Howdy, I’m John Fotheringham, a linguist, teacher, podcaster, and the author of Master Japanese and Master Mandarin.
I grew up near Seattle, but have spent much of my adult life living, learning, and working abroad, especially in Japan, Bangladesh, China, and Taiwan.
I’ve been learning and teaching languages for over two decades, including studying Linguistics at Western Washington University, teaching adults in the U.S., Japan, and Taiwan, presenting at multinational companies, working as a translator and interpreter for the Japanese government, and now blogging, podcasting, and publishing books on independent language learning.
Like most language learners, I really struggled to learn through formal classes. But once I realized that I could learn faster and have more fun by using authentic content and creating my own immersion environment, my progress took off.
Over the years, I have experimented with a wide range of learning methods, materials, and mindsets in an effort to figure out what works—and just as important—what doesn’t. I created Language Mastery to share everything I’ve learned—and continue to learn.
Once upon a time, you had to two choices if you wanted to get fluent in a language:
Take expensive, time consuming, location-dependent classes.
Move to a country where the language is spoken.
Today, anyone with an internet connection and a little creativity can learn a foreign language to a high level of fluency anywhere in the world.
While taking classes and living abroad can be wonderful, they are no longer a requirement.
My Anywhere Immersion™ approach empowers you to:
Learn at YOUR preferred pace (as quickly or leisurely as you like).
Use methods and materials YOU have chosen.
Learn in a way that fits YOUR unique interests, needs, and schedule.
Anywhere Immersion is not a panacea, of course, and you still have to invest the requisite time and energy.
But learning in this fun, autodidactic, adult-friendly way will save you a significant amount of time, energy, money, and frustration and get you fluent in your target language much more quickly.
“…where you are isn’t what decides whether or not you’ll be successful. Attitude beats latitude (and longitude) every time.
It’s more about creating an immersion environment, exposing yourself to native speakers, and doing everything you can in that language.”
—Benny Lewis, Fluent in 3 Months
If you are new to Language Mastery, here is where I suggest starting:
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You DON’T need to be “gifted” at languages. Most adult learners fail because they spend all their time learning about the language instead of actually spending enough time practicing in the language.
You DON’T need to spend thousands of dollars on foreign language classes or hundreds of dollars on overpriced products like Rosetta Stone. But a little investment in the right tools and materials can go a long way.
You DON’T need to force yourself through boring textbooks, grammars, and declension tables. Fun, modern, relevant materials are readily available online.
You DON’T need to move abroad. Creative use of technology allows you to create a fun, effective immersion environment no matter where you live.
You DO need to figure out what methods fit your learning style, schedule, and personality. There is no one-size-fits-all way to learn a language. You have to experiment until you find what works for you.
You DO need to pick materials, topics, and activities that are inherently enjoyable and fit your unique personal interests. When you do, motivation and retention increase dramatically. As the blogger Khatzumoto puts it succinctly, “Fun gets done.”
You DO need to maximize your exposure to the target language everyday through input (listening and reading) and active output (speaking and writing). If you put in the time on a consistent basis, your brain will do the rest.
You’ll notice that the site name includes the word “mastery.”
Many people have their own idea for what this term means, so let me share mine before we move on.
I define mastery in a language as:
“The ability to use a language for YOUR communicative purposes.”
That’s it. It is completely relative to your unique goals and needs.
So if you are learning a language to live and work in a given country, then “mastery” would mean being able to easily communicate with your colleagues, your boss, the server at your favorite restaurant, or new friends at a bar.
If you want to open a cafe in a foreign land, however, then “mastery” will require being excellent at inane smalltalk, and knowing lots of coffee-related words (“I want a double-tall decaf skinny caffè latte with two pumps of hazelnut in a for-here mug”).
If you will just be traveling to a country short-term, then mastery will entail being able to ask directions (and actually understand the answer), checking into and out of hotels or hostels, and asking about local sites and bites.
You get the point.
No matter your language learning goals, it’s important to remember that “mastery” does NOT mean “perfection.” Nor does it mean knowing every last word you may hear or read.
While you certainly should strive to constantly expand your vocabulary, it is far more important to be able to use what words you do know with ease (this means knowing the different meanings of a given word, pronouncing words with the right intonation, tone or stress, knowing common collocations, etc.).
Just as in martial arts (my go-to analogy for language learning), having lots of moves is not as important as mastering a small set of techniques.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
I have been learning and teaching languages for over two decades, and share everything I've learned along the way:
In my free Mastery Monday newsletter
On the Language Mastery Show
On the Language Mastery blog
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Copyright © John Fotheringham 2023