimpressed by your needs, desires or
wishes to remember it. It categorically attaches a lower rating to those pieces of
On the other hand, the emotional content will also be forgotten in time, it just take a little
longer. Do you still remember the gossip and who goes with whom from last year, left
alone from last month? You see. Your impression, that you can store this stuff more
easily is maybe a bit overrated.

It all boils down to the simple fact. In order to store and retain any information (be it
emotional or non-emotional) you must repeat and revise it regularly. The only difference
is that emotional content usually takes a bit longer to be forgotten, but it will be forgotten
all the same.

The quest for becoming an A-student and expert

So how can you become somebody who understands how his brain works, somebody
who knows more than the average student, somebody who is is more creative, more
reflective and smarter than his peers in short, how can you become an A-student?
How can you become an expert in your field of choice?

You can have only ideas and creative breakthroughs about things you know or better,
parts you know. The more knowledge you possess the more you are able to connect
these individual parts, facts and relations in unusual ways and ask interesting or even
revolutionary questions and come up with mind-blowing answers.
You must know all the fundamentals of your field. And you must know them well. Only
like that you can make sure that your contributions to the field are meaningful. Also, the
fundamentals are what you build upon. They make sure that what you do is correct and
does not violate any principle, which has been established already. Or it will help you to
find out how to break them, or extend them and create a revolutionary new base for
your field.

You can make valid associations only between things that are inside your head, things
that you have thoroughly understood. And what else is an idea if not an association
between some parts, facts or relations, which you knew already individually but havent
seen together in a particular way?

The more things are active in your brain and the more you know and understand without
having to look them up, in short, the more they are directly accessible within your brain
the more you will develop the desire to associate them with other pieces of knowledge
that you possess already. Although you can actively aid that process, you dont have to.
Your brain will furnish you with a lot of connections and suddenly popping up ideas of
things, which have been simmering in your brain information store. And suddenly you
will start wondering if this fact might relate to that one or why certain things are as they
are. You will start asking questions without any conscious effort, simply out of genuine
interest and curiosity. You might be asking questions like:

Why is that?

How does that relate to what I know already?

Hmm, thats strange

I would have expected it to be different I wonder what the assumptions were?

It is true what they say: the more you know, the more you want to know. It is the brain,
which suddenly is not satisfied only with the superficial explanations any more. It wants
to know the deeper connections, the causes, the relations. It wants to know how
everything is weaved together, how the world ticks. It wants to know and understand the
fundamental parts. It wants to find out, to generalize, to solve the puzzle.

Logically, the more you know, and by that I mean really know and have understood, the
more clarity in your thoughts will appear. What you have learned will not be just a
jumble of assorted facts, hastily crammed in your short term memory to maybe pass an
exam. It will be solid, fundamental knowledge which will help you to soar in your chosen
field of interest, to become a domain expert and to move the field forward. To become a
true master of your craft, indeed.

If you dont have to sort through random facts, because you really understood them,
then you can concentrate on the problem at hand and in an exam situation you can
easily solve the questions asked simply because your brain has ordered the material
and knows what the subject is all about. And consequently you will achieve high grades.

How do you do that in practice?

The understanding of new material does usually not come overnight (only in the most
trivial cases). Especially if the material is completely new to you, and you are not
familiar with the concepts presented it might take your brain several days or even weeks
to wrap itself around the new knowledge.

So, start early to look at your learning material. Understanding, although initially not
absolutely necessary, is the ultimate goal of your learning. Rote learning of facts without
understanding is much less beneficial, even outright useless. So, always try to relate
what you learn to what you know already, this will help you to associate the new
material more easily.
It is however a common misunderstanding that understanding of a subject matter alone
will make you know it. This is unfortunately far from it. Even if you understood
everything if you dont repeat the pieces of knowledge regularly they will fade away.

Thus, as soon as you have understood a fact or a relation (or even before) add it to your
spaced repetition software (if you havent already, download the free Flashcard Learner
Trial version to see how easy it is to learn and repeat with it). And start repeating. The
earlier you start the more time you give your brain to work on it and to fully associate
and embed it with the rest of your knowledge.

The spaced repetition software will make sure that you will repeat all the pieces of
knowledge in regular intervals, which become further and further spread apart the
better you know the facts. It will make sure that all the entered knowledge gets
periodically refreshed and stays fresh and accessible in your mind, ready to be
used for new ideas, new connections, new questions and new answers. It will free
you to add either even more knowledge or if you are satisfied with the amount of
knowledge you have learned in this field you will have more time for your friends
and family, with the absolute certainty that you will never forget any of the
knowledge you have put into the database for as long as you follow the
suggestions of the spaced repetition software.


March 13, 2014 / By NomadicMatt
Ive always been bad at languages. I barely made
it through high school Spanish and have forgotten all the French I hired a tutor
to teach me. Im cursed. Or so I thought until I became friends with Benny
Lewis from Fluent in 3 Months. Benny has mastered a method for learning
languages that has helped me break languages down into smaller, more
easily learnable parts. With his help, Ive remembered a lot of my Spanish,
learned Thai, and picked up some Swedish.

Today, I turn the blog over to Benny (who just published a book on
language learning) to share how you can learn the basics of any language
for your next trip. Knowing just a few basic phrases goes a long way when
you travel and puts you in the good graces of the locals.

Here is Benny:

Way too often, we arrive in a country and think to ourselves, Man, I wish I
took some time to learn the basics of this language before I got here! Or
maybe you think anything less than mastering the language is not useful
enough to invest time in. But even if you only have a month or a week before
your trip, or even if you fly out tomorrow, you still have time to learn some
basics of the local language. You only need a short period of time to master a
few key words and phrases. And no, you dont need to be a language genius
to pick up the basics fast.
I spoke only English until I was 21. I nearly failed German in school, and I
lived in Spain for six months without being able to learn the language
because I was doing it wrong. Fast forward to now: I speak around a dozen
languages and counting, and its because I make my study hours work for me,
practice speaking the language right away, and dont waste my time studying
what I wont need. Even with just the basics in a language, Ive had amazing
experiences, like receiving my Chinese name on a train in the middle of
Chinajust because I understood the question, Whats your name?

Here are four steps to basic fluency:

Step 1: Be specific with your goals

A huge mistake many people make is trying to take on too much at once.
Having high goals and wanting to become fluent in a language, or even
mastering it someday, is a noble goal, but this isnt going to help you right
now with your looming travel plans.

To be successful in learning what you need for your trip, you need as much
specificity as possible. Im lucky enough to typically have three whole months
before a trip, in which I can devote most of my days to learning a language,
and that makes fluency a realistic target.

Ive had tighter deadlines, though, and was still able to work with them. Hell,
even when I had one single hour of time before my trip to Poland, since I
needed to prepare for my TEDx talk on language learning in Warsaw in
English, I still took that time to learn enough basic Polish to be able to
stretch it into a half-hour Skype call (constantly looking up words to keep
the basic chat alive).

The way you do this is to know precisely what you need to learn and to learn
only that.

In your mini-project:

You need specificity Do NOT have a vague goal like learn

Spanish. If you want to go abroad in June, say to yourself that you want
to be basic conversational in three months, given that youll put 10
hours a week into it. If you only have a month, then go for very confident
tourist in 30 days, and put an hour a day into it or more if you can. If you
have a flight out in three days, then take two or more hours each one of
the next three days, and aim for get by with basic necessities well in 72

You need to build a you-specific vocabulary Guidebooks are great

for general phrases like how are you? but youre more complicated than
that. So spend your study time tailoring your vocabulary to your specific
needs. Step 2 below shows you how to start.

Step 2: Learn the words YOU will use

If youre starting from scratch, the first thing you need to do is think about
which words youll be using most on a daily basis in whatever situations you
might be in starting a conversation, sitting at a bar, talking about yourself,
ordering in a restaurant, whatever it is. Then:

Sit down and write out a self-introduction in English Introduce

yourself to an imaginary stranger. Tell them where youre from, what you
do, why youre traveling, and so on. Then take a look at what youve got
and pick out specific words you think will be most important for your
abroad vocabulary, translate them, and then use a website
like (actually spoken by a native) or Google
Translate (produced via automation) to hear how theyre pronounced in
that language. In my case, the first words Ill always need to learn first
are Irish (my nationality), blogger (my job), and vegetarian since Im
a traveling vegetarian. Figure out what your words are and commit
them to memory first.

Make a list of foods you like, things you want to do, and other daily
necessities Everyone needs to know the word for bathroom pretty
much on their first day abroad, so go ahead and add that to your list. But
also include things that you as an individual cant live without. Whether
its coffee or Diet Coke, sandwiches or oysters, know the words for your
go-to foods. And if you plan to try anything in particular while youre
there, like yoga, zip-lining, or dipping in a hot spring, learn those too.
Because Im a vegetarian, for example, I have to learn the words for
pork, ham, bacon, sausage, chicken, beef, and fish so I can ask the
waiter for something without these foods in them. Whatever it is that
youll be asking about, jot it down, look up the translations, and make
yourself a cheat sheet.

Look up a list of cognates, or words that are similar between the

languages Its actually impossible to truly start from scratch when
youre learning a new language. Many languages have very long lists of
words you already know the meaning of (albeit with slightly different
pronunciations). If sandwich is on your list of favorite foods, for
example, you already know how to say it in French. In Spanish, hospital
is still hospital, and in German the word for fish is pronounced exactly
the same. Even a very different language like Japanese has a ton of
these loanwords for everyday things you might need like coffee, milk,
and glass.

Use mnemonics to learn unfamiliar words To remember new

words really fast that are nothing like what youre used to in English, try
using a fun mnemonic an image or story that you associate with a
particular word. Sounds silly, but it works. When I was learning French,
for instance, I remembered that gare was train station by visualizing a
big fat orange Garfield running out of breath through a train station to
catch a train to a lasagna-eating competition, with lots of color and
sounds in my mind to make it really stick. This technique works wonders,
and creating this image in my mind made the garetrain
station association stick much faster than it ever would have by rote
repetition alone.

Posted by Rachael Tatman in Uncategorized and tagged with language

learning, languages, psycholinguisticsMay 28, 2012

Im not the only linguist in my family. My father has worked as a professional linguist his
whole life but with a slightly different definition of linguist. His job is to use
his specialist knowledge of a language (specifically Mandarin Chinese, Mongolian or one
of the handful of other languages he speaks relatively well) to solve a problem. And one
problem that hes worked on a lot is language learning.

Theres no doubt that knowing more than one language is very, very useful. It opens up
job opportunities, makes it easier to travel and can even improve brain function. But
unless you were lucky enough to be raised bilingual youre going to have to do it the
hard way. And, if you live in America, like I do, youre not very likely to do that: Only
about 26% of the American population speaks another language well enough to hold a
basic converstaion in it, and only 9% are fluent in another language. Compare that to
Europe, where around 50% of the population is bilingual.
Now that youve learned these characters, you only need to learn and retain one a day for the next five
years to be considered literate.

Which makes the lure of easily learning a language on your own all the more compelling. I recently
saw an ad that I found particularly enticing; learn a language in just ten days. Why, thats less time
than it takes to hand knit a pair of socks. The product in this = case was the oh-so-famous (at
least in linguistic circles) Pimsleur Method (or approach, or any of a number of other flavors of
delivery). Ive heard some very good things about the program, and thought Id dig a little deeper into
the method itself and evaluate its claims from a scientific linguistics perspective.

I should mention that Dr. Pimsleur was an academic working in second

language acquisition from an applied linguistics stand point. That is, his work (published
mainly in the 1960s) tended to look at how older people learn a second language in
an educational setting. Im not saying this makes him unimpeachableif a scientific
argument cant stand up to scrutiny it shouldnt stand at allbut it does tend to lend a
certain patina of credibility to his work. Is it justified? Lets find out.
First things first: it is not possible to become fluent in a language in just ten
days. There are lots of reasons why this is true. The most obvious is that being a fluent
speaker is more than just knowing the grammar and vocabulary; you have to
understand the cultural background of the language youre studying. Even if your
accent is flawless (unlikely, but Ill deal with that later), if you unwittingly talk to your
mother-in-law and become a social pariah thats just not going to do you much. Then
there are just lots of little linguistic things that its so very easy to get wrong. Idioms, for
example, particularly choosing which preposition to use. Do you get in the bus or on
the bus? And then theres even more subtle things like producing a list of adjectives in
the right order. Big red apple sounds fine, but red big apple? Not so much. A fluent
speaker knows all this, and its just too much information to acquire in ten days.

That said, if you were plopped down in a new country without any prior knowledge of
the language, Id bet within ten days youd be carrying on at least basic conversations.
And thats pretty much what the Pimsleur method is promising. Im not really concerend
with whether it works or not Im more concerned with how it works (or doesnt). There
are four basic principals that the Pimsleur technique is based on.

1. Anticipation. Basically, this boils down to posing questions that the learner is
expected answer. These can be recall tasks, asking you to remember something you
heard before, or tasks where the learner needs to extrapolate based on
the knowledge they currently have of the language.
2. Graduated-interval recall. Instead of repeating a word or word list three or
four time right after each other, theyre repeated at specific intervals. This is based
on the phonological loop part of a model of working memory that was really popular
when Pimsleur was doing his academic work.
3. Core Vocabulary. The learner is just exposed to basic vocabulary, so the total
number of words learned is less. Theyre chosen (as far as I can tell, it seems to vary
based on method) based on frequency.
4. Organic learning. Basically, you learn by listening and theres a paucity of
reading and writing. (Sorry about that; paucity was my word of the day
today ).

So lets evaluate these claims.

1. Anticipation. So the main benefit of knowing that youll be tested on something

is that you actually pay attention. In fact, if you ask someone to listen to pure tones,
their brain consumes more oxygen (which you can tell because circulation to that
area increases) if you tell them theyll be tested. Does this help with language
learning? Well. Maybe. I dont really have as much of a background in
psycholinguistics, but I do know that language learning tends to entail the creation
of new neural networks and connections, which requires oxygen. On the other hand,
a classroom experience uses the same technique. Assessment: Reasonable, but
occurs in pretty much every language-learning method.
2. Graduated-interval recall: So this is based on the model I mentioned above.
Youve got short term and long term memory, and the Pimsleur technique is
designed to pretty much seed your short term memory, then wait for a bit, then grab
at the thing you heard and pull it to the forefront again, ideally transferring it to
long-term memory. Which is peachy-keen if the models right. And theres been
quite a bit of change and development in our understanding of how memory works
since the 1970s. Within linguistics, theres been the rise of Exemplar Theory, which
posits that its the number of times you hear things, and the similarity of the sound
tokens, that make them easier to remember. (Kinda. Its complicated.) So it could
be helpful, assuming the theorys right. Assessment: Theoretical underpinnings
outdated, but still potentially helpful.
3. Core Vocabulary. So this one is pretty much just cheating. Yes, its true, you
only need about 2000 words to get around most days, and, yes, those
are probably the words you should be learning first in a language course. But at
some point, to achieve full fluency, youll have to learn more words, and that just
takes time. Nothing you can do about it. Assesment: Legitimate, but cheating.
4. Organic learning: So this is in quotation marks mainly because it sounds like
its opposed to inorganic learning, and no one learns language from rocks.
Basically, there are two claims here. One is the auditory learning is preferable, and
the other is that its preferable because its how children learn. I have fundamental
problems with claims that adults and children can learn using the same processes.
That said, if your main goal is to learn how to speak and hear a given language,
learning writing will absolutely slow you down. I can tell you from experience: once
you learn the tones, speaking Mandarin is pretty straightforward. Writing Mandarin
remains one of the most frustrating things Ive ever attempted to do. Assessment:
Reasonable, but claims that you can learn like a baby should be examined closely.
5. Bonus: I do agree that using native speakers of the target language as models is
preferable. They can make all the sounds correctly, something that even trained
linguists can sometimes have problems withand if you never hear the sounds
produced correctly, youll never be able to produce them correctly.

So, it does look pretty legitimate. My biggest concern is actually not with the technique
itself, but with the delivery method. Language is inherently about communicating, and
speaking to yourself in isolation is a great way to get stuck with some very bad habits.
Being able to interact with a native speaker, getting guidance and correction,
is something that Id feel very uncomfortable recommending you do without.

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3. You have little money to invest

4. Youre still stuck at the beginner level after all these years.

This is the 12-step method that I have perfected over the last 5 years to
learn over 6 languages."

Dear friend,

Youre probably already aware of the power, fun, advantages and prestige that
knowing more than one language can bring you.

Yet, if youre like most people, you probably find it very hard to imagine that
you could learn to effectively communicate in any language in just 7 to 21
days, and achieve fluency within a few months.

You may have experienced the seemingly insurmountable difficulties in trying

to effectively learn a foreign language.

Im talking about the years and years of study, the frustration of not being
able to communicate after having completed an intermediate course, and the
general feeling that achieving fluency in a foreign language is probably not a
possibility for you. Maybe youre just not talented with languages...?

All the while, you probably know a few people who can express themselves
fluently in 2, 3, 4 or even more languages. What is their special trick? What
is their gift?

Well its no gift but it is indeed a little bit of a trick. Its actually a series of
tricks and techniques that can actually allow anyone to learn the language of
their choice in a very short period of time.

Theyve been used by linguists, by several world travelers and even

by special agents working for high-level governmental agencies.

Did you know that during World-War II, the government turned normal citizens
into Japanese/English interpreters in just a few months?
Did you know that there is actually no limit to the number of languages you
can learn, and that many people in the world can actually speak more than 10
languages (and no, its not because they were born in a multi-cultural family)?

Actually, in creating this product, I have interviewed and talked with such
people. One is a man who can speak over 26 languages, and another can
speak over 58 languages

Now that sounds completely outrageous, but what Ive discovered is that its
actually within the reach of anyone to learn any language they want and do it
on their own, and be able to communicate effectively in just 7 to 21
days (achieving fluency takes a little longer, but not as long as you might

If youre curious to learn more about this amazing method, read on... But
before we get there, I want to talk about something else, in case youre not
sure why you actually NEED to know at least ONE foreign language.

Its No Longer Optional to Speak Another Language

A few decades ago, US high schools didnt think seriously about including
mandatory foreign language education in their curriculum. Thats because of
the arrogant mentality prevalent at the time. They felt that the rest of the world
would just learn our language so we didnt have to worry learning theirs.

Nowadays, its become a very much needed and, more often than
not, essentialadvantage to at least speak another foreign language, if not
more than one!

With the expansion of the Latino population in the US, and increased tourism
in Spanish-speaking countries, some knowledge of Spanish is quite often

With world globalization, those who stand a chance to

just survive, economically speaking, in the next decades will need to face the
reality of cultures colliding and the increasing necessity of having some
knowledge of some key languages, including:


Mandarin Chinese






And others!

Your Life After Learning a New Language

Imagine what your life would be with the knowledge of a new language. You
may think it may get a little better. But you have no idea how
many benefits youll get from knowing one or more foreign languages.

Imagine being able to express yourself in that language,

make friends, travel, and speak fluently... and open yourself to a world
of exciting possibilities.

No matter what you think, the knowledge of another language is useful and
increasingly necessary.

But the endeavor of learning languages is such a daunting one that most
people never actually succeed with it.

The Unsuccessful Way of Learning

Lets take a moment to think about how languages are traditionally taught, so
we can kiss this unsuccessful method a big, good bye forever.

Imagine you decide you want to learn French, perhaps for an upcoming trip to
Paris. In your enthusiasm, you decide to revive your high-school French
(which never got you anywhere) by signing up for a 6-week course at your
local community college.
Six weeks later, youve attended all the classes, and even completed
your homework assignments. By the time you get to Paris, you feel a little
more confident about your ability to get around using French.

Once in Paris, youre ready to order a coffee or an orange juice on the


To your shock and amazement, the waiter has no idea what youre trying to
say. And throughout your trip, you realize that your French actually sucks,
almost as much as it used to, and so you reluctantly give up your linguistic
aspiration and decide to revert to Ugly American Who Only Speaks English
mode for the remainder of your trip.

Learning a Language in 7 Days

Now let me tell you a little secret. You can actually learn any language you
want in just seven days.

Thats right. Not 7 months, or even 7 weeks... but just 7 days.

I can already hear you say that its impossible! That you studied French for
three years in high school and you still cant order an orange juice in Paris!

The truth is, no one can claim to be able to learn to speak a foreign
language fluently in just 7 days. Anyone who does is a liar. But what you can
do is learn to speak the core of a language, enough to get you
around without needing a translator, in just 7 to 21 days if you follow my

Of course, after that, you can also use my method to learn the language even
better, to eventually reach fluency... the enviable peak that every language
learner wants to reach.

And you can do that in a fraction of the time most people spend
(unsuccessfully) learning a foreign language.

Your Life After Learning a New Language

Imagine what your life would be with the knowledge of a new language. You
may think it may get a little better. But you have no idea how
many benefits youll get from knowing one or more foreign languages.
Imagine being able to express yourself in that language,
make friends, travel, and speak fluently... and open yourself to a world
of exciting possibilities.

No matter what you think, the knowledge of another language is useful and
increasingly necessary.

But the endeavor of learning languages is such a daunting one that most
people never actually succeed with it.

Sign Up For FREE Mini-Course

Frederic Patenaude's FREE 5-Part Mini-

Course On Learning Languages!

In this course, you will discover:

How many languages you can learn

How to find the time to learn a foreign language

How to achieve proper pronunciation

How to achieve fluency in a foreign language

How to avoid being an "ugly American"

The subscription is FREE and only available through this


Note: I greatly respect your privacy and will never sell

or share your email address with anyone. Never.

The Theory Behind the Course

Over the last few years, I became increasingly interested in learning foreign
languages. My native language is French, and it took me over 12 years to
learn to speak English decently.

But I thought, there must be another way!

I was always impressed when I met people who spoke 3, 4, 5 or even 6

languages. I thought they must have had some kind of gift, or had the fortune
of being raised in a multi-lingual family.

What I discovered is that polyglots (people who speak several languages) are
actually mostly self-taught. And that the way they learn languages is radically
different that the method I was taught in school.

Over the last 5 years, I became obsessed with finding out the secrets of
these people. I interviewed several polyglots (including Barry Farber, author
of How to Learn Any Language, who can speak in over 25 tongues), read
several out-of-print books in over 4 languages and developed the 12-step
method I now used to learn any language in a flash.

In the last few years, while developing my method, I learned to speak

German, Spanish and Portuguese well enough to be able to read a
newspaper or novel in those languages without a dictionary and be able to
express my thoughts on any subject both verbally and on the written page.

In addition to that, I have also learned enough Russian to get around in

Russia, enough Italian to get around Italy without an interpreter, as well as
bits and pieces of other languages. And I also
speak French and English fluently, and Im currently learning Chinese (a
native Chinese speaker told me that my Chinese was awesome and Ive
only been studying it for 2 weeks).

I did all of that on my own, in my spare time (and I emphasize the word
spare) and having more fun than I ever thought was possible.

My friends always asked me: what is your secret? Its an extraordinary set of
principles, based on the secrets of master linguists and spy agents (and also
from my own experience and research) that I reveal in my course How to
Learn Any Language in a Flash, that allows you to learn any language in 7
to 21 days, and speak fluently within a few months.
"I was able to learn some very useful
Spanish in such a short time"

As all of other Fred's books, the How To Learn

Any Language in a Flash provides 'no-nonsense',
'all-inclusive' and step by step process as to
how to learn any language in a jiffy. And it
worked! Had 4 weeks before my trip to Ecuador to
learn some Spanish, procrastinated for 2 weeks ;
but still was able to learn some very useful
Spanish for my trip in such a short time...would
not be able to do it without Fred's support -


"Schools should be teach learning new

languages with the approach outlined in

I took 3 years of Spanish classes in High

School, but I never learned to speak in

In all 3 years we always focused heavily on

grammar but not enough on Vocabulary. I would
always have think about exactly what I wanted to
say, and then try to translate it, and
oftentimes, when I was done translating it in my
mind, I had already forgotten the beginning of
what I wanted to say! It was very hard and very

However, with THIS method, you don't focus on

grammar so much in the beginning. In fact, not
at all! You focus ENTIRELY on Vocabulary, and
then focus on just speaking with what's inside
your new vocabulary, not worrying about grammar
at all.

Then you speak to people all of the time in your

new language which gets you in the habit of
speaking your mind, and not worrying about
saying things the right way or the wrong way.
You just DO it!

And then later you focus on grammar, which is

easier to learn than it would have been had you
learned in school because you're already used to
speaking your mind, and then all you have to do
is get used to adjusting your speech to follow
the rules, little-by-little.

Learning with this book makes a whole lot more

sense, and I believe schools should be teach
learning new languages with the approach
outlined in book!

Bradenton, Florida

"I Got a Lot of Help and Understanding"

Frederic, Learn a Language in a Flash was just

the jump-start I needed to begin learning
Spanish. I've wanted to do so for a long time,
and also have been eagerly awaiting the reissue
of your language course - so glad you've
republished it and are sharing it with the world
now! Along with your 21-Day Learning Challenge,
I have made already laid the groundwork as a
speaker and writer of Spanish! If you've been
putting off your dream of learning a language,
Fred's course is THE TICKET!

Julie Ann Turner

"I took my knowledge to the next level"

I found the program "How to Learn Any Language

in a Flash" a great way to get inspired, I could
already speak danish when I started the program
but in applying the techniques I took my
knowledge to the next level and am now able to
have more in depth conversations with the people
that are in my life here in Denmark.

Tillie Burden
Kbenhavn, Denmark

Now I have decided to reveal the very simple method that Ive used to learn
languages fast and efficiently. This new course is titled:

How to Learn Any Language in a

Flash: The Quick and Easy Guide
to Learning Any Language in 7 to
21 Days!

Third Edition

In this course, youll discover:

The 12 magic principles that you can follow to learn any language you
want faster and easier and with more fun than you thought possible

My list of essential vocabulary that allows you to understand and

speak 75% of daily conversation!

The number one mistake most people make when attempting to learn
a foreign language.

The 7 steps to language learning that the Guinness Record, most

amazing linguist alive today used to learn 50 languages in less than 3

The story of some of the most amazing polyglots of our time and
the secrets behind their genius with languages.

Why formal language education doesnt work.

The biggest mistakes people make when trying to learn a foreign
language, and how to avoid them.

Why learning a foreign language enables you to speak your own

language even better.

Ingenious tricks to remember vocabulary at least 10 times more


What to do if you have to speak a language in a short period of time,

like three days or 5 days (Im talking about an unexpected trip, or youve
just fallen in love and you dont want the language barrier get in your

How to relax yourself into easy learning so that its no longer a chore
to study but a pleasure.

How to use music to increase naturally your language ability... with

more fun!

The checklist to follow to make sure youre making constant progress

What to do if you have no time and little energy available? I give you my
Lazy guide to effective language learning

Where to find complete high-quality, free lessons in any language

youd like to learn, without having to sit in front of your computer all day

How to reach the magic turnaround point that is needed to really

progress when learning a language.

The shortcut that allows you to get past the stage of the beginner level.

And much more.

This is not a method to learn Spanish, or German, or

French specifically, but rather, a method you can use to
learn ANY language.


If youre still not sure about your own ability to learn a foreign language
in a short period of time, its probably because you are still holding on to
some misconceptions and myths about learning languages. Lets take a
look at these myths and expose them for what they are, once and for

MYTH #1: A child can learn faster than an adult.

Probably the number one myth about learning languages is the idea
that a child can somehow learn faster than an adult. As controversial as
it may sound, let me say that actually, an adult can learn a language
much faster than a child!

Using her intelligence, an adult can learn a language and in greater

depth than a child ever could, within a limited timeframe.

Its true that an adult learning a foreign language will never be able to
imitate a native accent with 100% accuracy, as a child would (this is an
ability we lose after puberty).

But adults can still learn much faster than a child when the proper
techniques are applied.

Children learn languages because they are forced to. For them, its a
question of survival. They also practice constantly, day in, day out.

Adults have an advantage over children when it comes to learning

languages. First, they have already mastered one language. And
second, they have more knowledge and reference points that they can
use to their advantage. And also, their brain is more developed.

With the right system and techniques, you can certainly learn it faster
than a child.

MYTH #2 Just watch some TV and movies and youll learn it


Another common myth is that you can just learn a language by

engaging in passive learning such as watching TV and listening to the
radio in the foreign language.

That simply doesnt work. What works is active learning, which means
anything that requires active participation on your part.
You can watch some foreign movies, sure, but its not going to do you
any good until you have a very strong base of vocabulary.

If youre starting from scratch, you can sit in front of the television for
10,000 hours and watch Russian television and your grasp of the
Russian language at the end would be mediocre at best!

MYTH #3 Immerse yourself in the language right away by going

to the country and youll learn naturally.

Past the age of around 11, we loose our ability to learn languages
naturally. Thus, it is absolutely worthless to try to immerse yourself in
the language right away by watching foreign movies, going to the
country immediately or just trying to pick it up. You have to learn a
language as an adult with the mind of an adult.

Being in the right environment does NOT guarantee that you will learn
the language. It just makes it easier to practice once you have
something to work with. But just being there and trying to pick it up
naturally wont work.

When I was living in Costa Rica, I knew plenty of expat Americans who
had lived there for over 10 years full-time and still could not speak half-
decent Spanish!

So again it comes to active learning versus passive learning. You have

to work on the language. The language will not come to you naturally,
even if you are in the right environment.

A Couple of "Basic Concepts

If youre wondering what is this magic method for learning languages in a

flash, let me tell you that its no gimmick or learn while you sleep trick. Its
actually a set of 12 principles and a complete step-by-step method that
anyone can use to learn the language they want in a record time.

If what you want is to know enough of a language to get around in a foreign

country for a trip, you can do that in 7 to 21 days using my method.
If you want to be able to express yourself fully in a foreign language, for work,
career, love or other reasons, you can do that in just a few months (depending
on the language) using the principles and the methods I teach in my course.

To give you a little starting point, let me explain to you some basic concepts
which I cover in detail in the course How to Learn Any Language in a
Flash (along with a total of 12 principles that form my step-by-step

But make sure you understand as you're reading about these principles that
there's a major step after in terms of knowing what to DO with them.

Concept #1 The Three Blocks of Language Learning

When you decide to learn a foreign language, you have to face three
major blocks:


Common language learning courses would like us to believe that all of

these categories are equally important. While this ultimately is true, if
your goal is communication, you dont have to get all of them right
before you start talking.

If you think about how you learned your native language as a child, you
may not remember, but you can be sure that you were not concerned
with proper pronunciation and grammar. What you needed at first
were words to communicate.

Watch children who are learning to speak. They dont have any
inhibitions. Their pronunciation is often off and their grammar only
approximate at first, but they start talking right away using words!

Thats why I believe that vocabulary is king. Of all the three blocks in
learning a language, its the one that holds people back from

The basis of my method is an organic and natural approach to

language learning, much like children learn, but using your adult brain.
Which leads us to...
Concept #2 Master Core Vocabulary And Speak Like Tarzan

A few years ago, I made a shocking discovery. Over 75% of our daily
communication is comprised of only 500 to 800 words. Even though
you may learn over 10,000 words over the course of your lifetime, you
only need 500 to 800 to communicate effectively on a daily basis.

That led me to a search for this list of what is called Core Vocabulary.

Lets say you are able to master this core vocabulary in any one
language, with a fair pronunciation. Even without a single bit of
grammar, youll still be able to communicate!

If Im going to go to a country where I dont speak the language, heres

what I do:

- I spend 7 to 21 days to master this list of core vocabulary that I have

assembled myself during my various linguistic studies.

- I use memory hooks and other tricks that Ill be teaching you in the
course, to learn the vocabulary faster (around 10 to 20 times faster than
with traditional methods).

- I start speaking right away, using what I call Tarzan grammar.

With Tarzan grammar, you basically omit all verb conjugations and
you simplify the language to its simplest form. For example, Id like to
book a hotel room for the night becomes:

Me Want Hotel Room Tonight

Yes, it sounds crude, but it works, and natives

are extremely appreciative of your effort in speaking the language.

For some languages that have very simple grammar, theres actually
not much youll have to change later once you get deeper into the

Now... and heres the thing... I also ask the native speakers to talk to me
the same way!

This leads to an interesting phenomenon: within just 7 days, I can

speak any language I want and communicate without an interpreter or a
dictionary, just by having memorized core vocabulary using memory
hooks and speaking like Tarzan (while asking people to answer the
same way).

Now you may be thinking... thats not really speaking a language. Its
baby talk.

Well... bingo...! You got it my friend. Isnt it like children learn?

Of course, you wont be stuck at that level for very long.

In my course, I also teach you how to learn the proper grammar,

increase your vocabulary and perfect your pronunciation, and I give you
the exact tools to do that.

The trick to making this system work is to have the right list of words
(the core vocabulary list) and the right memory tricks to retain the words
that youre learning, in a way thats fun and not too time-consuming.

In the course, How to Learn Any Language in a Flash, youll get my list
of core vocabulary, based on the amazing work of a Spanish linguist,
which is the one that I prefer and that I use.

(The linguist that Im referring to has actually pulled off the amazing feat
of learning German from scratch during a 3 hour flight and upon arrival
to Germany gave a CONFERENCE in German, without any prior
knowledge of German. If you dont believe that such as thing is
possible, then you need my course!)

Youll also get my best memory hooks tricks (also called mnemonics),
which allow you to retain 10 to 20 times as much vocabulary. And if
youre already familiar with that, youll love my take on it and the way I
break the process down into something thats easy to understand and

Heres what makes this program really unique:

Its a step-by-step method Ive been working on this for 5 years,

trying to figure out what is the actually system for learning languages
in a flash. And Im not satisfied with half-baked information, so thats
why Ive waited for so long before releasing the second edition of my

Other books on the subject may give you some tips on learning
languages effectively, but in none of them will you find a step-by-step
method. Personally, I like clear information. I like to organize thoughts
in a way that makes sense for the reader (thats you!) and
create systems that you can easily put in place and know that its
going to work for you, every single time.

It contains ALL of my secrets In 2003, I released the first version

of my product How to Learn Any Language in a Flash. It was
basic, but very useful. Since then, I have learned a TON and have
decided to put ALL of my best secrets and techniques in this new

Its not sugar-coated. Its based on what works Sure, you can
go to your local library and get books on How to Learn Chinese in 5
Minutes a Day. Do these methods actually work? Ive tried almost all
of the methods out there and I can testify that very few actually
deliver. So thats why Ive spent so much time to research the secrets
of professional linguists to find out how does one actually learn a
language in a short period of time. I wont lie to you and say that you
wont have to put in some efforts. But I can tell you that the effort will
be well worth it because my method WORKS.

Ive actually done it myself Few people out there can claim to be
able to speak more than 3 or 4 languages, unless they are a
professional linguist. The proof that my method works is that I actually
have done it myself, and entirely in my spare time! I can effectively
communicate in over 6 languages, and Im learning more constantly,
and learning languages is not my only hobby! I also play the guitar,
practice sports, read a lot, and have many interests besides
languages. So if in my spare time I can learn to speak Chinese, you
can certainly learn any language you want even if you havent done it

Heres what youll get with my program:

When you order the program How to Learn Any Language in a Flash,
youll get instant access to my method, which includes:
The Ebook How to Learn Any Language in a Flash The meat
of my course is the ebook How to Learn Any Language in a Flash. In
this book, I present my 12 principles for learning languages, as well as
a step-by-step method that you can use to either build basic
conversational proficiency in any language in 7 to 21 days, or achieve
fluency within a few months.

This ebook will be available for download as soon as you place your

Core Vocabulary List For years, Ive wanted to find a good list for
building core vocabulary. After reading an amazing book in Spanish by
a Spanish linguist and memory expert, I have finally found a table that
enables you to build core vocabulary in any language.

This list is amazing. You can use it for any language. You just have to fill
it the blanks and use the memory tricks I teach in my course to
remember more vocabulary in no time. The list contains the 500 to 600
words that are the most important to know in ANY language, and even
prioritizes them as to which should be learned first.

You will want to print out that list and use it as your main reference and
worksheet as you learn the language of your choice.

My Language Resource Guide Theres a ton of new courses out

there for learning languages. We have Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, Instant
Immersion, and many others. What should you think of all of them?

Well the good thing about having me as your teacher is that Im an

addict for language methods myself. I separate them into different
categories: those that suck, those that are good and those that are

In this separate bonus language resources sheet, youll get my reviews

of the most popular methods out there, as well as lots of FREE
resources that you should know when trying to learn any language.
My Language Guide In addition to being interested in learning
foreign languages, a topic that fascinates me even more
is languages themselves. I have read a ton of books on linguistics and
the history of language, so in this short bonus ebook I offer you my
reviews of many popular languages, with some shocking and
entertaining information about each of them, and also
the best resources you can find for each language.

What's New in this Version of the Program?

The program "How to Learn Any Language in a Flash" is now in its third
edition. Since I first launched this course in 2004, I have made more
and more updates as I have discovered new techniques for effective
language learning.

This new version, now just released in 2010, also includes:

Video 1: How to Use New Technologies to Accelerate Your

Language Learning

Just like the introduction of the iPod completely changed the way we
can listen to music on the go, we now have new technologies that can
dramatically affect the effectiveness of any language learning program.
I'm talking about:

Smartphones such as iPhones, Android, and other pocket


The iPad, the Kindle and other eBook readers

Podcasts and other sources of FREE or nearly free audio,

videos, and more.

I've created a series of videos showing you how to use these

technologies to accelerate your language learning. In the first 45-minute
video, you will discover:

How to have a set of 2400 flashcards in your pocket by putting

them on your cell phone instantly!

Where to go to get free language lessons

How to judge if a language program is worth it

What iPhone apps are the best for language learning, and which
ones to avoid

And more!

Video 2: How I Use My Cell-Phone to Learn Languages on the Go

In the second video in the series, I show you exactly how I use my
iPhone to learn languages on the go, including:

Creating brand-new flash cards for new words you want to learn

Where to go to get the best foreign language FREE or near-free


How to record audio flashcards

How to use all of these technologies to learn a language in a few

months instead of years

Webinar: Live Webinar on "How to Learn Any Language in a

Flash", what works and what doesn't.

If you order during the launch of "How to Learn Any Language in a

Flash" version 3.0., you will also be invited to an exclusive one-hour
webinar where I will present:

The 12 principles for learning a language in a flash, and why

they work

What to do if you want to become fluent in the language of your


How to learn difficult languages like Chinese, Korean, Thai or

How to easily incorporate learning a new language into your
busy life

Why you don't need to have TALENT to learn a new language

effectively, and how anybody can learn one, (no matter how old
you are.)

In this 60 minute live webinar, you will also get to ask questions and
discover new tips and techniques to allow you to make your dream of
speaking a new language a reality.

This LIVE webinar is a $127 value and is available free to the first 50
orders, or if you order during the launch.

In case you can't attend the live webinar, a downloadable recording will
be sent to you for your convenience.

My promise to you is that by following the simple tips and techniques

found in this program, you can realize your dream of learning a new
language, in as little as 7 to 21 days for basic communication skills, and
in 5 to 7 times less time than most people spend to reach fluency.


With this course I offer you a powerful guarantee.

If you are not completely satisfied with the

content and value you get with this course, simply
contact my staff within 60 days from the date of
purchase at and send us a
discreet note. No reason is needed, and you will
receive a refund promptly. You must be satisfied.
That's a promise.

Frederic Patenaude

Order Now!
"How To Learn A Language In A Flash"

A Brand New Course - $97

Discover the secrets of master linguists now available to anyone!

Learn the language of your choice in 7 to 21 days.



PS: In a world that is increasingly changing, youll never know when youll
need to speak a foreign language. Its one of the most positive and valuable
learning experiences youll ever have! Take the first step and order the
method now.

PPS: Remember that not only your satisfaction but your results are
guaranteed. If you use the method and you are not able to get results, I will
refund you 100% of the purchase price (60 days from the date of purchase)!
You have nothing to lose so order now

I am talking of course about the advertisements for the Pimsleur Approach language course which pop up
on my computer monitor every now and then when I read a European newspaper online. The
advertisements say among other things that our brains are wired to learn a language in 10 days and all we
have to do is activate this wired part of our brain, which is something that somebody called Dr. Pimsleur
figured out years ago to come up with a revolutionary new method to learn a language, any language, in 10
short days and without really trying.

All you have to do is listen to a CD. Youll absorb your new language effortlessly without any reading,
writing or computer use. The Pimsleur Approach has a 100 percent guarantee: Speak in 10 days or you
dont pay.

How can you lose when all you have to do is pay 10 dollars and listen to a CD? If the method does not work,
you can return the CD for a full refund according to the advertisement.

Well, thats not exactly how this particular scam really works. After I Googled Pimsleur approach, I found
out on that once you order your CD for $9.95 for a 30 days free trial, you are automatically
enrolled in a sneaky upgrade for $240 per class without even ordering it or receiving an invoice. According
to many complaints found on this website, people who fall for this scam are forced to spend $480 for CDs
for a course that they have enrolled themselves in without realizing it and since it is basically impossible to
receive a refund, most people will eventually give up trying to do claim it.
Children do have an amazing ability to absorb foreign language that most adults lack. But there is no magic
center in our brain that is wired for this function so that all we have to do is activate it to absorb a
language, any language, in 10 days without really trying.
Children learn new languages easily because unlike the brains of adults, childrens brains are ready to accept
new linguistic information in other languages because the part of their brain where this information is stored
is not yet fully formed. That is why their brain can absorb a foreign language without any resistance. It is
just new information that they are able to store and access just like any other information.

If you are interested in this subject, I describe how amazed I was that my son understood Chinese at the
age of 2 and half when he had a Chinese babysitter in San Francisco in this post.
But adults are not children. We can pretend to be like children, but we can never have the innocence that
small children naturally possess, and our brains are different too because the part of our brain in which our
native language or in some cases languages are stored is already fully formed. It works sort of like a
computer memory cache we adults can access linguistic information in the native language part of our
brain very quickly and almost effortlessly, but a new language must be stored in a different part of the brain,
and storing and accessing this information is a much slower process.

This is also why children who started learning a foreign language before puberty usually speak a new
language without a trace of a foreign accent, while most young adults, namely people who started
speaking a foreign language after about the age of 16, speak another language with a very noticeable
accent (think Arnold Schwarzenegger or Henry Kissinger).

On the other hand, it is true that anybody can learn the basics of a new language, and often only in a few
weeks if the language is not particularly difficult, which is to say if it is somewhat related to ones native


When I was in Prague two weeks ago, I noticed a young man in McDonalds uniform who was walking around
the tables at the McDonalds on Vclavsk nmst (Wenceslas Square) striking up conversations with people
in different languages. He had a tag pinned to his uniform jacket which said Hostess. When I pointed out
to him that hostess is always a female in English, he said that the sign originally said hostesse, but then
the McDonalds management decided to drop the e at the end so that now the sign is sufficiently masculine
as far as the management is concerned, which I thought was really funny.

He told me that his original job was to flip burgers on the hot stoves in the kitchen, but since he has a
passion for foreign languages, the management promoted him to his present position in which his main
responsibility is now to talk to and answer questions from foreigners at this particular fast food restaurant.
He said that he went through teach yourself textbooks for several languages, including German, English,
French, Italian and Spanish.
He actually said I speak German, French, Italian and Spanish. Of course, he does not really speak those
languages, but he can function in each of these languages well enough to answer questions that foreigners
might ask him because these questions will tend to be rather repetitive.

This dude was able to learn the basics of 5 foreign languages in a few months not because he activated the
particular center of his brain that is wired for this ability, but because he enjoys learning foreign languages.

He developed his own method for learning a foreign language that works best for him, and he is putting his
newly gained knowledge to work now. I dont know whether the management gave him a raise, I seriously
doubt it, but it must be much more fun to walk around a restaurant and talk to people practicing your
languages than flipping burgers in a hot kitchen. Incidentally, after the management heard him talking to
me for a while in Czech, he was called back into the kitchen to help with meal preparation.

There is a magic method for learning a new language: you have to like what youre doing. If you enjoy the
process during which a foreign language is learned, you will be able to learn it quite well, although it will
take much longer than 10 days. I have been trying to learn Japanese, for example, since 1975. Thats 37
long years, and after all this time, I am really just a fairly advanced beginner.

But every time when I need to access a half forgotten Japanese character in a part of my brain where it has
been stored for a couple of decades as I did not need it at all (for instance characters representing animals
are almost never used in Japanese patents, which is now my main reading material), I experience a joy
similar to what people experience when they meet an old, nearly forgotten friend.

Although there is no magic method that will make you learn a new language in 10 days, it is not really that
difficult to learn a new language at some level of fluency, but only if you work at it and if you like what
youre doing.

How to Learn a new Language in 1

month without Studying
Jan 14, 2014



As you read this title you might be thinking, is it really possible to
learn a language in one month for a normal person? Without
studying? What does that mean? My interpretation of studying
is learning from grammar books, learning wordlists and taking
classes. Those are often things that many of us do not like to do.
The good news is that I can tell you that it is possible to learn a
language in one month without studying. In fact, as you will see
the video above, I just came back from Brazil where I learnt
Portuguese in one month without using any textbooks, neither did
I take classes.


During an oral English exam in high school in the Netherlands
eight years ago, the advice of my English teacher was: Jan, I
notice that you have serious difficulties with English. I advise you
to avoid using English for your future jobs. These days I use
English 90% of the time for my job. As you might have noticed, I
wrote this article in English as well. Other than English Ive learnt
another 7 languages from which I speak several very confidently,
for example, Mandarin Chinese.

Conor Clyne, creator of Language Tsar, with Jan in

Bucharest, Romania


The thing that changed the most for me was motivation. If you
want to learn a language successfully then motivation is crucial.
Let me give you an example: There is a girl who has always had
good grades at school. She would like to learn Spanish but has a
busy life and doesnt need Spanish at all for her daily activities.
She just thinks it would be nice if you could speak Spanish for one
day when she goes to Latin America on vacation. Then there is a
guy that was bad in school in languages but he goes to Peru to
learn Spanish. His host family only speak Spanish, as well as most
of the people he meets. Locals start chatting to him on Facebook
chat in Spanish, the girls he likes only speak Spanish and overall
he has a fantastic time in Peru.
Who do you think will be the most motivated of the two? If both of
then are trying their best learning Spanish I am quite sure that the
guy in the example would be more likely to succeed, even if he has
never been good at learning languages at school. This example is
exactly what I experienced.
In high school, we had to learn English from reading textbooks
and novels which I found very boring. These days I learn
languages in a way that is much more fun and rewarding. I do that
by traveling to the country and using the language as a way to
connect with the local people. Is it not possible for you to travel?
No worries, as long as you can find ways of learning that are fun
you can still do it.

Jan van der Aa on New Years Eve in Rio de Janeiro,

I suggest that you surround yourself with native speakers who are
patient and like to speak their native language with you.
Its important to surround yourself with native speakers who are
patient, with whom you feel comfortable and who give you
corrections from time to time. By blogging and uploading videos
related to language learning I attract an audience with the same
interests. These are often people that understand how I prefer to
learn a language and are happy to talk with me in their native
language. Socialize and practice with person who share your
interests in person or via the internet!
If you are in the country of your target language dont spend too
much time (or no time at all) with English speakers. However, in
the beginning I would say that its ok to speak English with locals
(if they speak English) but make sure that you practice the target
language from time to time. Several times for 5 minutes for day is

Jan van der Aa in So Paulo, Brazil

Unfortunately, I cant tell you the ideal way to practice speaking
for you personally but I can tell you how I did it when I learned
Portuguese. After studying methods of fellow polyglots, I know
that this way works for many of them as well.
Start with simple but useful sentences. Practice the most
important phrases first. I always start with the same phrases:
Hello! How are you? Nice to meet you! How much is it? What
time is it? After this, its time to start to make sentences yourself
like: What do you want to eat? What do you want to eat
tomorrow? Where are you going? Where do you want to go?
Where do you want to with me tomorrow? Do you want to go with
me to the city center tomorrow after lunch? Expand your
sentences every time you say something. Learn phrases like these
since they are useful and you can use them with almost anyone on
any occasion.
If you dont know how to construct these sentences or you lack
vocabulary, ask your friend or language partner. Start with simple
and short sentences and add new words every time you practice.
Also try out different tenses. Instead of asking What are you
doing today you can ask a friend What did you do yesterday?. If
you dont know how to say this, again, ask! This way you develop a
feeling for the language, and once you get the feeling you will
learn quicker and quicker.
In case you know a language that is related to your target
language, you can also try to use words from that language. For
example, you want to say city in Portuguese but you only know
the Spanish word for it, so you say ciudad. Portuguese speakers
often understand these words and will ask you if you mean
cidade. Repeat the word, copy the pronunciation and there you
go, youve just learnt a new word. Start learning the words that are
the easiest for you to remember and are often used. Once you are
able to make simple sentences with words that are easy to
remember it becomes easier to remember complex words because
you can put these in a context.
Always learn new vocabulary in context since its much easier to
remember words this way. Some people told me in the past: If
you want to learn Cantonese you should forget Mandarin first. I
found this nonsense since my knowledge of Mandarin helped me
a lot learning Cantonese. For example, Dianhua is Mandarin for
telephone, and dinwaa in Cantonese. Apparently Dian in
Mandarin (electricity) becomes din in Cantonese. This is good to
know when you want to learn the Cantonese word for dianna
(Mandarin for computer). Dian changes to din as well in this
case, and the Cantonese word becomes dinnuo. Although this
trick doesnt work in all cases, it can still help you a lot learning a
language that is related to a language you already know. And yes,
sometimes I ended up mixing Mandarin and Cantonese but that
just meant that I needed to practice a bit more.

Jan van der Aa with Benny Lewis and Conor Clyne in

Valencia, Spain


I understand that it can be difficult and uncomfortable to speak
only in your target language with your friends in the country,
especially if they speak English well. But because I see them as
friends and not as a teachers, I would speak English with them in
the beginning. This way you can exchange stories, get to know
each other and build a better friendship. This doesnt mean that I
wouldnt speak Portuguese at all with them. I would ask them how
to say what did you do today? and repeat the question in
Portuguese. Also, I ask my friends to reply in Portuguese if I speak
to them in Portuguese. If you dont understand what they reply,
then just ask! For this reason its important that your
friend/language partner is patient and is willing to help you at
reaching fluency. When you are comfortable in the language you
can decide for yourself to only speak in your target language with
friends. Once you reach that level your progress goes even faster.
Some language learners find it hard not to slip back into English
as your friends associate you with that language. Ive experienced
the same problem many times. I speak English with Chinese
people that speak worse English than I speak Chinese for that
reason. This time when I learnt Portuguese in Brazil I didnt have
this problem because my friends understood my project and also
understood the way in which I learn languages and most
importantly: they wanted me to succeed! Cant you find such a
person? Hire a teacher on, there are very affordable.
Try different teachers and continue to work with the one you like
the most.


I would say try at least to practice speaking for 30 minutes per day
if you practice via Skype. If you are in the country you can spread
the time over the day. When I was in Brazil I practiced Portuguese
with native speakers for about 30 minutes a day on average and if
I can succeed, you will succeed as well.


Conor learnt Russian in a similar way in Ukraine and
Moldova but it took considerably longer
If you dont already know any languages that are related to
Mandarin or Russian, it would be very challenging. Spending 3 to
5 months for such a language would be more feasible in this case,
I believe. On the other hand if you speak some Belarusian or a
Chinese dialect then it would be possible. For the same reason it is
possible to learn Portuguese in one month if you speak Spanish,
Dutch when you know German already and maybe Spanish if you
speak already French. I am not talking about being able to speak
these languages as a native, but you could become very proficient
in such a short amount of time by using the tips above.
Everything summarized in four tips:
1. Create an environment in the language, being in the
country of the target language helps.
2. Surround yourself with native speakers who are
patient and like to speak their native language with you.
3. Practice the words phrases that are the easiest to
remember and the most useful for you.
4. Try out new words, structures and listen to your
So where are you waiting for? What will be your next language?
Jan van der Aa
Check out Jans site: LanguageBoost

The Best and Fastest Way

to Learn Another Language
Its easier than you think to learn another language especially
since you already know one.

Why Most of Us Failed in High School

The majority of us have failed to learn a second language even
though weve all learned our first.

Everyone on the planet is fluent in at least one language. So we all

have what it takes to learn at least one.

So why is learning a second language so hard?

Its because its taught wrong.

We were placed in a cold classroom and expected to speak in front

of our peers in a language we didnt know. Its bad enough that
public speaking is the number one fear for people and thats in
their native tongue.

Now imagine trying to speak in a foreign one.

And when we made mistakes, we were punished with red marks

on the page and low grades. And unlike most classes, our failures
in a language class are public. This conditioned us NOT to speak
for fear of looking stupid or saying something wrong.

Imagine teaching babies to speak this way. No one would ever

learn to speak.

Learning Like a Baby

As babies, we learned our first language by immersion, listening
and mimicking every single day. All we could do was listen, 24
hours a day, 7 days a week. And not once, did we receive a
grammar lesson from anyone.

We didnt study grammar books. Endlessly conjugate verbs.

Memorize vocabulary. We didnt get marked down every time we
made a mistake.

And thats why we learned it so well.

But as adults, we cannot afford to go back to this approach. We

dont have the time. And the good news is that we dont need to
because we can actually learn faster.

We can use our working vocabulary to accelerate our learning.

Learn it Like a Video Game

Every time you start a new video game, you have to learn the
controls. The first time you play, it takes a while to learn the
controls. But the next game and next are easier since there are
many similarities.

But think back to how video games teach you the controls, or at
least the good games. They give you just enough training so that
you can start playing. That was your goal. To play a video game.

So the sooner youre playing, the sooner youre having fun. And
isnt that the whole point of the exercise? And if youre having fun,
you dont even realize that youre still learning how to play the
game. It just happens.
And before you know it, you just react without thinking. And
youre doing thingshard thingswith ease. How did you get so
good? By practicing. But it didnt feel like practicing because you
were too busy having fun to realize that you were practicing.

Now imagine if video games taught you how to play the way
languages are traditionally taught. Theyd have you practice
jumping for 20 minutes. Then crouching. Then tomorrow, more
jumping and then sneaking. Then the next day Well, you get it.

Learning a language is the same. You came here to speak. Not to

conjugate. Or memorize. So the faster you can get to speaking, the

You need just a tiny bit of starting vocabulary and then you should
start conversing. Isnt that the whole point of the exercise? Isnt
that the goal?

So the sooner you get to speak, the sooner youre having fun. And
when youre having fun, you wont quit. And if you dont quit,
youre going to learn. And youll learn much faster than the
traditional boring methods.

You need to put in the time to learn anything. Imagine if that time
was always fun. Before you know it, youre speaking another
By the way, this is how music should be taught. But thats a subject
for another post.

But What About Grammar and Vocabulary?

Grammar is clearly important. But think back to how you learned

grammar originally. And I dont mean taking an English class in
grade school. Thats just giving names and categories to things you
already knew.

You learned grammar naturally by hearing it.

The same goes for Vocabulary. You hear words in context and
surmise their meanings. You still do this in your native language.
For example, if you dont know what the word surmise means in
the above sentence, you can figure out what it means because you
understand all the other words.
Your parents didnt drill into you the right way to
use, go, went, going, gone. They didnt run around the room
pointing at objects saying their names. But you learned it before

You learned all the necessary elements of grammar and basic

vocabulary by experience and repetition. How? By listening and

This is the natural way of learning language.

Let me Tell You a Story

My plan at this point in the article was to recommend multiple

products that support this accelerated approach to language

Unfortunately, I couldnt find any.

Except for one. And in all honesty, it was developed by a friend

of mine, Luke Pancoe with YLanguage.
So heres his story

He struggled for years to learn Spanish in grade school and failed.

Frustrated, he took Latin in high school so he didnt have to worry
about speaking in front of anyone.

Then in college, Luke went to study abroad in Florence, Italy with

no intention to learn the language since he thought everyone
would speak English. But he was wrong. Fewer people spoke
English than he expected.

Even though he couldnt speak the language, he fell in love with

Italy and its people and wanted desperately to communicate with
Italians. He knew that this was holding him back from truly
experiencing Italy like the Italians do.

Luke knew that the classroom approach didnt work. So when he

got home, he began a regimen over the next year watching
YouTube videos, going to Italian meetups, talking with Italians
online, reading grammar books, using different language apps like
Duolingo and watching TV and films in Italian.

He was spending 7 to 8 hours a day for months in a desperate

attempt to learn Italian. And in just under a year, he finally
became fluent.

Armed with his new skill, he returned to Italy and it was like he
was visiting a whole new world. For 3 weeks, he spoke only Italian.
Being surrounded by his Italian friends and being able to easily
converse with them, he felt what its like to be an Italian.

Next he learned Spanish and French. But this time it was much
faster and required less effort. He was conversational in French in
4 months and Spanish in 3 months. Each time he learned a new
language, he was able to optimize his process.

After learning 3 languages, Luke realized that he could teach

anyone to be conversational in 3 months in any language by only
dedicating 30 to 60 minutes a day. So he spent the next 2 years
developing an online course called Italian in Your Pocket.

His system is basically everything Im advocating in this article. It

concentrates on speaking and listening. The very first week, his
students are listening to conversations at normal speed and

Students, who put in the 30 to 60 minutes a day, are able to hold

basic conversations totally in Italian with their fellow students in
as little as 3 to 4 weeks.

The Language Revolution is Here

These results prove that traditional methods of classroom-style
teaching can be greatly improved upon. Grammar and vocabulary
do not need to be the center point for new students.

Hearing and speaking as soon as possible accelerates students

understanding and speaking abilities in the new language. These
quickly acquired skills reward students early and often, making
the process of learning highly enjoyable. And because its
enjoyable, students will want to continue learning. This positive
feedback accelerates the learning process.

We need to have a real revolution in how we teach languages.

Academia has failed nearly every student its encountered. We all
have the ability to speak multiple languages and speak them well.
The Secret to Learning a Foreign Language as an Adult

Oct 02, 2014

Answer by David Bailey, CEO of Spotnight, on Quora.

I've learned several foreign languages as an adult. I was able to learn

French to conversation fluency in 17 days using the following
techniques. Note that I had previously learned Spanish to fluency so
this was not my first foreign language.

In summer of 2005 I stayed with a French friend in a tiny village in the

Beaujolais region of France. No one in the village spoke English and,
since my friend knew I had an ambitious learning goal, she refused to
speak to me in English as well.

I set up a routine where I did the same things every day.

In the mornings, I woke up and wrote out longhand the regular and
irregular verb tables for 1.5-2 hours. I managed to get through an
entire pad of paper in two weeks. I still believe that writing things out
by hand is the best way to memorize things.

Play Video
How Animals Learn Language

TIME science writer, Jeffrey Kluger visits the Great Ape Trust to meet a remarkable Bonobo ape
named Kanzi.

While I wrote, I would listen to Michel Thomas' language learning

mp3s. On the CDs you listen as he teaches French to other English
speakers. It's really helpful to hear other students make mistakes that
you can learn from, just like a regular classroom environment. In two
weeks I listened to the foundation, advanced and language building
courses twice.

I would run for 45-60 minutes in the early afternoon in the French
countryside listening to catchy French music. Music is a great way to
learn the intonation of a language and train your facial muscles as you
sing along.

I had lunch with my friend and her French friends everyday. As they
refused to slow down when speaking to me in French, it was learn or

In the afternoon, if I wasn't playing darts or Boules with my French

friends, I was reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" in French.
Reading the children's books you read as a child is a great hack to
learning new languages. Firstly, the language used is simple and
secondly, knowing the story helps you to guess the meaning of new
words and avoid using a dictionary. Surprisingly children's books are
more entertaining in a foreign language.

I spent at least an hour writing basic essays about myself which I had
my French friend check for errors. When you meet new people you
inevitably get asked the same things: "Where are you from?", "What do
you do?", "Do you like France?". By learning ready-made answers, you
get to practice what you learned and build up your confidence.

Read more: Want to Learn a Language? Dont Try So Hard

Another good tip is to learn the filler words. These are the words and
phrases people say then all the time between sentences (alors, en fait,
etc.) but have no real meaning; allowing you to buy time in a
conversation and increase your confidence.
After 17 days I left the small town and went to Paris. I met a girl in a
coffee shop and we started talking. After a few minutes, she asked how
long I had lived in France. When I told her I had been learning French
for 17 days, she swore that I had lived in France for at least a year.

Hopefully there are some useful tips you can use in your learning. Let
me know and bonne chance!

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are the best ways
to learn a language as an adult?


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