Sara Maria Hasbun, a.k.a. Miss Linguistic, is a polyglot, translator, linguist, and the Managing Director of Meridian Linguistics. She speaks Spanish, French, Mandarin, Korean, American Sign Language, Nicaraguan Sign Language, and Indonesian, and has also dabbled in Thai, Cantonese, and Malay. In the interview, we discuss: 1) How Sara Maria got interested in languages, and went from a struggling Spanish student to a full-fledged polyglot. 2) How studying linguistics has helped her learn foreign languages better. 3) How she learned to mimic immersion environments anywhere in the world. 4) The power of probabilistic, statistical learning, and the importance of learning language through high-frequency chunks. 5) Why you should “spam your brain” with language learning input. 6) The power of using online tutors and the importance of removing pain points between you and spoken practice. 7) The importance of getting the sounds of a language into your head. 8) The similarities between learning a language and working out (and how doing both at the same time is a powerful combination). 9) Why you shouldn’t discount the power of passive learning, “dead time,” and habit pairing. 10) The insufficiency of rule-based learning. 11) Why you should work with multiple tutors. 12 ) The power of the “monologue method” and 30-day challenges.
If you’re lucky, you already know exactly which language you want to learn next. Congratulations! You can skip the following post and get back to bingeing Game of Thrones. But if you are among those struggling to decide which language to learn next, this post is for you. There are approximately 6,500 languages spoken today, and this massive number of options can quickly lead to what psychologist Barry Schwartz calls “the paradox of choice.” Many of us get stuck in “paralysis by analysis,” endlessly weighing pros and cons in a foolish effort to make the perfect choice. There is no perfect choice, of course, so we often make no choice at all. Or if we do manage to choose a language, we are left with a nagging fear that we made the wrong choice. Are we missing out on a more fulfilling adventure? Would another language be more useful in our career? So what to do? While there is no right answer to the question, “What language should I learn next,” there are at least some useful criteria we can use to narrow down the list of options. We can then spend less time deciding what language to learn and more time actually learning it.
Idahosa Ness is an accomplished polyglot, world traveler, musician, and the founder The Mimic Method, which helps language learners adopt more native-like pronunciation through the power of listening, phonetics, and mimicry. In the interview, we discuss how he went from a monolingual speaker in the suburbs of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to a globetrotting polyglot who speaks Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and Mandarin Chinese, why he focuses on pronunciation and speaking first, how his conversational fluency helped him out of a jam with the Mexican police, why music makes language more memorable and engaging, and much more.
On this day in 1970, the first official Earth Day was celebrated at thousands of schools across the United States. Nearly 50 years later, the day is now celebrated in 193 countries, including Japan, where environmental protection and sustainability have become increasingly important issues. To honor the day—and provide an excuse for learning some Japanese—here’s a bit about how Japan has tried to help the planet through sweat, short sleeves, reducing, resuing, recycling, and rocking out in the park…
Claude Cartaginese is one of the kindest guys you will meet in the language learning blogosphere, and I really appreciate all he has done to encourage language learners, gather advice from the world’s best learners, and share his infectious enthusiasm for language learning. In 2010, he released a monumental e-book called the The Polyglot Project, a free PDF which brought together tips and advice from 43 polyglots, hyper-polyglots, linguists, YouTubers, and language lovers, including Mike Campbell, Steve Kaufmann, Benny Lewis, Moses McCormick, Stuart Jay Raj, Anthony Lauder, and many more. In the interview (recorded in 2010 as part of my Master Japanese guide), we discuss: 1) The mistakes he made when starting out in Japanese and what he would differently if he started over again. 2) Why you should focus on one language skill at a time. 3) Why you should start with listening and speaking before reading and writing. 4) Why it’s crucial to choose methods and materials that support your unique learning goals. 5) When Japanese learners should start learning kanji. 6) Why “mastery” and “perfection” are not the same thing. 7) Barry Farber on how we “marry” some languages and simply “date” others and why “expertise is a narcotic.” 8) The power of modern asynchronous learning. 9) The challenge of “resource overwhelm.” 10) Why language study should not be required in school. 11) Claude’s language learning habits and routines. 12) Why languages are not “difficult,” just “different.” 13) The similarities between learning a language and learning a martial art. 14) How the ego gets in the way of learning a language.
I’d like to talk about one of the most underappreciated tools available to language learners: IPA. No, I’m not talking about “Indian Pale Ales,” though slight inebriation certainly can help some overcome the fear of conversing in a foreign language. The IPA I am referring to in today’s post is the “International Phonetic Alphabet.” I first learned about this powerful phonetic transcription system while studying Linguistics in university, and it has been an indispensable part of my language learning toolkit ever since. So what is so darn useful about the IPA? And why should you bother learning it? Read on to see my three key reasons.
Gabriel Wyner is a polyglot, former opera singer, the author of the book Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It, and the creator of the new Fluent Forever app, the most funded app in crowdfunding history. I highly recommend his book and app, especially to anyone who struggles with foreign language pronunciation or making new words stick. In the interview, we discuss: 1) How opera led Gabe to learn French, Italian, and German. 2) How a summer German immersion program proved he was not “crappy at languages” as he had previously believed. 3) Why opera is the perfect career for those who want to get paid to become multilingual. 4) The visceral difference between simply “pronouncing” a language and actually “thinking” and “feeling” in it. 5) Why you shouldn’t learn a language through translation (“It murders you before you start.”) 6) How images are a faster, more effective way to build new linguistics connections. 7) Why you should start with pronunciation training first. 8) How minimal pair training helps you learn pronunciation quickly and better notice your progress over time. 9) Why you can’t make old memories go away (the groove remains!), but how you can make new memories more powerful (making the groove deeper). 10) Why images (and the meanings they represent) create stronger memories than spelling and sound. 11) Why personal connection (“self-reference”) is the ultimate memory “supercharger.” 12) How self-testing with flashcards can make your study time five times more effective than simply presented yourself with information. 13) The critical difference between “recalling” and “reviewing.” 14)The power of “uh….?” moments and how spaced repetition can help optimize them. 15) Why modern digital flashcards are not really “flashcards” at all, but rather “computerized tests.” 16) Why language learning doesn’t take nearly as much time if you can actually hold onto what you learn. 17) Gabe’s “minimum viable” daily and weekly language learning habits. 18) How to get immersion “chunks” wherever you are. 19) Why frequency dictionaries are linguistic gold.
Language Mastery officially turned ten years old this past Friday (April 5, 2019)! The blog is still too young to legally drink alcohol in the United States, so we popped open a bottle of Martinelli’s Gold Medal Sparkling Cider instead. A lot has changed since that fateful spring day in Taipei, Taiwan, both on the blog and in my life, and I’d like to quickly summarize the crazy adventure that has been the past decade, as well as a list of the most popular posts and podcasts to date. When I published my first blog post back on April 5, 2009, I had no idea whether I would stick with blogging or not, or where the adventure would take me. It turns out that habit would stick—albeit with some stops and starts—and that it would lead me to more fun, fulfillment, and friendship than I could never have imagined…
Polyglot Mike Campbell on how he mastered Mandarin, the power of proper pronunciation & why he launched Glossika
In this episode of the Language Mastery Show, I catch up with my old friend Mike Campbell, the founder of Glossika. A lot has changed in the seven years since we last spoke at a Starbucks in Taipei, Taiwan, and it was fun to learn more about the innovations he’s made at Glossika, his work to save endangered languages, and how his views on applied linguistics and language acquisition have evolved. In the interview, we discuss: 1) Mike’s journey from Latin to French to Mandarin to the aboriginal languages of Taiwan. 2) Why language teachers should laugh at their students. 3) Why children make good language teachers. 4) How native Mandarin speakers use pronunciation shortcuts to speak more quickly and easily. 5) The importance of learning the International Phonetic Alphabet. 6) How to sound more like a native speaker by learning allophones. 7) Why real Mandarin tones in the “wild” rarely match what you see in textbooks. 8) Why Chinese characters are more like roots than vocabulary, and why this makes Chinese much more “semantically transparent” than English. 9) Why you should learn to speak before you learn to read. 10) Why “culture” and “language” are distinct entities. 11) Why there is no such thing as a “primitive” language. 12) Why there are no vague languages, only cultures that express politeness through vagueness. 13) Why you should focus on verbs and mostly ignore nouns when starting out in a language. 14) How to learn indigenous or minority languages. 15) How people can help save endangered languages. 16) Why the media has grossly exaggerated the current rate of language extinction. 17) Mike’s effort to use Glossika as a tool for empowering speakers of minority languages. 18) Why Glossika’s “Mass Sentence Method” is more effective than isolated vocabulary and how it differs from other spaced repetition systems. 19) Why Glossika is like a gym (just like with building muscles, you have to stick with the regimen and put in sufficient reps before you’ll see results). 20) Why maintaining the “habit of the habit” is more important than your study volume on any given day. 21) Why Glossika is especially powerful for rejuvenating languages you’ve previously studied. 22) Why Mike leverages “role and reference grammar” in Glossika and how their tagging system overcomes the limitations of other grammatical hierarchies. 23) Mike’s favorite classic novels and stories for learning foreign languages. 24) The power of creating immersion in your daily life by changing your phone’s display language. 25) The role of language in identity and cultural pride. 26) The power of having a language in your biology instead of just in your technology. 27) How languages expand your worldview and improve your problem solving abilities.
Lindsay Williams has been hooked on languages ever since childhood when she got a taste of French—and the free croissants that accompanied the class! Since then, she’s gone on to learn Spanish, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, Esperanto, Indonesian, Korean, Guarani, and more. Along the way, she developed a passion for teaching languages, too, and has taught learners in Costa Rica, refugees in the U.K., countless learners online, and even employees at a garlic bread factory! She now dedicates time to inspiring independent language learners and online teachers, sharing a wealth of useful tips and tools on her popular site Lindsay Does Language. She has also created one of my favorite new podcasts, Language Stories, a documentary series that highlights various languages around the globe and the people who speak them. In the interview, we discuss: 1) Lindsay’s language “origin story.” 2) Her most memorable language learning experiences. 3) The most common learner mistakes and myths. 4) Her daily language learning routines and “minimum viable daily habits.” 5) How to create “onion goals.” 6) The importance of being kind to oneself and seeing mistakes as evidence of growth, not proof of failure. 7) What to do when motivation and willpower wane. 8) Why one size never fits all in language learning.
The author Gretchen Rubin has long been fascinated by human nature, and wanted to know why some people easily adopt new habits while others struggle to change. After years of investigation, she realized these differences could be explained (and better managed) by identifying how a person responds to expectations. It turns out that certain people respond very differently to inner expectations like New Year’s resolutions or personal goals and outer expectations like work deadlines or requests from family or friends. The personality framework she developed—detailed in her book The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better—divides people into one of four basic personality groups depending on how they respond to inner and outer expectations: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Read on to discover which Tendency best describes your personality and how to apply the framework in language learning.
TED was once an invite-only conference in Monterey, California attended by the who’s who of technology, education, and design (which is what “TED” stands for by the way). Fast forward three decades and TED is now a massive worldwide community of lifelong learners that holds local TEDx events all over the world. While I highly recommend attending a TED event in person if possible (I attended TEDxTaipei and TEDxOlympia and loved both), most talks are recorded and posted online where anyone in the world with an Internet connection can view them. So this is all fine and dandy, but how can TED videos be used for learning Japanese? Read on to see my 3 suggestions.
If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can access a fair number of Japanese TV shows and movies on Amazon Prime Video. As of writing, there are 605 Japanese titles available for streaming, 33 of which are available for free to Prime Members (the balance being available for rent). Not a massive number, but hey, this is plenty of content to immerse yourself in Japanese right from your TV or smartphone, transforming otherwise wasted time into productive language learning. There are even a few Japanese language Prime Originals (日本オリジナル), which were previously available only in Japan but are now available to stream outside the country. Read on to see how to watch Japanese content on Amazon Prime Video and see five recommended shows and movies.
Video is one of the best language learning tools available in the Japanese learner toolbox: ① Video creates a strong visual context that helps you understand content that may otherwise be beyond your reach. ② Videos usually have subtitles, which help increase comprehension and provide reading practice when you put on subtitles in the target language. ③ Videos are the the next best thing to being in Japan. Staring at pixels might not ever replace living abroad, but videos can at least create a highly immersive, engaging forms of language learning input. Read on to see how to choose videos that fit your level, how to create a comprehension sweet spot, and where to find Japanese videos online.
While at a Christmas dinner party recently, I was asked the standard American icebreaker: “So, what do you do?” “I’m a linguist and an author who writes about language learning.”
“Oh? What languages do you speak?” “I’ve dabbled in a few, but I mostly focus on Japanese.” “Wow, that’s a really hard language! You must be really smart.” I knew this exclamation was coming since it’s the same response I almost always get when talking about language learning, but it still makes me cringe every time. Many people, even those who have never studied the language, assume that ① Japanese is difficult, and ② you have to be really smart to learn it.
So is Japanese difficult? And does it require great intelligence? Read on to see my answer to both.