From full-time Mandarin immersion at Peking University and Shanghai’s Fudan University to years of independent study online, Daniel Nalesnik has spent the last 13+ years on a mission to figure out the most fun and effective way to learn Mandarin Chinese. The result? The creation of Hack Chinese, a powerful spaced repetition tool designed from the ground up just for Mandarin learners, unlike generic SRS apps that struggle to properly handle Chinese characters, tones, etc. In our conversation, Daniel shares the lessons he’s learned, what he would do differently if he started from scratch, and how new language learners can get started.
Scott H. Young is a Canadian writer, programmer, entrepreneur and metalearning expert. He is the author of the best-selling book “Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career,” and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The BBC, Popular Mechanics, Business Insider, and Lifehacker. He has applied and refined his principles in a number of accelerated learning challenges, from completing MIT’s four-year undergraduate computer science curriculum in just one year, to spending a year abroad in four countries with a “No English Rule,” to a one-month at-home challenge to learn Macedonian, his wife’s native language.
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.
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.
Anthony Metivier is the founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, the host of the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast, and the creator of the Magnetic Memory Masterclass. He has refined his memory techniques learning a number of languages, including Biblical Hebrew, German, Mandarin Chinese, and Sanskrit, and has gone on to teach thousands of learners how to maximize their memories and create unforgettable associations. I like that his approach combines proven ancient principles with modern brain research, while focusing on practical application (e.g. remembering foreign language vocabulary) instead of impressive but ultimately useless memory feats (e.g. memorizing decks of cards or long strings of numbers).
Nick Velasquez is the author of the new book “Learn, Improve, Master: How to Develop Any Skill and Excel at It.” In the interview, we discuss the core principles, strategies, and tools you can use to master any anything, may it be reaching conversational fluency in Japanese or remembering more of what you read.