Why Language Classes Don't Work: How to Cut Classes and Double Your Learning Rate (Plus: Madrid Update)

159 Comments


Coffee shops vs. classrooms – who wins? (Photo: eye2eye)

This is one of several articles planned as supplements to the original “How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language in 1 Hour.” This piece focuses on acquisition of new material; for reactivating “forgotten” languages and vocab, I recommend also reading “How to Resurrect Your High School Spanish… or Any Language.”

Let us begin…

From the academic environments of Princeton University (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Italian) and the Middlebury Language Schools (Japanese), to the disappointing results observed as a curriculum designer at Berlitz International (Japanese, English), I have sought for more than 10 years to answer a simple question: why do most language classes simply not work?

After testing the waters with more than 20 languages and achieving conversational and written fluency in 6, I have identified several cardinal sins that, when fixed, can easily cut the time to fluency by 50-80%…

1. Teachers are viewed as saviors when materials are actually the determining factor.

Teachers are merely conduits for the material and sequencing.

By analogy, it is better to have a decent cook with excellent easy-to-follow recipe than a great cook with terrible recipe. It is the material that will restrict or elevate the teacher, and a good teacher forced to follow bad material will hinder, not hasten, learning progress. I don’t sit in on classes or otherwise consider a school until I’ve reviewed both hand-out materials and text books.

Judge materials before you judge teachers, and no matter what, do not begin with classes or texts that solely use the target language (e.g., Spanish textbooks in Spanish). This approach reflects a school’s laziness and willingness to hire monolingual teachers, not the result of their search for the ideal method.

2. Classes move as slowly as the slowest student.

Seek a school with daily homework assignments that eliminate—effectively fire—students from the class who don’t perform.

The school should have a strict curriculum that doesn’t bend for a minority of the class who can’t cope. Downgrading students is only possible in larger schools with at least five proficiency levels for separate classes—beginner, intermediate, and advanced is woefully inadequate. Students can only be moved if the jumps between classes are relatively small and there are a sufficient number of students at each level for the school to justify paying separate teachers.

At the Hartnackschule in Berlin, Germany, where I studied for 10 weeks after evaluating a dozen schools, there are at least 20 different skill levels.

3. Conversation can be learned but not taught.

Somewhat like riding a bike, though unfortunately not as permanent, language fluency is more dependent on practicing the right things than learning the right things. The rules (grammar) can be learned through materials and classes, but the necessary tools (vocabulary and idiomatic usage) will come from independent study and practice in a native environment.

I achieved fluency in German in 10 weeks using a combination of grammatical practice at the Hartnackschule (four hours daily for the first month, two hours daily for the second) and daily two-person language exchanges with students of English.

Grammar can be learned with writing exercises in a class of 20, whereas “conversation” cannot be learned in anything but a realistic one-on-one environment where your brain is forced to adapt to normal speed and adopt coping mechanisms such as delaying tactics (“in other words,” “let me think for a second,” etc.).

Separate grammar from conversation practice. I recommend choosing one school for grammar and several native books or comics to identify sticking points, which are then discussed in one-one-one language exchanges, where your partner provides examples of usage and does not explain rules.


Getting into trouble in Greek and Chinese in Athens with the help of Stefanos Kofopoulos, ouzo, and wine.

4. Teachers are often prescriptive instead of descriptive.

Many teachers take it upon themselves to be arbiters of taste and linguistic conservationists, refusing to explain slang and insisting on correct but essentially unused grammatical constructions (e.g., “with whom were you speaking?” versus “who were you speaking to?”).

Progress will be faster when you find a teacher who describes rather than prescribes usage. They should be able and willing to explain, for example, how Konjunktiv II is generally used in place of Konjunktiv I in German, even though it is technically incorrect. They should also be able to save you time by explaining what to practice based on actual frequency of use, not inclusion in a grammar text. For example, the simple past is almost always used in place of the perfect tense in Argentina, but some teachers still spend equal time on both.

To avoid those who act as defenders of language purity, it is often easier to target 20-30-year old teachers and those who are good at teaching inductively (providing examples to explain principles). Ask them to explain a few common colloquial grammatical constructions before signing up.

In conclusion—the learner is the problem (what?)

The above sins certainly inhibit the speed of learning, but the principal problem is the learner his or herself, who—more often than not—uses classes as a substitute for, and not supplement to, real ego-crushing interaction.

Classes are easily used to infinitely postpone making the thousands of mistakes necessary to achieve fluency. In boxing, they say “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Well, in language learning, we could just as easily say that “everyone has the perfect conversation in mind until they speak to a real native.”

Don’t waste time on more than learning more than a handful of conjugations for primarily first-person singular (I) and second-person singular (you) in the past, present, and future tenses, along with common phrases that illustrate them. Throw in a few auxilaries (to want to V, to need to V, to like to V, etc.) and jump on a plane before learning any more of what you’ll just need to relearn anyway. Even after you land, you do not need more than two months of classes in-country, and remember that, like training wheels, the goal is get off of them as quickly as possible.

Don’t go to classes because you have no social network outside of class, or because you want the illusion of progress with a coddling teacher who understands your Tarzan attempts at her language. If you are taking classes because they are enjoyable, fine, but understand that you are better off spending time elsewhere.

Make it your goal to screw up as often as possible in uncontrolled environments. Explicitly ask friends to correct you and reward them with thanks and praise when they catch you spouting nonsense, particularly the small understandable mistakes. I was able to pass the Certificado de Espanol Avanzado, the most diffucult Spanish certification test in South America, in eight weeks, which is said to require near-native fluency and years of immersion. How? By following the above fixes and making more mistakes in eight weeks than most make in eight years.

“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field,” or so said Physicist Niels Bohr. Luckily, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to use his advice. Choose schools carefully and then, once they’ve served their purpose, abandon them.

The real world is where mistakes are made, weaknesses are found, and fluency is achieved.

###

Some random videos:


A promo for bookstores in Spain. It’s not easy to suppress my Argentine accent.


For German Amazon.com – some of you have seen this before.

###

Odds and Ends: Update on Madrid party location this Thursday!

For all you readers and friends in Europe, come have a glass or bottle with me! The space will be on a first come first served basis, so register early. So far, there are 132 people coming — it’s going to rock.

Play hard with us 6-9pm on Thurs., Sept. 25th in Madrid. Location:

RESTAURANTE LATERAL
Centro Comercial Arturo Soria Plaza
Calle Arturo Soria 126
28043 Madrid, Spain
Tel. 91 300 36 01

Get your free ticket here.

Espero que nos veamos pronto!

Follow Tim in real-time on Twitter

Posted on: September 22, 2008.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

159 comments on “Why Language Classes Don't Work: How to Cut Classes and Double Your Learning Rate (Plus: Madrid Update)

  1. @Tim: “…making the thousands of mistakes necessary to achieve fluency.”

    This is certainly transferable to many learning pursuits. This is why ‘on the job training’ or ‘hand on experience’ is often times more effective than any kind of formal education.

    BTW, did you write this before BWE or did you crank this one out on the flight home? :-)

    Like

  2. Hey Tim,
    From your recent Tweet Kim and I picked up the Pimsleur language series to prepare for our next mini retirement to Buenos Aires. It’s been incredible. Fun and easy! We’ll combine those lessons along with your instruction here and be in great shape for our next trip.
    Pure Vida,
    Rob

    Like

  3. Hey Tim,

    Just looking at your Twitter and thought this was relevant to the discussion perhaps, but there is not much explanation. Care to elaborate or will there be a post on it?

    Here it is:

    “Once again comparing www-supermemo-com with Pimsleur and Michel Thomas for foreign language vocab acquisition…”

    Also, I had a look at supermemo-com, is this a good website to learn about “learning”?

    Thanks.

    Like

  4. Wow, hardcore stuff. One of the few things I have trouble learning, but really want to, has been foreign languages. I’ve been to plenty of countries, even lived in Korea for a year, and still didn’t learn more than a few pleasantries. Mainly, I guess, because I didn’t know how to go about learning effectively. I’m loving your language posts, keep em up!

    Like

    • There are some sites where you can pratice writing. I use Lang-8. Bascially the idea is that you write in the language you are learning and a native speaker corrects it. I am better at writing, so I have used this approach in the early days of taking up Spanish again.

      Like

  5. You sound just like an Argentine! Although sometimes native Spanish and Argentine spanish can sound very similar. Even some Peruvian Spanish can be confused with Argentine Spanish with the exception of the vos and “LL”.

    Like

  6. A ver Tim cuándo te ponés las pilas y sacás el libro en Castellano para Argentina!!?

    You know, probably there are lots of people willing to read your book here, but they don’t understand a word of english!

    Un abrazo y check my blog on productivity, time managment and learning techniques for students!

    Yes, I’m trying to become the argentine you eventually! LOL :-D

    always thankfully,

    Ar

    Like

  7. Hey Tim,

    Great post! I love to learn languages and am going to be spending 6-9 months in France in a few months. After my trip I am planning on staying in Spain for several months. I don’t know the language at all and am wondering what you think of Rosetta Stone software stuff?

    Like

  8. Tim (or any other linguistic people following this thread…)
    My friend from Mexico tells me that in general I have a very good accent in Spanish, but I have a MAJOR problem speaking fluently in Espanol, Italiano, or any language that requires rolling the R–I cannot do it at all. It is very frustrating! Do you happen to know what are the most common reasons for not being able to do this, how can I learn it, do I need to see a speech therapist…any ideas?

    Like

    • Hi Clare

      Ref: your problem with the RRRRRR in spanish. Why don’t you try the following way:

      Place your tong against the the inside top of your mouth and then try to pronounce the word root the followin way:

      rrrrrrrrrrrroooooooooot.

      After you manage it, after a lot of practice, it will become automatic.

      Cheers,
      Wellington

      Like

  9. As I’ve discovered over the years of losing my ability to have a coherent conversation in Spanish, the language I learned parallel to English, your language is like a muscle and must be exercised well. Classroom language is really weak. I could learn Chinese tomorrow in class, but without someone to exercise it with, it disappears quickly.

    Like

  10. “no matter what, do not begin with classes or texts that solely use the target language”

    I prefer to not have textbooks that use my native language, except of course, for the translation dictionaries, etc. I feel the constant switching back and forth between the languages trips me up more than helps me when starting out with a new language, especially when starting out.

    Also, if learning languages quickly is your goal, I would recommend not trying to learn them in regions that are known for thick accents or use of sentence structures / verb tenses not widely used outside of their borders. That is, if you have the option to pick where to study.

    Like

  11. Tim – really, really great article.
    My main background is theatre 35+ yrs. After Uni at age 40 I taught ESL for a few years. I got into it by teaching Thai women and a few guys how to swear at a warehouse I worked in prior to Uni. After they did (laughingly), workplace tensions dropped away. Because of my theatre background I was an unusual teacher, a clown in a suit. Students were taught by a native speaker who couldn’t spell and didn’t know grammar. I took students into dept stores hunting and trapping native speakers and going to as many counters as possible asking for information and advice. I had two exercises that were done daily: mimicking me loudly as a I talked about my life and silently for the rest of the class, using their mouth muscules; magic pen writing – to write continously for 10 mins in English. All my work (thanks to the theatre practice and theories of the amazing Keith Johnston) were based in modelling and the creation of an environment for safe “mistakes” to be normal, everyday occurances. Most of my colleagues (ex librarians and Lit types) thought I was weird and couldn’t figure out why my students learned faster than theirs.

    An idea Tim: Translate this inspiringly excellent article into the other major languages of our wonderful world and make the party, this adventure, life, bigger.

    whoohoo!

    Like

  12. I’ve been trying to learn German on my own for the last two years. I’ve learned tons more than I ever learned in school, but I’m at the point now where I actually need to talk to people in German if I am ever going to get any better. I spent a month and a half in Germany last summer and I learned a lot, but now that I’m back in the States my progress has slowed. So… I’m making the move and will be spending 5 months in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland this winter. I’m taking my work with my and living “The 4-Hour Work Week.” My goal is to return from the trip and be fluent (or nearly fluent) in German (and have my business making more money than ever). Thanks for the tips Tim! Keep up the good work!

    Like

  13. Excellent pronounciation in your Chinese, Tim!

    My wife is chinese and I’m Filipino-American.

    I feel like I’m starting to turn the corner in my ZhongWen. The pivotal paradigm shift is really transplanting your thoughts.

    What helps me is… before I give up and say something in English.. if the phrase doesn’t immediately come to me in Chinese… I think hard about how to re-arrange my thoughts to see if I can express them in a different way that *is* easy to express in Chinese. It’s these baby steps that really add confidence that I think makes a difference. Even if using simple sentences, it’s a tremedous feeling to 100% form your thoughts in a different language and be able to communicate to a native speaker.

    Like

  14. Hi Tim, yo soy español y vivo en Turin, Italia. ?Para cuando te dejas caer por aquì? Con un amigo italiano estamos siguiendo tus teorìas en la realizaciòn de varios proyectos, entre ellos una microcervecerìa artesana en Turìn, que serìa un sitio ideal para una de tus fiestas-evento.

    Saludos

    Like

  15. I agree. When learning my second language, every six months I would visit the corresponding country. Two actions would always result from these excursions.

    (1) My language skills increased dramatically.
    (2) Women dig the American accent.

    Hey Tim, have you checked out pageonce.com? I stumbled onto it the other day.

    Cheers.

    Like

  16. One of the frustrations of learning a language is defining an adequate outcome. It seems to me that the most basic level of literacy (having a 1-5,000 word vocabulary, a knowledge of the simple tenses and being familiar with the irregular verbs or declensions up to the first 1,000 words in frequency order) might allow you to read a popular newspaper of flirt with a waitress but is very far from being fluent. A look at the kind of plodding unidiomatic English used on Simple English Wikipedia suggest to me that fluency is a harder achievement than you’re representing, Tim. Even a native speaker with an elementary education would be able to pick up on idioms, cliches and quotations that would take years of study for a second language learners. Such things are not readily hackable.

    Like

  17. Thanks for this post. As a language teacher, I think I have more faith in teachers than you, but most things (especially the attitude to mistakes) I agree with.

    The problem, from the teacher’s point of view, is: how do you make every mistake an opportunity to learn – and at the same time avoid treating screw-ups like the worst thing that can happen? I would love to have students like Tim any day, because they look forward to screwing up (that’s where the learning is). But try explaining that to teenagers and Chinese (taught both).

    How’s your Polish, Tim Ferris? Care to learn any?

    Like

  18. Tim, even your Greek is pretty good. I am jealous of your Chinese accent though. I went to two classes for Chinese and it is hard to not forget it when you do not practice it….

    Like

  19. Do you have to wear that hat to speak German?:-)
    I really enjoyed this blog as I intend to go back and regain my meager 2nd language level so that I will be able to help my son learn Man. Chinese. I remember alot of the Vocab…But
    it is amazing the grammer you lose when not in use….
    Thank you for your book…looking forward to the next installment.
    Michael

    Like

  20. I really enjoyed this article and the other posts you have about language. My ability to read and comprehend French is good, but as I learned in France, my conversational skills are those of a slow five year-old. Ego-crushing indeed. But as you point out, if one is willing to risk embarassment and accept correction, one will progress in conversational ability. I tried learning Swedish with tapes, but ended up confused. I’m going to try again, this time keeping your posts in mind. BTW, my 11 year old son wants to learn French, German and Swedish–I’d love to use these posts to help him out.

    Like

  21. This may sound odd, but while ramping up my spanish during conversation immersion I would notice that my head actually felt warm with all the buzz of trying to form sentences and express thoughts.

    And for about 45 minutes afterwards I would be in a language limbo, not quite rooted in English or Spanish… I would want to respond to english speakers in spanish and vice versa. I suppose it was due to all those new neural pathways being formed. Anyone else get this?

    Like

  22. I’ve spent the last couple of years in Spain and China, though my work doesn’t require these languages.

    I’ve recently been taking an intensive class in Spanish and though the teacher is great, I simply don’t enjoy spending time sitting in silence, when I know I would be learning so much more just chatting and making the mistakes that we make when acquiring any language. I know this from five years spent sitting in Russian classes when I was a younger!

    I wrote up some of my thoughts, especially comparing the classroom experience to that of Michel Thomas (great for Spanish) and Pimsleur (great for Chinese). Of course the way I’ve improved both of these languages is through talking as much as possible. In China I would advise taking taxis wherever possible and making as much of a fool of yourself as you can!

    The link is in the website field.

    Enjoying the blog a lot!

    Like

  23. Hi, Tim.

    Thanks for posting this article.

    A great cook with a bad recipe? That sounds like my high school German classes. We were blessed with a native speaker, but his knowledge was neutralized by those ridiculously misguided ALM textbooks and “space age” language laboratories. It was like our teacher gave up on trying to teach.

    And you advise avoiding classes where the slow students retard progress? As if ALM was not bad enough, most of my classmates seemed to be in a labor slowdown, just short of a labor strike. To start with, they had no idea of common words shared by English and German, such as “Blitz”. Our instructor would go into rants, “Have you not heard of Blitzkrieg? What do they teach you in history class? Do you not watch the Hollywood war movies with your hearing switched on? Why did your Santa Claus name his reindeer blitzen?” LOL

    I upset a lot of people with this opinion, but I must say that foreign language education in the U.S. is at a close to 95% failure rate, because most U.S. citizens do not know how to effectively speak their native language.

    And Tim, how apropos that you mention learning the Konjunktiv in German, known as subjunctive in American English. That’s a tough one, for Americans.

    In college, a Ph.D. linguistics professor told me that I only imagined that English was one of the easiest languages to learn, as it was my native language, learned effortlessly. (ha!) I gave the counter-example of the subjunctive. Easy enough in American English, as we use the biggest word in English, “IF”, along with whatever tense seems to fit. (However, in German, as well as most other languages, there is a separate set of irregular verb conjugations that must be used, if one is to avoid sounding like a comedy act, namely, the fool who utters nonsense by making word for word translations.)

    The linguistics Ph.D. listened, quietly, then asked, “What is the subjunctive?”

    Rant over. LOL

    If you wondering about the subjunctive mood, see the following links. It seems, as I have suspected for many years, that the separate conjugations of the subjunctive are disappearing from American English, according to Mr. and Ms. Language Expert.
    It’s definitely fading from plain American English.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjunctive#Demise_of_the_subjunctive
    But it’s still used explicitly in German.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjunctive#The_subjunctive_in_German
    Our president has got everyone confused, especially ESL students, who need a teacher who can distinguish tense from mood…
    http://www.english-test.net/forum/ftopic20035.html
    … and the prez confuses himself…
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=is%20our%20children%20learning
    Meanwhile, great artists muddle us up, ever worse, with updates that purge the subjunctive from old-fashioned lyrics. Who’s next to get a corrected rewrite? Shakespeare?
    http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001162.html

    Casey

    Like

  24. My high school German teacher had an interesting thought on languages: When you can dream in a language, you are fluent in that language. Makes sense to me, but three semesters of public school language classes (ie daycare for teens) left me a bit short of that level of comprehension. I’d like to know what others use for a measure of fluency.

    Like

  25. I think you made a lot of good points in this article, particularly that in order to achieve true fluency one must immerse him or herself by speaking regularly with other speakers of the language. As a pre-service language educator, however, I was quite taken aback by your post title and the content in your post that supports it. I think it is a hasty generalization to say that language classes don’t work. I achieved fluency in French in high school through a combination of language classes, studying independently, listening to French music and movies, and communicating in French on the internet and in person. The courses themselves, though, were the backbone that the rest of my skills were built on. I would argue that language classes work very well when the teacher is able to effectively able to accommodate all learning styles, encourage using the target language as often as possible, and, as you said, when the student is willing to put forth the effort and find ways to communicate and immerse him/herself outside of class to keep practicing. From what I’ve read of your blog, I understand that you are no stranger to foreign languages, and I believe that there are many effective ways to learn one. That said, this was a very interesting post and I enjoyed learning about a unique opinion on this topic! I hope you (and other readers) will take my defense of foreign language classes into consideration!

    Like

  26. That was epic where he burst out with the Chinese. Amazing. It’s all greek to him. Wait he knows Greek. It’s all Chinese to him then. Wait no..

    You’re well on your way to becoming a legend, very well done. Now lets some national coverage will you?

    Like

  27. Hi Tim – I am interested in the concept of phenomes, and how there is a window during a child’s infancy in which the phenomes are learned (somewhere around 3-6 months or so if I remember correctly) which make or break whether a person can pronounce them later. Forgive me, I need to cite a reference, but the example I am remembering is that most Asian languages have about 80 phenomes while English has over 200? Which is why Asians struggle with English pronunciation.

    Also, we have a message board member who is very interested in the “1,000 foreign words/week” as mentioned in 4HWW, and so am I :)

    Great post!

    Cheers!
    ~Marcie

    Like

  28. Tim,

    As a member of military special operations, I frequently found myself in new countries trying to interact with people in their own language.

    Something that we learned for the purpose of combat-related training carried over quite well to learning new languages: Real-time recall of a skill is based heavily on the exact circumstances under which that skill was learned.

    For example, many police academies used to train their officers to catch their empty brass in their hands and then place it in their pockets before reloading. The purpose of this was to save from the hassle of picking brass off the ground afterward. It was never expected that officers would do this in a shootout, but that is exactly what happened. In multiple cases, police officers were found dead with handfuls of empty brass following a firefight.

    The verbal skills in a real-time interaction, like the physical skills in a firefight, have little to do with conscious deliberation. It’s more a matter of rapid recall.

    Recall is based not only on the environment in which a skill is learned, but also the state of mind of the learner at the time. West Point Professor and former Army Ranger Dave Grossman covers this in his book ‘On Combat’. A skill that can be recalled at a low level of arousal may not be recalled at a higher level. A heart rate of 150 bpm was a common cut-off point. An example of this would be panicked accident victims who suddenly can’t remember how to dial 911.

    This is why military SOF teams train complex skills under states of high stress. It’s the only way those skills can be dependably recalled when that same degree of stress is attained in a real-world operation.

    As you just pointed out in your post, this same thing applies to language training. No amount of classroom time can really simulate what it feels like to be on your own and dynamically interacting with someone in a foreign country with only your newly learned language skills to depend on. It’s a completely different environment, and having memorized a bunch of complex grammatical rules will be of little use.

    I recently did a volunteer trip to Nepal. Included in the trip was a few days of language training, which involved sitting in a classroom and memorizing first-grade level grammatical rules and obscurities like the five or six different ways to say the word “I”. After a morning of this I excused myself and got in a cab with a notebook and pen with a list of common words and phrases like ‘yes, no, please, thank-you, 1-10,’ etc. and then wandered around Kathmandu attempting to use the words as much as possible in real-time interactions with people. I screwed it up constantly, but was always enthusiastically corrected, and soon had a decent vocabulary that I could recall reflexively.

    The end result was that I was the only person out of a group of about a dozen people capable of interacting with people in the Nepali language. Even five weeks later the volunteers who sat in a classroom memorizing syntax were unable-and too uncomfortable-to use any of the language in real-life interactions.

    -Craig

    Like

  29. Rosetta Stone is terrible. I have had a lot of success with learning on my own with Pimsleur, whose method exploits brain research on frequency and repetition and their effect on memory.

    Thanks for the trenches reporting on language learning. More, more!

    Like

  30. Hi all!

    Greeting from Madrid, where they take their ham seriously. Yummm…

    Thanks for the great comments! Seriously, I LOVED some of your questions and additions.

    I highly suggest everyone read the comments and — if I could highlight one of several — Craigs comment on combat-related training for police officers and language learning. Excellent comparison.

    As for Rosetta Stone, I think its brilliantly marketed and terribly ineffective if compared to other available methods that don´t claim to teach you to ¨think¨in a language instead of just speak in that language (I think this is marketer-speak and a ridiculous claim). Just try and ¨think¨ in math before you understand how to write it — good luck. Michel Thomas and Pimlsleur (though I find the latter slow at times) get my vote every time.

    More soon ;)

    Un abrazo gordo,

    Tim

    Like

  31. Hey Tim

    Thanks again for a great post. I couldn’t agree more about making mistakes. They are _the_ key to learning fast. I think of my adventures in the investment world and how I’ve made every stupid mistake I can think of. That said, I’m happy to report that I’ve learned more income creating strategies than I ever thought possible.

    Too bad I missed the free tickets to your Europe Tour in Spain. Catch you some other time. I got to thank you for all the ideas I’ve gotten from your book. Precious, that’s all I can say. Keep it up, man!

    Jaakko, Vagabond Investor

    Like

  32. Hi Tim!

    The truth is that learning the language in school is highly inefficient. I know it from my own example

    I’ve been learning English since I remember (my native tongue is Polish) and this summer I went for 4 weeks to France without no previous knowledge of French. Of course I bought a dictionary and forgot to take it with me…

    I’m not a master after that time but I’m able to communicate, simply by talking with the people. It’s like being a 4-year old again and all the time asking “What’s this?” or “How to say in French…?”. After 1 week I could do the basic, after 2 weeks it was ok to chat, the third week was the breakthrough and I started forgetting all other languages which was – in a way – sth great.

    If I am to learn a language, I have to know what for. You can’t do this in school, but in a real conversation. That’s the way it works for me

    Like

  33. Hey Tim,

    Awesome post. I’m trying to learn Chinese (Mandarin). What does the structure of your English exchange sessions look like? Just conversation?

    Like

  34. Hola Tim,

    Mi nombre es Alejandro y soy de México pero actualmente estoy viviendo en Madrid por lo que tenia la gran oportunidad de ir a conocerte, sin embargo no pude ya que la actualización del lugar la mandaste por tu Feed, el cual se coloca automáticamente en mi correo en una carpeta separada, y no por el E-Ticket que se suponia nos hiba a llegar, debido a esto, no había tenido tiempo de leer tu post (el cual es muy bueno) y por lo tanto no me entere del lugar.

    Este comentario no es para discutir ni esperar ningún tipo de compensación, simplemente es para pedir que tengan más cuidado la próxima vez que organicen eventos como este, ya que si en el E-ticket aparece que van a mandar la dirección del lugar, la gente problablemente esperará la invitación por el mismo lugar que obtuvo el E-Ticket o al menos en un correo especial.

    Saludos

    Alejandro N

    Like

  35. Tim,

    I am in the process of automating and liberating for a mini retirement. My plans are to attend the Spanish language school in Samara, Costa Rica for 12 weeks of classes. Do you or anyone else out there know if this is a good choice for learning Spanish? I am planning to stay with a Costa Rican family for 4 weeks, then to rent an apartment for 8 weeks. Any comments will be helpful. Thanks, the 4 hour work week has changed my life forever.

    Like

  36. Hi Tim! This was very useful.

    I will go to Buenos Aires in october/november having a “mini retirement” and hopefully working with micro enterprise innovation projects in BsAs when I`m a bit more fluent in the language.

    I found your advice extremely useful as I dont speak _any_ Spanish. All the time until now, I have postponed my spanish learning… so I`m starting out with audiobooks now and hoping to beat the normal rate using these techniques. Maybe I will post some updates later on how this worked for me!

    Looking forward to be free from negative stress, being challenged, traveling alone and building my automated businesses from beautiful BsAs.

    By the way! Do you have any plans for ever coming to Norway (again?) ? Unlike Denmark we have beautiful mountains to go Snowboarding and the Northern light is a must see!

    Thanks for an astonishing book…it really got my life settled and out of the workaholic race I was in. Priceless! I owe you big time.

    Greetings from freezing Norway!
    Bendik.

    Like

  37. Hi Tim,

    Im enjoying your book. Just picked up a copy at the aiport after leaving a very unsatisfying teaching job. Getting some really inspiring ideas for my business venture.
    1977 was a great year, mmm. The snake. I can relate to you!!!

    Susie ( Australia)

    Like

  38. reason13,

    I’ve used Live Mocha online for finding Chinese exchange partners, but I’ve had little luck finding good partners. I pay a tutor I met in Beijing to have conversations / give me lessons over Skype twice a week. She’s experienced, she speaks great English, and it’s cheap by U.S. standards — 80 RMB an hour, or about 12 USD. Contact me for her details if any of you are interested. It’s a little difficult to schedule lessons, as there’s a 12-hour time difference, but if you can stay up late or get up early, it’s worth it. But don’t steal my time slots!

    seeker[underscor]of[underscore]erudition || earthlink || net

    Like

  39. Tim,

    Just wanted to let you know after reading your book last year, I moved from NYC, enrolled in the Hartnackschule in Berlin, and had a great time. One of the things that is not mentioned often, is the low cost of all education here in Germany. Hartnackschule only costs something like $200 US for 3 hours of instruction daily, five days a week for a month! You’d never get that much in class training in the States for such a ridiculously small amount of money. In fact, Germany has a number of Volkshochschule (adult education schools) which you can learn 3 hours of German every day for 3 months also for about $250, for the full three months. In addition to in class experiences, a great amount of learning went on outside the classroom, when I had to practice my German with students from France, Turkey, Iran, Italy and Morocco. What a great experience. Thanks so much for turning me on to this school.

    Like

  40. Huge fan of your book and way of thinking. It changed my life. I am reading this on the morning of the 25th and am trying to catch a plane to spain. But I dont beleive it will be possible since I am in princeton NJ right now. But I would like to meet up with you sometime.

    Like

  41. Tim,

    Last year a dear friend of mine was waffling over whether to take a severance package from his Fortune 500 Big Pharma employer after 14 years of service.

    He had worked in a highly competitive environment all these years and admittedly didn’t love it. His wife, who he met there, was equally dissatisfied with the day in and day out. She had negotiated a part-time arrangement there she was so fed up with it.

    His three kids complained they never got to see their Dad. They are wonderful children. I first met him in a meditation class where he was attempting to alleviate chronic migraines. His success with that was limited.

    I handed him a copy of your book. (I’d one a box of them from you for a previous blog-post.)

    He and his wife read it in one weekend. The next week he announced he was moving the family to Spain for a year.

    Here’s their blog http://roy-family-adventure-year.blogspot.com/

    Their adventure is amazing to watch and I’m so impressed with their ability to document it.

    I noticed you are in Spain and that they have two guest rooms. You may want to interview them as an example of what a family can do with a little gumption and a lot of desire.

    I know I’m inspired by what they’ve achieved.

    Like

  42. I’ve had much more success learning languages by diving in the deep end as you suggest, than through any other method (books, classes, even one-on-one ‘coversation’ meetings with a native speaker).

    One tip I have is to go to a rural, backwoods area. In many countries this means you’ll learn a dialect rather than the ‘official’ language of the capital, but the advantages are many: in my experience (Romania) people tend to speak more slowly, are happier to repeat themselves if you don’t get it (maybe they repeat themselves anyway), and perhaps because you as a foriegner are more likely to be a curiosity, seem willing to spend more time conversing.

    Like

  43. Try not to completely discount the value generated by the structure of a classroom learning enviroment.

    While a classroom may only be able to teach you the fundamentals, it’s a very strong way to get yourself a basic understanding to be able to better teach yourself the advanced technique of a language.

    Like

  44. call me a skeptic, but Tim sometimes I doubt you can do everything you say you can do. Has anyone ever heard you speak the 7 languages you deemed yourself fluent in? Or some of your sporting feats…going from not being able to swim 2 laps to miraculously swimming 40 in only ten days. I will give you the benefit of the doubt but I do wonder if you like to bend the truth. I am not cynical more curous than anything as I do admire your book and life you live. Ciao

    ###

    Hi Steve,

    No worries. I appreciate the skepticism. For the languages, hundreds of people have heard me the six — not seven — languages. Classmates at school and readers here among them (at least for Spanish, German, English, and Chinese — that’s four). For the swimming, my brother and a few others are the only witnesses, but I encourage you to see some of the comments with similar results from readers.

    Hope that helps! And again, the skepticism doesn’t bother me, as I’m a skeptic myself :)

    All the best,

    Tim

    Like

  45. Hi all,
    Just found out about Tim and This inspired idea thru Yanik Silver.
    I’m employed and starting to build my own business. now the principles in the interveiw and the book sound pretty straight forward.
    My question is… Do I start to stay busy with social programmes and such now?
    Or when I’m actually there at the point of working 4 hours?
    And does any one have a template or programme of activities that I could edit for myself (I’m an extremely introverted ……Well Shy person)
    Any feedback welcome
    Regards
    Mark

    Like

  46. I’ve had much more success learning languages by diving in the deep end as you suggest, than through any other method (books, classes, even one-on-one ‘coversation’ meetings with a native speaker).

    Like

  47. Craig: Five or six different ways to say “I” in Nepali? I can only think of one – “ma”. There’s two different ways to say “I am”, and there’s the usual different words for I, you informal, you formal, we and them.

    Now, if you start getting into Newar and all the other dialects, then the words will proliferate. Many of the ethnic groups have their own language, but almost all speak Nepali too, as well as Hindi (so they can watch those cheesy/awful/awesome movies).

    Glad to read that you had an amazing time trekking out to Base Camp among other things. My father did that two years ago and brought back some small rocks, gorgeous pictures and a bunch of stories.

    Like

  48. I am really interested in what Tim has done – I have a high level of spanish but when I go to Spain because I am English everyone insists on practising their English on me. Lo and behold the same happened in France this year – maybe I am going to the wrong places – I even carry on speaking French or spanish and they insist on speaking english ..help it drives me crazy I get nowhere and become demoralised.
    Mel

    Like

  49. I really love your articles on language. I spent a bit of time in school trying to learn Japanese and have had a number of different teachers. The first had crappy materials and taught at a very slow rate. Didn’t learn much. The second was very strict and used much better materials. However, I really learned once I came to Japan and was forced to use it and was taking 9 hours of language a week. The right tools and methods make a difference. I just wish I would have known sooner. Living in Tokyo has allowed me to meet a lot of people learning English, but the materials and methods are horrible, so most people really can’t speak.

    Like

  50. @Tim

    I’m very impressed. Your Spanish to me sounds the same as a native speaker and that’s not easily done, I am fully bilingual in English and italian and i know native-like fluency is actually very rare. Admittedly I am not fluent in Spanish (but understand it at about 75%-80%) and a native speaker would detect your accent but I honestly thing it would be regional or South American/European distinctions as opposed to whiteboy from USA who learnt this in a matrix-like way.

    I’m going for Russian now. I get by with the French and Spaniards, Russians are interesting and their language rather intricate so it should be interesting.
    G.

    Like

  51. Hi Tim,

    I wish I could have been in Madrid last week to attend at this party! I know you already lived in Germany, do you intend to make another meeting in Berlin?

    Thank you for your book, I learned a lot with it.

    Céline

    Like

  52. Hi Timothy,

    I read your book and was awe inspired. I felt like all of the things you were writing about I knew could happen I just didn’t know how to express it or where to go to do it. This in terms of the your explanation of the “new rich.” Thank you for the concise articles as well as references of where to find all the information you spoke about. I felt like that was one of the huge differences with your book and others I have read. You actually gave websites and phone numbers, not to mention it is a completely different way to go about things. I thank your for writing something that so many people, including myself, felt like they clicked with and grasped head on. I read the book in one day it was so interesting.

    I am an author myself and I am going to the New York Writers Association Pitch Conference. When I looked the editors that will be there I was amazed that your editor, Heather Jackson, is attending. Please tell her to look for me and give my book a read! Worth a try, huh?

    On another completely different note, my sister in law remembers you from your Hong Kong show. She is originally from there. I had bought my brother your book for his birthday and she recognized you.

    Best of luck,
    Renee Rayles
    Author of “The Super, Sexy, Single Mom on a Budget”

    Like

  53. Hola Tim,
    Muy acertadas todas las recomendaciones que nos has hecho sobre el aprender otro idioma, pero no es facil seguir tu libro en ingles con todas esas expresiones idiomaticas que usas.
    Me podrias decir donde puedo encontrar la version en Espanol?
    Gracias!

    Like

  54. If you’re studying Danish the materials will usually be in Danish (as far as I know if you’re learning it for migration reasons – I learnt Danish for a little while) so your “never learn books in one language” bit won’t work for all situations.

    Like

  55. And by fluent, you mean that you speak the language and think in the language, the same as your native tongue? That’s what fluent means, my friend.

    Anything less is a flat out lie! Methinks that even if you were a savant, it might take a bit longer than 10 weeks to achieve fluency in a new language. Even a relatively easy one. Keep in mind all tenses of all verbs. Can you talk about science and medicine or can you just order food and ask for directions, because that is not fluent!!!

    Like

  56. Hey there Tim, great post. I followed some links from your post on International Volunteering and now I’m teaching English in mainland China! Not only am I teaching a language, but I’m learning one, thanks for the tips. Chinese (speaking) is not as hard as it seems, I just make friends with all the people in my alley and practice new words with them everyday. I saw a man on the MTR in Hong Kong yesterday reading your book and asked what he thought. With a twinkle in his eye he said he just realized he can live in Bali for 9 months out of the year. Thanks for making a difference round the world…

    Like

  57. Tim Ferriss –
    Aug 29th I closed my photo lab after 18 years. I have a son in college, divorced and I have two months of salary to live on.

    I have started to teach people how to use their digital cameras, edit their pictures on adobe photoshop, adobe elements and iphoto.

    Strange thing when I bought the business in 1990 I said I would be in business for only 18 years. I was a few weeks shy of it.

    If you were in my shoes what would you do.

    The things on my 6th month dreamline are:
    1. Meet and date my significant other
    2. speak german fluently
    3. to stay in Boca Grande in Jan 09 and sail and fish
    4. to go to Austria Feb 09 and learn how to ski better
    5. to start building my dream home I have designed.

    My dreamline of 12 months

    1. Get married
    2. Sail around the southern tip of Italy
    3. Travel to Africa, Tibet and China
    4. Take cooking lessons in southern Germany
    5. Jump off a cliff (with a parachute maybe two, three or four!)

    And by year 2011 (new dreamline section)
    1. write and publish two books
    2. scuba dive in Fiji
    3. Own a 1932 Deusenberg
    4. own a 2nd home in Europe
    5. still thinking

    Will be interested in your feedback
    Lisa

    Like

  58. Hi Tim, I’m very impressed by your language abilities. No doubt you are extremely talented at languages. I also speak 4 languages of your 6 (assuming English is part of the 6), with German counting as my native language. Your German is very good, easy to understand, I would say it’s perfect considering the time you invested in learning it (the slight accent doesn’t matter cuz your pronunciation is very clear to understand). Your Spanish and Chinese skills are equally impressive! You’re truly inspiring to all language learners. Thanks for that.

    Like

  59. Tim,

    What about learning other subjects? I’ve got 4 months to pass an Algebra CLEP or suffer through the indignity of taking the class. I’ve got two specific goals: 1) pass the CLEP exam and 2) actually learn the math this time rather than just memorizing it long enough to pass a test.

    Any tips from the class would be much appreciated!

    Thanks,

    Roman

    Like

  60. Tim,
    I cannot agree with you more!!!!!! As an avid traveler and having moved all around Europe and Canada since a young age, I have best learnt languages that I did not study in class-settings by getting fully immersed in the country. When your parents put you at a young age in a school where all the kids don’t speak the same language you fall into a survival mode which forces you to learn very fast because all human beings need to communicate.
    In other words going into a country on your own with no previous knowledge can increase you learning speed… However, I will not claim that it is the most enjoyable way to learn a language because it isn’t.
    cheeers Tim, I like those your posts on language acquisition.

    Like

  61. Hi TIm, great post and very relevant to my life experiences. I am 21 and I have traveled extensively and i have move a dozen times in my life through-out Europe and Canada. I found that the fastest way to acquire a language and its subtleties is to be fully immersed in the culture with limited interaction with people speaking languages that you are comfortable with. For example, in my case, going to school in a different country did not give any other choice but to learn quickly.
    A second example of mine is one from an Italian friend which move to Belgium with me for a year in 2007. From no french to being fluent took him no longer than 1 month… Today, a year later he got a job in a renowned law firm in Luxembourg in which he deals with French-speaking clients 1-on-1 on a regular basis
    In conclusion, total immersion is the key to learning very quickly but its definitely not the most enjoyable way to learn a language.
    TIm, your advice was excellent and in my opinion the ‘coffee talks’ are a way more enjoyable and accessible alternative for those of us that cannot have virtually unlimited mobility around the globe.
    keep it up and keep posting about language acquisition

    Like

  62. Hi TIm, great post and very relevant to my life experiences. I am 21 and I have traveled extensively and i have move a dozen times in my life through-out Europe and Canada. I found that the fastest way to acquire a language and its subtleties is to be fully immersed in the culture with limited interaction with people speaking languages that you are comfortable with. For example, in my case, going to school in a different country did not give any other choice but to learn quickly.
    A second example of mine is one from an Italian friend which move to Belgium with me for a year in 2007. From no french to being fluent took him no longer than 1 month… Today, a year later he got a job in a renowned law firm in Luxembourg in which he deals with French-speaking clients 1-on-1 on a regular basis
    In conclusion, total immersion is the key to quick language acquisition but its definitely not the most enjoyable way to learn one!
    Tim, you post was excellent and I very convincingly believe that the ‘coffee-talks’ approach is a much more enjoyable and accessible option for the majority of us.
    Cheers

    Like

  63. Hi Tim,

    First thing, spot on with the entry on languages. Also liked the hedge fund managers letter.

    I very rarely comment or contact anyone other than friends online and especially not famous people. I sometimes find it hard to say anything new to them, that they haven’t already heard. As a bboy I know it from the other side as people come up to me in clubs, after performances etc- and the situation is reversed(not that I’m famous).

    However, after reading your book I thought that there are very few people that I would say are similar to myself, and your blog further confirms this. Currently I teach English in Portugal, opting to wait on the business dreams(see myself as an entrepeneur in training)till later (as I’d probably just go live abroad to teach and learn languages after ‘making it’ anyway). I’m still very into business but found the knowledge that business life, and sucess, meant long hours and stress daughting, hence me tefling. You will have heard this many times, but your book was refreshing and caused me to think long and hard about how I can stream line, eliminate and delegate to avoid the classic 60 hour week trap that I was so daughting.

    I love learning languages and started out with Japanese after failing GCSE French and being told I was ‘bad’ at languages, just to realize the conclusions you made about languages. I got to a reasonable level, having conquered hirigana and katakana and got up to what the local language school rated as 3rd year Japanese in 9 months, with no lessons, just chatting with Japanese bboys and diving into the teach yourself series.

    However, Kanji was too much of an intellectual activity (especially as I’d never been to Japan, and still haven’t) and wiht more complicated sentences, especially concerning two and three clauses with SOV I made a choice to stop. Despite my enjoying it decided to put it on the back burner, until/if I head over there.

    Through teaching English I try to give my students an awareness of learning, telling them they can learn a fair bit on their own, just by being proactive*especially as tv here is in English! (we even get Red Dwarf!). They sometimes listen but most don’t bother acting on what they’ve heard. However, I’m certainly no linguistic genius (don’t point out typos/grammar fuck ups etc in my post!) and after dabbling in Spanish my current attempts at learning Portuguese leave a lot to be desired(with the undesired consequence of pissing off the local population with my ‘espanolese’, as they call it). Still its early days, its only been 3 weeks.

    Bboying, something I noted you mentioned in your book briefly, is something I’m also into. Although I’m primarily a bboy and have done it for a while, I also like popping, but have never really clciked with locking. Investing, Business, general health, and an appreciation for martial arts are other things we seem to have in common- althouhg I like Muy thai it tended to get me so hurt and injured I couldn’t break! So just use a bag and pads instead.

    It gives me faith that someone else is interested in learning more than one thing. People often don’t believe me when I say I’m decent at djing, bboying languages and interested in health, business, investing, philosophy etc In fact I don’t tell people on first meeting, and sometimes not for a while as its easier for both sides,…

    At the risk of sounding annoyed at the latter, which I’m not, most people label me as something, either a bboy, a dj, a tefl teacher. They find it hard to except, especially those reading my CV (actually they find it IMPOSSIBLE to accept) that I can do and be good at a number of things that are somewhat unrelated. Does this happen to you as well?… I have 5 CVs to counter this! ….

    Summing up I wanted to say that i think it is refreshing to see someone else going after their passions in life.

    thanks for the book and the blog and keep inspiring people.

    peace,

    bboy/dj cutz/ jake w.

    Like

  64. Hey Clare ! you said” but I have a MAJOR problem speaking fluently in Espanol, Italiano, or any language that requires rolling the R–I cannot do it at all. Do you happen to know what are the most common reasons for not being able to do this,”

    Yea I know.It is called phonetics and it requires you to make phoney sounds.In another words you don’t want to roll your Rs.I am sure you coined this compound did a disservice to foreign language learners.Instate,you come up with your own version of coinage and rough your Rs.Remember to wrinkle your nose when you do this.

    The rest is for everyone.Bad or good news you decide:
    There is no magic bullet or a one cure all panacea when it comes to languages.
    Your body language is your best shot when it comes to languages.
    You may be another Kafka, yet unless the other speakers likes you you are getting nowhere.
    Unless you bring yourself to talk nonsense in a foreign language you will never learn it.Have you ever noticed the way a kid learns a language? copy cat them,
    You have one disadvantage, that is your curiosity,a kid learns things alongside the lingo.This means , if you are a know it all type you have no chance of being a phenomenal speaker.Change that.
    When it comes to languages, think in terms of signales or sound waves and intervals.You are not tricking yourself into thinking something what is not.In reality it is all about it.
    It may sound too radical but if you really really want to make big weather in your quest of lan learning, do one thing just shut up and listen.Remember a wink is as good as a nod.Remember a mmm maybe better than thingamajic.

    Find partners and team members and foreign people who shares your interests and interact with them.Remember, there are not only languages or no languages at all.What is out there in reality is jargons.I can bring together to climbers or carpenters from different parts of the world and I bet my bottom dollar that they’d start chitchatting before any of yours bib 6 week fluency kids did.

    Currently there is no language on earth one could achieve fluency =(feel fine even though I have my own accent but where would I be without one ) under 6 weeks or 6 months,even with IQ and emotional intelligence 140 you need to devote 2 years.

    Css,Php and C++ are all languages too.

    Like

  65. I had an awful experience with three years of Spanish in high school. I didn’t think that I would ever learn a foreign language. After college I was working in London and got into a relationship with a German woman. I decided that I would move to Berlin with her when her assignment was up. I took two months of full-time language instruction at the Goethe Institute in London, and spent every evening studying. The instructors were excellent, and my classmates were highly motivated people who were going to Germany to work or study. Studying in London was a lot cheaper than in Germany – the Goethe Institute classes were subsidized by the German government.

    After a few weeks, my partner and I only spoke in German which helped develop my conversational skills. I experienced a stage where I got a lot of headaches – new neural connections sprouting – as well as the stage where I couldn’t speak English or German well. After moving to Berlin I took a couple of years of Abendschule classes and read a lot of books, magazines and newspapers and worked for German companies. My accent was good enough that most Germans thought I was from the Netherlands and I easily passed the German exam for university entry. The key for me was motivation – a positive emotional state is key for accelerated learning.

    Like

  66. Workflow software?

    Love the post on how to never forget anything again.
    GCAL, Toodledo, jott have all changed my life and my office staff.

    A huge problem that we have is a lot of processes have multiple steps, some of these done by multiple people. With delays that occur during the hand offs, and inefficiencies of notification when one stage is completed and the need to notify the next person down the chain. It is completely inefficient and prone to errors to have someone always looking over the shoulders of staff to determine where they are in the chain of project completion, and I feel alot of time could be saved if the next employee in line had some heads up as to when they need to expect to come to bat.
    It is also very hard to determine where or if any inefficiency’s in the chain exist, would like to know what steps in a task or who performing a task is having bottle necks.

    Ive spent hours studying Workflow software, and nothing has set my world afire.

    any ideas?

    *Webbased
    *Must have some sort of reporting and monitoring

    Like

  67. The very best (and fun) way to learn a language is to get a GIRLFRIEND who speaks the native language you want to learn.

    It’s like having a language teacher 24/7. She will tell you all the shortcuts, fix your grammar, and her friends will help you.

    This works the best. Field tested.

    Like

  68. Hey Tim loved your book and the inspiring ideas!

    But I have some doubts about some of your numbers. You write that you were paying $5 and $8.33 US/hour for private Spanish and tango lessons, respectively, in Buenos Aires in what you describe were world class teachers. Converting that to pesos, that’s around $15 and $25 pesos.

    This seems grossly underestimated. Can you really get world class teachers for so cheap in BA? The price seems like a bargain…or maybe you negotiated a batch price up front?

    Thanks in advance

    Like

  69. I am wondering if you take into account the different learning style we encompass. My polyglot friend speaks 12 languages and all were learned without the help of his native tongue (Portuguese). Therefore your claim to “not begin with classes or texts that solely use the target language” is false in his case because he believes that those texts are the best way to learn.

    Also I am wondering what you believe constitutes fluency. For me, fluency is the ability to listen, read, converse and write at the level of an educated native (this includes understanding all dialects, registers and accents that are intelligible to the native). It seems from your writing that you are defining fluency at an intermediate conversation/listening level only.

    On the other hand I do agree that with a poor teacher and/or poor materials any language learner is handicapped. Unfortunately, American colleges and university do a poor job with their choice of materials.

    Eight

    Like

  70. I can understand the criticism of Tim’s claims and I am very critical myself but his approach is up to par with those claims. I can definitely say, for those who might be wondering, that his Spanish is nearly perfect. My wife is from Rosario, Argentina and I majored in Spanish so I have been forced to learn Argentine Spanish. I can say, without a doubt, that his accent is incredibly good. Although I prefer Rosario over BA, I can also say that he is spot on about the food, people and wine. Argentina is more European than most of Europe. It is common for Argentines to move to Europe just to find themselves moving back because they did not like the wine or there were not enough bakeries. The overweight – obesity rate among women in France is like 15-18%, depending on your source. In Argentina, it is 2%.

    Regardless, I think most people overestimate the difficulty of learning a language which makes it hard to believe his claims. My minor was in French but rather than take the first two years, I got a bilingual copy of Candide and simply made myself read it in French, glancing at the English when I needed to do so. I went straight to Conversational French and took the CLEP test passing 101-202 in a span of two weeks. Granted, French and Spanish are similar enough but I can see how his similar approach would work.

    Also, I have found Pimsleur courses to be invaluable although slow at times. Another great resource, if a bit dated, are the FSI courses. You can find those for free online. Most are very well constructed for their purpose.

    As far as implementing the rest of Tim’s suggestions, I have work to do there. I am a web designer and I did work from Rosario, Argentina for a month this summer. Now, if I can just get enough work in a tanking economy, I can go back and stay longer.

    One wine suggestion that Tim may find useful: While I was there, I tried nearly all the decent wines that most people drink but on our last day, my uncle-in-law brought out reserve bottles of Trumpeter Malbec-Shiraz and it was without a doubt the best wine I have ever experienced. If you see it, get it.

    Like

  71. First I might suggest Rio de Janerio as a destination. Brazil gets a bad rap for safety, but I have spent nine months there (now my second winter) and have never had a negative experience. There are also great spots nearly such as the Costa Verde.

    For reasonably attractive single men (and I am 57) who can speak some Portuguese, the odds with women (using common sense) are like night and day compared to the US, and the women are very attractive, and pleasant to boot. Eu adoro Brasil. Not to take too much away from Buenos Aires (which I did enjoy as a tourist), but Brazilians tend to be a more open, friendly people, and the weather is better. I am a big fan of this country and people.

    It is a given that classrooms are no comparison to immersion. The chart here illustrates it showing that all people regardless of age hit a brick wall with this approach.
    http://www.sk.com.br/sk-interfoss.html

    You can study in class for two years and end up only at tolerable levels. As the chart shows, immersion is much quicker, although for an adult who has experienced this firsthand I really question that it can be done rapidly. The chart suggests two years of immersion to reach real fluency. I think that is accurate. The brain can only decode through repetition. In country immersion does allow memorable experiences and incidents that shortens this process though. Tim, despite your skills and efficiency developing good spoken delivery, I would ask how your retention is in these languages.

    Language learning even “in country” and with helpful friends is a long, gradual process. It felt (and still feels) like fog lifting to me. Sure you can get to survival level relatively quickly, but once you want to communicate beyond basics, it is a different story.

    Secondly, hearing language is more difficult than speaking. I will often speak Portuguese at a level that in turns engenders a rapid fire response that I just don’t understand. The delivery, the accent, and the voice of each speaker you hear makes a huge difference. For instance a Sao Paulo accent is easy to understand than one from Rio, and I am far more familiar with the later. I find hearing well very hit or miss. Portuguese (and Spanish) are syllable timed, while English is stressed timed. I see no way to break that barrier without months and months of listening. If anybody has a short cut on that one I am all ears, but count me skeptical.

    On self study courses like Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur I went through both. They might be a good starting point to build a basis of vocabulary and exposure. But don’t be too surprised that when you go to country you will hardly understand a thing at first. Boa sorte.

    Like