Mastering a foreign language is at once extremely complex and predictively simple. On the one hand, you have to learn the nuanced meanings of thousands of words, internalize hundreds of grammar patterns, and be able to understand and use these terms and structures at rapid speed. On the other hand, most of the complexity happens at a subconscious level. Our brains do almost all of the heavy lifting for us if we get enough exposure and practice. In essence, you just have to show up. But how you show up matters. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t learn languages by osmosis. Just being around foreign languages is not enough. Read on to see the 3 essential ingredients you need to ensure that this exposure will lead to fluency.
Studying Linguistics in university changed my life. It lead me to travel the world and dive into the languages and cultures of far-off lands, including Japan, Bangladesh, and Taiwan. Linguistics also helped me develop a greater appreciation of my home language and culture, including the many regional dialects, accents, and linguistic varieties found right here in the United States. Perhaps the greatest lesson from Linguistics was learning the difference between “prescriptive linguistics” and “descriptive linguistics.” This critical distinction accounts for the vast majority of the language-related arguments I’ve had with friends, family, and internet trolls. So what is the difference and why does it matter? Read on to hear my two yen.
As Greg McKeown puts it in “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”: “The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we underinvest in ourselves, and by that I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution. One of the most common ways people―especially ambitious, successful people―damage this asset is through a lack of sleep.” That was certainly true for me in my 20s and 30s, when I regularly burned the candle at both ends in a foolish quest for productivity. I now know that my chronic sleep deprivation (and all the coffee and alcohol I used to self-medicate) significantly impaired my studies and work. May it be acquiring foreign languages, writing books, or launching businesses, more sleep would have made me more productive, more effective, and more efficient. So what is an optimal amount of sleep? And what kinds of sleep do we need to optimally consolidate, encode, and recall new words, phrases, and structures? Read on to find out.
I am a big believer in goal setting and have an entire section dedicated to creating specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound language learning objectives in my books Master Japanese and Master Mandarin. Why? Because if you don’t know where you want to go, how in the heck can you ever get there? But it’s critical to understand that goals are just the first step to align your compass. Goals alone won’t get you very far on your journey. The real magic is found in the “process”―the collection of daily habits and activities (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) that will inch you closer and closer to your fluency goals over time.
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.
Hyperpolyglot Richard Simcott on How He Juggles So Many Languages & Chooses Which Language To Learn Next
Richard Simcott is a “hyperpolyglot” who speaks over a dozen languages fluently and many dozen to various levels; a feat that led HarperCollins to name him one of Britain’s most multilingual people. He is also the co-founder of the Polyglot Conference, an annual event that brings together polyglots, linguists, and lovers of language from all over the world (the event will be online this year from October 16 to 25, 2020). He returns to the Language Mastery Show six years after our first conversation to talk about how he juggles so many languages, the “minimum effective dose” required to move a language project forward, and how he chooses which languages to pursue. He is a fountain of language learning wisdom and I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!