We live in a world obsessed with speed and efficiency. “Faster” is almost always equated with “better” (other than with sex of course). We want our food fast. We want our abs fast. And we want our language skills fast. But the older I get, the more I’ve learned to value slowness. Read on to see why you should savor the language learning process the way you would a fine meal or nice glass of wine.
Lýdia Machová, PhD is a polyglot, language mentor, interpreter, TED speaker, the former head organizer of the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava, and the founder of Language Mentoring, a site that shows people how to learn any language by themselves. Her 2018 TED Talk, The Secrets of Learning a New Language, has been watched nearly 4.5 million times, and has brought the language learning secrets of polyglots to a much wider audience than ever before. In the interview, we discuss: 1) Why Lýdia passed the reins to other organizers for the 2019 Polyglot Gathering. 2) How Lýdia got interested in languages and why the traditional classroom approach didn’t work. 3) How non-traditional methods like reading Harry Potter and watching Friends helped her acquire languages quickly and more enjoyably. 4) How Lýdia defines “comfortable fluency” and what language level she aims for in each new language. 5) Why you should think in terms of hours not years when learning a language. 6) Why success in language learning depends on interest and finding effective methods, not being “good at languages.” 7) Lýdia’s thoughts on the “Critical Period Hypothesis” and why you can learn a language at any age. 8) Why there will never be a “good” time to start speaking so you might as well start practicing as early as possible. 9) How you can use simple language to speak around words you don’t yet know. 10) Why speaking a foreign language is about applying the words you know, not translating word for word from your mother tongue. 11) The four core principles of effective language learning: ① having fun, ② choosing effective methods, ③ taking a systemic, habit-based approach, and ④ maximizing contact with the language. 12) How to use David James’ “Goldlist Method” to learn vocabulary quickly and easily. 13) Why language apps such as Duolingo can be a useful adjunct to other language activities, but why apps alone are not enough to learn to speak a language. 14) The critical difference between “passive recognition” and “active production.” 15) Why Lýdia always elicits specific language learning goals from her clients first and then adjusts her recommendations to fit them. 16) Lýdia’s thoughts on the “I don’t have time” excuse. 17) Why you should focus your time on a small number of core apps or resources. 18) How to fully leverage a single resource with multiple methods.19) Lýdia’s words of encouragement for new language learners. 20) Why you don’t have to be a “polyglot” to attend events like Polyglot Gathering, Polyglot Conference, LangFest, etc.
The journey to fluency in a foreign language can be loads of fun at times, but it also includes inevitable challenges and setbacks. You will misunderstand others and be misunderstood yourself. You will unintentionally say offensive things or make cultural gaffes. You will butcher grammar. You will order the wrong food and get on the wrong bus. But as frustrating or painful as these mistakes can be, it’s critical to understand that they don’t block the path to mastery. They are the path to mastery. Screwing up and figuring out where we went wrong is an inevitable, mandatory part of the leaning process. The only true mistake is the one we don’t learn from.
The author Gretchen Rubin has long been fascinated by human nature, and wanted to know why some people easily adopt new habits while others struggle to change. After years of investigation, she realized these differences could be explained (and better managed) by identifying how a person responds to expectations. It turns out that certain people respond very differently to inner expectations like New Year’s resolutions or personal goals and outer expectations like work deadlines or requests from family or friends. The personality framework she developed—detailed in her book The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better—divides people into one of four basic personality groups depending on how they respond to inner and outer expectations: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Read on to discover which Tendency best describes your personality and how to apply the framework in language learning.
While at a Christmas dinner party recently, I was asked the standard American icebreaker: “So, what do you do?” “I’m a linguist and an author who writes about language learning.”
“Oh? What languages do you speak?” “I’ve dabbled in a few, but I mostly focus on Japanese.” “Wow, that’s a really hard language! You must be really smart.” I knew this exclamation was coming since it’s the same response I almost always get when talking about language learning, but it still makes me cringe every time. Many people, even those who have never studied the language, assume that ① Japanese is difficult, and ② you have to be really smart to learn it.
So is Japanese difficult? And does it require great intelligence? Read on to see my answer to both.