Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder is the first book I’ve read by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, but it will certainly not be the last. The book is actually the fourth in a four-volume series on uncertainty the author calls “Incerto”, which also includes the previous works Fooled by Randomness (2001), The Black Swan (2007–2010), and The Bed of Procrustes (2010). Taleb sums up the basic premise of the book as follows: “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.” This is definitely true of language acquisition. The safe, predictable, highly structured nature of classroom-based academic language study does not prepare one for the messy interactions that one will encounter in the real world. To reach fluency in a foreign language, one needs randomness, not a lesson plan. Read on for a few of the best language learning lessons from Antifragile.
One of the most frustrating challenges I have encountered throughout my diverse career in language, linguistics, education, government, startups, consulting, and nutrition is the widespread use of clunky, confusing language. In many ways, learning the ins and outs of Academese, Bureaucratese, Corporatese, Legalese, and Medicalese have proven much more challenging than Japanese and Chinese! And it turns out I am not alone in my frustration with overly complex, stilted language. In this great talk by cognitive psycholinguist Steven Pinker, an academic who refreshingly avoids most Academese himself, he argues that w e should simplify written communication using “Classic Style” (a clear, conversational writing style that places the writer and reader as equals so that the latter can see the world through the former’s eyes) as opposed to the Postmodern Style (a cumbersome, bloated style that prioritizes communicating the intelligence of the writer).
Benny Lewis is a fun-loving blogger, YouTuber, author, language hacker, and technomad from Ireland (hence his nickname “Irish Polyglot”). He is the creator of the most popular language learning site in the world as of writing, Fluentin3Months.com, and has authored five books. He has demonstrated again and again that it’s possible to reach conversational fluency in a matter of months, not years as most believe. Benny’s philosophy on language learning is right in line with my Anywhere Immersion approach, as exemplified in the following quote from his book Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World:
“…where you are isn’t what decides whether or not you’ll be successful. Attitude beats latitude (and longitude) every time. It’s more about creating an immersion environment, exposing yourself to native speakers, and doing everything you can in that language.”
The season of giving is upon us! Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Yule, Saturnalia, The Gregorian New Year, The Lunar New Year, or just TGIF, here are some gift ideas to help spread some love to those you know trying to learn a foreign language. And don’t forget to pamper yourself a bit, too: if you’ve diligently put in the study hours this year, reward yourself with a little something something. Here now are ten gift ideas for the language lovers in your life.
The Polyglot Project, a collection of language learning tips from polyglots and language enthusiasts across the globe (including yours truly), is now available as both a physical book on Amazon and as a free PDF download. This tome of language awesomeness contains over 500 pages of language learning goodness from 43 authors!
With 11 languages under his belt, Steve Kaufmann is an extremely accomplished language learner. His extensive language learning wisdom in shared in his book titled The Way of the Linguist: A Language Learning Odyssey and his online language learning system called LingQ. In the interview, we discuss what Steve believes to be the 7 most common misconceptions about language learning, how to learn Mandarin effectively, and the role of a good teacher.