How to learn any language in six months

I came across this TED talk yesterday in which Chris Lonsdale, a psychologist from New Zealand who runs a company in Hong Kong, talks about language learning. He believes that anybody can learn a language in six months if they follow the five principles and seven actions that he has formulated after assessing all the research available on language learning.

The bit about principles and actions starts 8 minutes into the video.

There are articles and materials about language learning available on his website.

The five principles are:

1. Focus on language content that is relevant to you.
2. Use your language as a tool to communicate from day 1.
3. When you understand the message you will acquire the language unconsciously, i.e comprehensible input (Krashen, et al)
4. Language is not about accumulating a lot of knowledge but is rather a type of physiological training.
5. Psycho-physiological state matters – you need to be happy, relaxed, and most importantly, you need to be tolerant of ambiguity. Don’t try to understand every detail as it will drive you crazy.

The seven actions are:

1. Listen a lot – it doesn’t matter if you understand or not. Listen to rhythms and patterns.
2. Focus on getting the meaning first, before the words. Body language and facial expressions can help.
3. Start mixing, get creative, and use what you’re learning
4. Focus on the core – the most commonly-used words, and use the language to learn more (What is this/that? How do you say ? etc.)
5. Get a language parent – someone who is fluent in the language and who will do their best to understand what you mean; who will not correct your mistakes; who will feedback their understanding of what you’re saying using correct language, and uses words that you know.
6. Copy the face – watch native speakers and observe who their face, and particular their mouth, moves when they’re speaking
7. “Direct connect” to the target language – find ways to connect words directly with images and other internal representations.

7 thoughts on “How to learn any language in six months

  1. I love TED talks and especially this video! This man is brilliant, and he seriously had such great tips. I think the part about the language parent was interesting though, because I’m not sure if your ‘parent’ should always let your mistakes slide. Maybe they shouldn’t interrupt you constantly to correct you, but they should still tell you after the fact what you could say differently.

  2. Well, they seem decent and useful to someone with the right drive and resources. As so often, the problem is application, especially for anyone who isn’t desperate to learn a language quickly whatever the cost.

    I generally find it very difficult to track down foreign-language content that’s relevant or interesting in itself, and typically “interesting” and “remotely comprehensible” don’t go well together. The most readily-available authentic material tends to be news, politics or pop culture, which require a lot of existing knowledge that can be hard to acquire and of very limited use (names of politicians, placenames, legislation, random trivia). Also, a lot of the time you have no source of explanations, so anything you don’t understand remains baffling, and any comprehension mistakes you made are unspotted.

    Similarly, actually getting any exposure to native speakers – and particularly to native speakers who are keen to actively help you – is usually quite a challenge. This means while you can absorb and even practice language, you often have no informed feedback to help you improve it. Tutors are (often) great, but get expensive and don’t always align with your learning preferences – I have one who’s really keen on reading aloud from Chinese textbooks, a multi-faceted task and something you would virtually never do in reality.

    So basically, sounds good, but not as useful as I’d hoped for someone who *isn’t* trying to learn a language in six months. That seems reasonable.

  3. I think the video makes a lot of sense. To summarise, how well you learn a (spoken) language is a function of the quantity of social interaction you have in the language. One easy source of this in the early stages of learning a language when living in the country is chatting to older people in parks. They tend to speak slowly (intelligible input) and both enjoy and have the time for chatting. Just ask them about their families…and the language floodgates are opened.

  4. This is good stuff. I think the most important thing is to get out of your comfort zone every day in the new language. E.g. If you can speak the language ok but are scared to talk on the phone, then talk on the phone every day.

  5. Very interesting. Anybody of the comentors did follow the principles and the actions and actually learned a new languaje in 6 months?
    Be well

  6. This just wouldn’t work for me – I’m a ‘lists’ person.

    I find that verbs and pronouns are the most important when I learn a language. It’s amazing just how much you can do once your verb paradigms are learned, i.e. how to conjugate which verbs in which way. I like learning rules too. Vocabulary comes with expression, whether masculine or feminine, or even neuter.

    And one way I found helped with language learning is to ‘speak’ the language but in English – for example, in French you could say, “Where is the chair? She is there.” Où est la chaise? Elle est là. Using the target language’s grammar in your own language can be funny, but also highly useful as you learn the grammar, the right way to say things, without having to worry about the words. Then you find the words (thanks Bing translator). It’s even funnier if you try to imitate the target language’s natural accent in English (listen to the letter R – it’s important where in the mouth it’s formed as that helps with pronunciation).

    I taught languages for almost 20 years – and my students loved the ‘English’ French lesson or Spanish lesson.

    Not mainstream, not always common … but very very effective.

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