tim-ferriss

Everyone is interesting. If you’re ever bored in a conversation, the problem is with you – not with the other person. It’s all about figuring out what somebody’s really into – what they’re passionate about.
— 

Fantastic conversation with WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg on The Tim Ferriss Show

Boredom, as it turns out, has a long history of being deeply misunderstood

Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all. When people suggest you follow your “passion” or your “bliss,” I propose that they are, in fact, referring to the same singular concept: excitement. This brings us full circle. The question you should be asking isn’t, “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?” but “What would excite me?”
—  Tim Ferriss
It’s worse to tolerate your job than to hate it because, if the pain is painful enough, you’ll make a change. But if it’s tolerable mediocrity, and you’re like, ‘Well, you know it could be worse. At least I’m getting paid.’ Then you wind up in a job that is slowly killing your soul and you’re allowing that to happen. Comfort can be a very, very dangerous thing.
—  Tim Ferriss
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So I’m doing something a bit different today and don’t be surprised if it repeats for a few weeks. Lately I’ve been feeling a bit of writer’s block when it’s come to the blog. It’s not that I’m not still fascinated by languages. If anything I would say that it’s more that currently I’m very focused on LEARNING Japanese more than writing about the How. I’m also feeling an urge to take up my fiction work again. In addition to all of this, my language conversations with other Polyglots have been fewer and farther between with more repetition of late. None of this is bad- it is just typical around the middle of the year when work is super busy. SO… I’ve been reading my old Linguistics books, some other blogs, and watching some YouTube videos (usually TEDtalks) just trying to find some inspiration. And I’ve found a lot of really good stuff… all of which says it better than I could. (Lol)

So today I’m sharing a link to a video I found that gives Tim Ferris’s approach to learning a language in 3 months. If you want, you can stop reading right here and just watch the video and be done. Be warned, dear reader, that if you choose to continue reading that I have A LOT of opinions about Mr. Ferris’s ideas and therefore will not be holding back. If you are interested in my take/explanations, please feel free to keep on reading. You know I love when you do! :)

I should probably preface this with the fact that I am not nearly as enamored with Tim Ferris as a lot of people I know are. Author of The 4 Hour Workweek and now 4 Hour Body and 4 Hour Chef, Mr. Ferris has made a lot of money off of being an “efficiency” and “time management” expert. The thing is, most of his things that I’ve read seem impractical or unenjoyable for the average joe and moreover quite a few seem more lucky or individually successful than truly replicable for others. However, there are a LOT of people who would VERY much disagree with me, one of my best friends included who will probably be hating this blog post. That’s okay… our friendship can endure a little disagreement.

So I’m going to break this post down a bit different. I’m going to basically make some commentary on what I found to be the good in Mr. Ferris’s talk and then I’m going to make (probably A LOT of commentary) on what I found to be the bad in it. I’ll end with a sum-up of key points, including his structure for starting a new language. As always, I welcome feedback from all of you. Perhaps you see something more redeeming in his message than I do.

The Good: Tim Ferris makes a lot of good points, not the least of which is his strong belief (and one I share) that EVERYONE can be a language learner. He suggests seeking out the minimal effective dose- that is the amount of learning that gives you the most benefits with what he calls the least side effects. I’ve talked about this before but often what people do when they are learning a new language is go too hard and too fast at the beginning, wonder why they aren’t making immediate process, get fed up and realize they can’t keep up the 10 hours a day they’ve been spending, and give up. A few minutes a day is still WAY better than an hour a week. Here are a few other notes he made that I liked

  • He pushes learning the “right” 1000-1200 words to become conversational more quickly. I think this trick and technique is SO important for people to know. Many people think they need tens of thousands of words to be able to talk- understanding this is NOT the case can be so incredibly encouraging. This is especially true for people who are learning prior to a trip or even a move.

  • He promotes using authentic sentences as examples BUT points out that it is perfectly okay to find grammatically correct but less frequently used structures. Many times when learning a new language the shift in word order is hard for our brain to fully grab onto. Giving ourselves a correct way to say something that more closely matches our normal structure can get us talking without feeling foolish until our brain catches up. Just don’t NEGLECT to learn more native-like ways to say something if your true goal IS native-like competence.

  • While he made a MAJOR grammar error which I will discuss in the bad section, I do like his “Kick-starting” languages chart. Knowing the phrases for have to, can, want to, and going to can reduce a lot of the grammar needed to get you started talking. The key word there (as I bolded it) is started- again, if you are really seeking native-like competence, don’t ignore the rest of the grammar. But if you just want to be able to converse on a trip, this can reduce what you need by a GREAT margin.

  • By now you all are aware that I think the focus on pronunciation is WAY overrated. BUT if you are super concerned about it, his method of recording your bio (which, like he said, is about 90% of what you need for initial conversations) and getting someone to asynchronously mark up a transcript and record a sample for you to use as a guidepost is really smart and effective. It also lets you focus STRICTLY on the pronunciation, versus having someone correct you mid-conversation when your focus is keeping the flow going.

  • A very important and often super neglected note- sometimes a native speaker is NOT the best teacher. A non-native KNOWS what you’ve been through, has likely hit many of the same roadblocks, and has found tricks to overcome them. They can share that knowledge with you. Whether you prefer the “show no mercy” or the “empathetic I’ve been there” approach, a non-native speaker can likely provide it. This doesn’t mean don’t practice or even learn from native-speakers, just that it’s incorrect to assume they are the best teachers.

The Bad: Like Mr. Lonsdale before him, Ferris throws around the term “native-like fluency” carelessly. Unless you are SUPER dedicated (and likely a bit talented) it is almost unheard of that you become nativelike after 3 months. The kicker is- that’s not even what Ferris is describing here. What he’s really talking about is becoming conversational and competent in a way that lets you interact with less fear. That is VERY doable in 3 months, especially if you are properly motivated and have someone to practice with. Here’s the thing- I hate when people try to make language learning seem like a walk in the park. For many people it’s hard. For all of our tricks and tips and individual preferences and so forth, there are just going to be times when it feels hard. What’s more important in my opinion is this- just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s not WORTH IT. I don’t see why we have to sell people on this fake notion of “oh it’s so easy” for something so important and worthwhile. Making sure they understand it won’t ALL be hard or boring or *insert negative adjective here*? Great. Telling them that everything is so simple if they just do X? Well I don’t like being lied to and I think that’s a majority opinion. Here are a few other things I took issue with.

  • For an INTJ like Ferris, methodically learning those first 1000-1200 words is the obvious choice. The problem for many other personality types? The first 1000 words can be kind of boring. They are a lot of function words- that is, prepositions, pronouns, linking verbs, articles, and the like. Obviously very necessary- but not as fun or emotionally vested for your brain to keep hold of. This method works great if you are methodical AND if you are going to be able to start applying it right away in some manner- either speaking or reading real text. (Remember the tweet a day experiment?) BUT if you find this list tedious and boring, don’t think all hope is lost. Chances are you just need more content words- nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs- to round out your vocabulary list so that you can get more mentally motivated.

  • I like mnemonics for very specific vocabulary items that are difficult for me to learn. But what Ferris is discussing- using it for 50 words at a time- would be cumbersome for me. Know thyself on this one- unless you are BIG on mnemonics, this method may get old fast.

  • If you are going to present yourself as an expert on languages (and their learning) get your damn grammar right. Okay, I’m sorry but this irked me. He says that if you learn tener you can say “I have eaten” in Spanish. No folks you can’t. Why? Because in Spanish, the verb to have as in to possess something is one word (tener) and the HELPING verb to have is a completely DIFFERENT verb (haber). I get it was a small mistake- but you are presenting yourself as an expert. This especially ticked me off after claiming he had “nativelike” fluency. (Don’t get me started on the issue hermanito either…”

  • Ferris talks about learning patterns from those authentic sentences but insults verb books. He is re-inventing the wheel and doesn’t seem to know it. Grammar books are essentially collections of patterns- that’s what they were created for. The point of studying grammar is exactly that- to learn the patterns. He was saying you had to memorize 100s of verb charts for Spanish. I sort of want to go back in time and punch his former Spanish teacher if this is what he told him because he was SO misinformed. If you learn 3 charts, that’s it just 3, you can conjugate the vast majority of verbs in the present tense. (And if you can speak in present tense, you can get through most conversations in Spanish because they are not nearly as much of time sticklers as us English speakers.) Again, I’m all for finding what works for you. But PLEASE understand- grammar books are not telling you to memorize 5000 different things. They are collections of patterns- some more nitpicky than others- and can save you a LOT of time rather than trying to re-extract the patterns yourself.

  • I won’t belabor this but again- pronunciation is not nearly as critical as most people think. There is a range of acceptability that you need to fall in, but you don’t have to lose your accent to be understood. Over time it happens for most of us and if you are really concerned, there are things you can do. But please don’t think that you have to avoid speaking and practicing if your pronunciation isn’t great yet. It will come in time. 


(**Disclaimer** I do understand that pronunciation may be a BIGGER issue for some languages than others, such as those with tones. BUT I will also point out that it was my linguistic professor, who worked as a simultaneous translator in Taiwan using Mandarin who made the best argument I’ve ever heard for why prosody is WAY more important than pronunciation and that pronunciation is over-hyped. So- draw from that what you will.)

The Sum-Up: First of all, in case you are just skimming for tips, here is a recap of what Ferris suggested for getting started:

  1. Get the Lonely Planet Phrasebook or the Vis-Ed Flashcards and learn 20-40 set phrases. He says this will take a week and a half.

  2. Start looking for/seeing grammar patterns such as plurals, infinitive constructions, etc…

  3. Get Michel Thomas’s audio materials. According to him it’s “no note-taking, no homework” but an audio live recording of him teaching 2 students with you having the opportunity to be the 3rd. This is very direct method sounding, so if you know that works for you, it may be a great option.

  4. Consider using Duolingo as it is a free tool and uses real sentences.

  5. If you are learning multiple languages, consider using material in your L2 to learn your L3, and so on.

  6. Have fun with it. Find things you like in your language such as comic books, movies, and more.

 Obviously, my own perceptions on language learning and best practices don’t mesh entirely well with Ferris’s. However, I do think we agree on the ultimate message. We both feel everyone is capable of learning languages and we both think that it should primarily be a FUN practice. He also gives some very specific recommendations of tools, which I think can be very useful to new learners. Note that I have not personally used 3 of the 4 materials mentioned. (I gave a review on Duolingo before.) I’m not a big “phrasebook” person. BUT as always the key is will it work for you? If you find yourself listening and liking what you hear, maybe you and he share similar learning preferences and therefore you can benefit from his earned wisdom. Whatever the case, here is the information and commentary- do with it what you may.

I hope you find some of this material useful. Don’t be surprised to be seeing videos and books with my lovely editor’s commentary attached. Again, at the end of the day, it’s all about sharing the information and helping each other grow. Until next time, may the force be with you, Polyglot Jedis!

Part of the struggle of actually finding happiness as an artist is the daily fight to not define success the way the rest of the world defines success – which is hard, because you have to fight the same battles every day.

[…]

Success has this very two-faced essence… As an artist playing the game in the industry… you kind of have to play that game a little bit and ride the balance, trying to get your book on the New York Times bestselling list and knowing what to do to do that, but also, simultaneously, not drinking the Kool-aid – swishing it around your mouth and spitting it out.

— 

In her magnificent conversation with Tim Ferriss on The Tim Ferriss Show, Amanda Palmer considers the sticky question of success as she expands on her ideas from the indispensable The Art of Asking.

Complement with what remains the finest definition of success ever committed to words, courtesy of Thoreau, then see some of today’s most “successful” artists on what success really means.

What are your dreams?

Not the kind that you sleep on, what do you dream about doing, having or being? And what if I said all of these things could be yours? All it takes is a little belief, persistence and the courage to take that first step.

There was once a time where I laughed at myself for thinking that I could be a yoga instructor, and thought I was destined to be a barista or server, obese at some point, and freezing in Minnesota.

Well many years later I’m laughing at how limiting my thoughts were back then. I’ve since realized that I can have/be/do anything I want and I’m freaking invincible! So are you!

Check out Tim Ferriss’s Dreamline for a helpful mapping tool to figure out your first few steps to making your dreams come true. And if you’re really serious, check out Ramit’s YouTube videos on negotiation, anything Tony Robbins, and make a dream board.

This world is yours, and it’s never too late to start living the life you dream of. How bad do you want it?