Podcast Chinese

Polyglot & Glossika Founder Mike Campbell on How to Master Mandarin

Apr 05, 2019

In this episode of The Language Mastery Show, I catch up with my 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:

  • Mike’s journey from Latin to French to Mandarin to the aboriginal languages of Taiwan.
  • Why language teachers should laugh at their students.
  • Why children make good language teachers.
  • How native Mandarin speakers use pronunciation shortcuts to speak more quickly and easily.
  • The importance of learning the International Phonetic Alphabet.
  • How to sound more like a native speaker by learning allophones.
  • Why real Mandarin tones in the “wild” rarely match what you see in textbooks.
  • Why Chinese characters are more like roots than vocabulary, and why this makes Chinese much more “semantically transparent” than English.
  • Why you should learn to speak before you learn to read. Why “culture” and “language” are distinct entities.
  • Why there is no such thing as a “primitive” language.
  • Why there are no vague languages, only cultures that express politeness through vagueness.
  • Why you should focus on verbs and mostly ignore nouns when starting out in a language. How to learn indigenous or minority languages.
  • How people can help save endangered languages. Why the media has grossly exaggerated the current rate of language extinction.
  • Mike’s effort to use Glossika as a tool for empowering speakers of minority languages.
  • Why Glossika’s “Mass Sentence Method” is more effective than isolated vocabulary and how it differs from other spaced repetition systems.
  • 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).
  • Why maintaining the “habit of the habit” is more important than your study volume on any given day.
  • Why Glossika is especially powerful for rejuvenating languages you’ve previously studied.
  • Why Mike leverages “role and reference grammar” in Glossika and how their tagging system overcomes the limitations of other grammatical hierarchies.
  • Mike’s favorite classic novels and stories for learning foreign languages.
  • The power of creating immersion in your daily life by changing your phone’s display language.
  • The role of language in identity and cultural pride.
  • The power of having a language in your biology instead of just in your technology.
  • How languages expand your worldview and improve your problem solving abilities.