I love learning foreign languages.
In fact, I love it so much
that I like to learn a new language every two years,
currently working on my eighth one.
When people find that out about me,they always ask me,
“How do you do that? What’s your secret?”
说实话 这么多年来 我的回答总是
And to be honest, for many years,my answer would be,
“我不知道啊 我只是喜欢学语言 ”
“I don’t know. I simplylove learning languages.”
But people were neverhappy with that answer.
They wanted to know why they are spending
years trying to learn even one language,
never achieving fluency, and here I come, learning one language after another.
They wanted to knowthe secret of polyglots,
people who speak a lot of languages.
And that made me wonder, too,
how do actually other polyglots do it?
What do we have in common?
And what is it
that enables us to learn languages so much faster than other people?
I decided to meet other people like me and find that out.
The best place to meet a lot of polyglots
is an event where hundredsof language lovers
meet in one placeto practice their languages.
There are several such polyglot eventsorganized all around the world,
and so I decided to go there and ask polyglots
about the methods that they use.
And so I met Benny from Ireland,
who told me that his method is to start speaking from day one.
He learns a few phrasesfrom a travel phrasebook
and goes to meet native speakers and starts having conversations with them right away.
他不介意一天犯 200 个错误
He doesn’t mind makingeven 200 mistakes a day,
because that’s how he learns,based on the feedback.
And the best thing is,
he doesn’t even need to travel a lot today,
because you can easily haveconversations with native speakers
from the comfort ofyour living room, using websites.
I also met Lucas
from Brazil who had a really interesting method to learn Russian.
He simply added a hundred random Russian speakers
on Skype as friends,
and then he openeda chat window with one of them
and wrote”Hi” in Russian.
然后对方回复 “嗨 你好吗？”
And the person replied,”Hi, how are you?”
Lucas copied this and put it
into a text window with another person,
然后另一个人回复 “我很好 谢谢 你怎么样？”
and the person replied,”I’m fine, thank you, and how are you?”
Lucas copied thisback to the first person,
and in this way,
he had two strangers have a conversation with each other
without knowing about it.
And soon he would start typing himself,
because he had so many of these conversations
that he figured out howthe Russian conversation usually starts.
What an ingenious method, right?
And then I met polyglots who always start
by imitating sounds of the language,
and others who always learn the
500 most frequent words of the language,
and yet others who always startby reading about the grammar.
If I asked a hundred different polyglots,
I heard a hundred differentapproaches to learning languages.
Everybody seems to have a unique waythey learn a language,
and yet we all come to the same result of speaking several languages fluently.
And as I was listening to
these polyglots telling me about their methods,
it suddenly dawned on me:
the one thing we all have in common
is that we simply found ways to enjoythe language-learning process.
All of these polyglotswere talking about language learning
as if it was great fun.
You should have seen their faces
when they were showing me their colorful grammar charts
and their carefully handmade flash cards,
and their statisticsabout learning vocabulary using apps,
or even how they love to cook based on recipes in a foreign language.
All of them use different methods,
but they always make sure it’s something that they personally enjoy.
I realized that this is actuallyhow I learn languages myself.
When I was learning Spanish,
I was bored with the text in the textbook.
I mean, who wants to read about Jose asking
about the directions to the train station.
I wanted to read”Harry Potter” instead,
because that wasmy favorite book as a child,
and I have read it many times.
So I got the Spanish translationof”Harry Potter” and started reading,
and sure enough, I didn’t understandalmost anything at the beginning,
but I kept on readingbecause I loved the book,
and by the end of the book,
I was able to follow it almost without any problems.
And the same thing happenedwhen I was learning German.
I decided to watch”Friends,”my favorite sitcom, in German,
and again, at the beginningit was all just gibberish.
I didn’t know where one word finishedand another one started,
but I kept on watching every daybecause it’s”Friends.”
I can watch it in any language.
I love it so much.
And after the second or third season, seriously,
the dialoguestarted to make sense.
I only realized thisafter meeting other polyglots.
We are no geniuses and we have no shortcut to learning languages.
We simply found wayshow to enjoy the process,
how to turn language learningfrom a boring school subject
into a pleasant activitywhich you don’t mind doing every day.
If you don’t like writingwords down on paper,
you can always type them in an app.
If you don’t like listeningto boring textbook material,
你总是可以在 YouTube 上或播客里找到任何一种语言的有趣内容
find interesting content on YouTubeor in podcasts for any language.
If you’re a more introverted person and you
can’t imagine speaking to native speakers right away,
you can apply the method of self-talk.
You can talk to yourselfin the comfort of your room,
describing your plans for the weekend,how your day has been,
or even take a randompicture from your phone
and describe the pictureto your imaginary friend.
This is how polyglots learn languages,
and the best news is,it’s available to anyone
who is willing to take the learninginto their own hands.
So meeting other polyglotshelped me realize
that it is really crucialto find enjoyment
in the process of learning languages,
but also that joy in itself is not enough.
If you want to achieve fluencyin a foreign language,
you’ll also need to applythree more principles.
First of all, you’ll needeffective methods.
If you try to memorize a list
of words for a test tomorrow,
the words will be storedin your short-term memory
and you’ll forget them after a few days.
If you, however,want to keep words long term,
you need to revise them in the course
of a few days repeatedly
using the so-called space repetition.
You can use apps which are based on this system such
as Anki or Memrise,
or you can write lists of word
in a notebook using the Goldlist method,
which is also very popularwith many polyglots.
If you’re not sure which methods
are effective and what is available out there,
just check out polyglots’YouTube channels and websites
and get inspiration from them.
If it works for them, it will most probably work for you too.
The third principle to follow is to create a system in your learning.
We’re all very busy and no one really
has time to learn a language today.
But we can create that time if we just plan a bit ahead.
Can you wake up 15 minutes earlierthan you normally do?
That would be the perfect timeto revise some vocabulary.
Can you listen to a podcast on your way to work while driving? Well,
that would be greatto get some listening experience.
There are so many things we can do
without even planning that extra time,
such as listening to podcastson our way to work
or doing our household chores.
The important thing isto create a plan in the learning.
“I will practice speakingevery Tuesday and Thursday
with a friend for 20 minutes.
吃早饭时 我要听一段 YouTube 视频 ”
I will listen to a YouTube videowhile having breakfast.”
If you create a system in your learning,
you don’t need to find that extra time,
because it will become a part of your everyday life.
And finally, if you want to learna language fluently,
you need also a bit of patience.
It’s not possible to learna language within two months,
but it’s definitely possible to make
a visible improvement in two months,
if you learn in small chunks every day in a way that you enjoy.
And there is nothingthat motivates us more
than our own success.
I vividly remember the moment
when I understood the first jokein German when watching”Friends.”
I was so happy and motivated that I just kept
on watching that day two more episodes,
and as I kept watching,
I had more and more of those moments
of understanding, these little victories,
and step by step,
I got to a level where I could use the language
freely and fluently to express anything.
This is a wonderful feeling.
I can’t get enough of that feeling,
and that’s why I learn a language every two years.
So this is the whole polyglot secret.
Find effective methodswhich you can use systematically
over the period of some time
in a way which you enjoy,
and this is how polyglots learnlanguages within months, not years. Now,
some of you may be thinking,
“That’s all very niceto enjoy language learning,
but isn’t the real secretthat you polyglots
are just super talentedand most of us aren’t?” Well,
先别急 关于本尼和卢卡斯 有件事我还没说
there’s one thing I haven’t told you about Benny and Lucas.
本尼在学校时学习了 11 年的爱尔兰盖德尔语和 5
Benny had 11 years of Irish Gaelic and five years of German at school.
He couldn’t speak themat all when graduating.
Up to the age of 21,
he thought he didn’t have the language gene
and he could not speak another language.
Then he started to lookfor his way of learning languages,
which was speaking to native speakersand getting feedback from them,
而今天本尼可以毫不费力的用 10 种语言进行交流
and today Benny can easilyhave a conversation in 10 languages.
卢卡斯在学校学了 10 年的英语
Lucas tried to learn Englishat school for 10 years.
He was one of the worst students in class.
His friends even made fun
of him and gave him a Russian textbook as a joke
because they thought he would never learn that language, or any language.
And then Lucas startedto experiment with methods,
looking for his own way to learn, for example,
比如 用 Skype 和陌生人聊天仅仅
by having Skype chat conversations with strangers.
10 年后 卢卡斯已经可以流利的说 11
And after just 10 years, Lucas is able to speak 11 languages fluently.
Does that sound like a miracle? Well,
I see such miraclesevery single day.
As a language mentor, I help people learnlanguages by themselves,
and I see this every day.
5 年、10 年甚至 20 年都在语言学习中挣扎
People struggle with language learningfor five, 10, even 20 years,
and then they suddenly taketheir learning into their own hands,
start using materials which they enjoy,more effective methods,
or they start tracking their learning
so that they can appreciate their own progress,
and that’s when suddenly
they magically find the language talent that they were missing all their lives.
So if you’ve also triedto learn a language
and you gave up,thinking it’s too difficult
or you don’t have the language talent,
give it another try.
Maybe you’re alsojust one enjoyable method away
from learning that language fluently.
Maybe you’re just one method awayfrom becoming a polyglot.