When I started my Vietnamese intensive course, a lot of non-linguistists I talked to said that the Chinese students would have an advantage because they already speak a tonal language. It is true that some westerns could be completely stumped by tones, and just not get the language at all. But, a person who already speaks a tonal language does not have an advantage over a westerner or a Korean or Japanese who is intelligent, motivated and who is trying to learn tones.
In this interview with Antonio Graceffo, he “pulls no punches” (pun intended) when sharing his views on how to learn a foreign language effectively. His language learning wisdom stems from formal training as an interpreter and translator at Germany’s prestigious University of Mainz, coupled with over a decade of living, learning, and working in South and East Asia.
Michael Heim (1943-2012) was a highly respected professor of Slavic languages at UCLA. He spoke 10 languages (though he claimed that the number is hard to tie down due to the slippery political nature of language-dialect distinctions). Heim believed that effective language learning must begin (and progress) with a specific purpose in mind; he never learned a language just for the heck of it.