Stuart Jay Raj is an Australian polyglot, applied linguist, author, musician, and cross-cultural business consultant based in Bangkok, Thailand. He has presented at two TEDx events (once in English and once in Mandarin), and is the author of Cracking Thai Fundamentals: A Thai Operating System for the Mind.

In addition to teaching and writing extensively on effective language acquisition, he has also applied his impressive language skills as a multilingual facilitator in various specialized industries (including aerospace, oil and gas, hospitality, and cyber security) and as the co-host of a Thai travel show called Neua Chan Phan Plaek (เหนือชั้น 1000 แปลก) that explored fascinating people, places, and things around the world via local languages.

Stuart holds a degree in Cognitive and Applied Linguistics from Griffith University, and speaks over 15 languages, including Thai, Lao, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Indonesian / Malay, Spanish, Italian, Danish, Hindi, Vietnamese, Burmese, and various other Asian languages and dialects.

Topics Discussed

In our conversation, we discuss:

  • How Stuart has applied the same passion and obsessiveness he used to master multiple languages to also master the intricacies of various industries (and why he believes most hyperpolyglots are likely somewhere on the spectrum).
  • Why languages alone are not very profitable, and how you can significantly improve your professional opportunities by combining advanced language ability with strong people skills and deep content knowledge.
  • The massive difference between linguistic fluency and cultural fluency, and the dangers of trying to force Western values and business operating procedures into Eastern contexts.
  • The pros and cons of revealing your foreign language skills up front in an international business context and when it makes sense to keep your linguistic abilities “close to the chest.”
  • How Stuart’s grandfather (a polyglot who spoke 11 languages) helped spur his language learning journey and normalize a love of languages and lifelong learning.
  • Why learning languages is much like learning music, and the importance of focusing on learning universal tools and principles instead of just memorizing “songs.”
  • The power of training “ear-throat” coordination, the importance of not relying too much on letters or transliterations, and how the eyes usually override the ears.
  • How to master tones in languages like Mandarin Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, etc. and why tones should be thought of primarily as mouth shapes, not as pitch contours.
  • How to break out of the limitations of “textbook” language, deinstitutionalize language learning, and acquire the practical communication abilities you need to live and work abroad.
  • The basic daily routines Stuart recommends for someone wanting to go from zero to conversational fluency in a language like Thai in one year.

Concepts, People & Resources Mentioned

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