“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.”
“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?””
“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.”
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
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.
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.
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
(**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
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.
Start looking for/seeing grammar patterns such as plurals,
infinitive constructions, etc…
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.
Consider using Duolingoas it is a free tool and uses real
If you are learning multiple
languages, consider using material in
your L2 to learn your L3, and so on.
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,
“What you feed will grow and thrive. What you starve will waste away and die. If you want more peace in your life, feed it. If you want less anxiety, starve it…and so on and so forth through all aspects of who you are. Never stop. Don’t settle.”
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.
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!
So Panera has a “hidden menu,” only available in four Manhattan locations, based on author Tim Ferriss’ book "The 4-Hour Chef.“ Because YOU CAN’T TELL US WHAT TO DO PANERA, here’s the hidden menu, for the world to see.