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How to learn any language in six months | Chris Lonsdale | TEDxLingnanUniversity

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Nov 20, 2013

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How to learn any language in six months | Chris Lonsdale | TEDxLingnanUniversity
How to learn any language in six months | Chris Lonsdale | TEDxLingnanUniversity thumb How to learn any language in six months | Chris Lonsdale | TEDxLingnanUniversity thumb How to learn any language in six months | Chris Lonsdale | TEDxLingnanUniversity thumb

Transcription

  • Translator: TED Translators admin Reviewer: Allam Zedan
  • The people in the back, can you hear me clearly?
  • OK, good.
  • Have you ever held a question in mind
  • for so long that it becomes part of how you think?
  • Maybe even part of who you are as a person?
  • Well I've had a question in my mind for many, many years
  • and that is: How can you speed up learning?
  • Now, this is an interesting question
  • because if you speed up learning,
  • you can spend less time at school.
  • And if you learn really fast,
  • you probably wouldn't have to go to school at all.
  • Now, when I was young, school was sort of OK but...
  • I found quite often that school got in the way of learning
  • so I had this question in mind: How do you learn faster?
  • And this began when I was very, very young,
  • when I was 11 years old,
  • I wrote a letter to researchers in the Soviet Union, asking about hypnopaedia,
  • this is sleep-learning,
  • where you get a tape recorder, you put it beside your bed
  • and it turns on in the middle of the night
  • when you're sleeping,
  • and you're supposed to be learning from this.
  • A good idea, unfortunately it doesn't work.
  • But, hypnopaedia did open the doors to research in other areas
  • and we've had incredible discoveries about
  • learning that began with that first question.
  • I went on from there to become passionate about psychology
  • and I have been involved in psychology in many different ways
  • for the rest of my life up until this point.
  • In 1981, I took myself to China
  • and I decided that I was going to be native level in Chinese inside two years.
  • Now, you need to understand that in 1981, everybody thought
  • Chinese was really, really difficult
  • and that a Westerner could study for 10 years or more
  • and never really get very good at it.
  • And I also went in with a different idea
  • which was: taking all of the conclusions
  • from psychological research up to that point
  • and applying them to the learning process.
  • What was really cool was that in six months I was fluent in Mandarin Chinese
  • and it took a little bit longer to get up to native.
  • But I looked around and I saw all of these people from different countries
  • struggling terribly with Chinese,
  • I saw Chinese people struggling terribly to learn English and other languages,
  • and so my question got refined down to:
  • How can you help a normal adult
  • learn a new language quickly, easily and effectively?
  • Now this is a really, really important question in today's world.
  • We have massive challenges with environment,
  • we have massive challenges with social dislocation,
  • with wars, all sorts of things going on
  • and if we can't communicate,
  • we're really going to have difficulty solving these problems.
  • So we need to be able to speak each other's languages,
  • this is really, really important.
  • The question then is: How do you do that?
  • Well, it's actually really easy.
  • You look around for people who can already do it,
  • you look for situations where it's already working
  • and then you identify the principles and apply them.
  • It's called modelling and I've been looking at language learning
  • and modelling language learning for about 15 to 20 years now.
  • And my conclusion, my observation from this is
  • that any adult can learn a second language to fluency inside six months.
  • Now when I say this, most people think I'm crazy, this is not possible.
  • So let me remind everybody of the history of human progress,
  • it's all about expanding our limits.
  • In 1950, everybody believed that running one mile in four minutes was impossible,
  • and then Roger Bannister did it in 1956
  • and from there it's got shorter and shorter.
  • 100 years ago everybody believed that heavy stuff doesn't fly.
  • Except it does and we all know this.
  • How does heavy stuff fly?
  • We reorganise the material using principles that we have learned
  • from observing nature, birds in this case.
  • And today we've gone even further...
  • We've gone even further, so you can fly a car.
  • You can buy one of these for a couple 100.000 US dollars.
  • We now have cars in the world that fly.
  • And there's a different way to fly which we've learned from squirrels.
  • So all you need to do is copy what a flying squirrel does,
  • build a suit called a wing suit and off you go, you can fly like a squirrel.
  • Now most people, a lot of people, I wouldn't say everybody
  • but a lot of people think they can't draw.
  • However there are some key principles, five principles, that you can apply
  • to learning to draw and you can actually learn to draw in five days.
  • So, if you draw like this, you learn these principles for five days
  • and apply them and after five days you can draw something like this.
  • Now I know this is true because that was my first drawing
  • and after five days of applying these principles that was what I was able to do.
  • And I looked at this and I went:
  • "Wow, so that's how I look like when I'm concentrating so intensely
  • that my brain is exploding."
  • So, anybody can learn to draw in five days
  • and in the same way, with the same logic,
  • anybody can learn a second language in six months.
  • How? There are five principles and seven actions.
  • There may be a few more but these are absolutely core.
  • And before I get into those I just want to talk about two myths,
  • I want to dispel two myths.
  • The first is that you need talent.
  • Let me tell you about Zoe.
  • Zoe came from Australia, went to Holland, was trying to learn Dutch,
  • struggling extremely, extremely... a great deal
  • and finally people were saying: "You're completely useless,"
  • "you're not talented," "give up," "you're a waste of time"
  • and she was very, very depressed.
  • And then she came across these five principles,
  • she moved to Brazil and she applied them
  • and in six months she was fluent in Portuguese,
  • so talent doesn't matter.
  • People also think that immersion in a new country is the way to learn a language.
  • But look around Hong Kong, look at all the westerners
  • who've been here for 10 years, who don't speak a word of Chinese.
  • Look at all the Chinese living in America, Britain, Australia, Canada
  • have been there 10, 20 years and they don't speak any English.
  • Immersion per se does not work.
  • Why? Because a drowning man cannot learn to swim.
  • When you don't speak a language, you're like a baby.
  • And if you drop yourself into a context
  • which is all adults talking about stuff over your head, you won't learn.
  • So, what are the five principles that you need to pay attention to?
  • First: the four words,
  • attention, meaning, relevance and memory,
  • and these interconnect in very, very important ways.
  • Especially when you're talking about learning.
  • Come with me on a journey through a forest.
  • You go on a walk through a forest
  • and you see something like this... Little marks on a tree,
  • maybe you pay attention, maybe you don't.
  • You go another 50 metres and you see this...
  • You should be paying attention.
  • Another 50 metres, if you haven't been paying attention, you see this...
  • And at this point, you're paying attention.
  • And you've just learned that this... is important,
  • it's relevant because it means this,
  • and anything that is related, any information related to your survival
  • is stuff that you're going to pay attention to
  • and therefore you're going to remember it.
  • If it's related to your personal goals,
  • then you're going to pay attention to it.
  • If it's relevant, you're going to remember it.
  • So, the first rule, first principle for learning a language
  • is focus on language content that is relevant to you.
  • Which brings us to tools.
  • We master tools by using tools and we learn tools the fastest
  • when they are relevant to us.
  • So let me share a story.
  • A keyboard is a tool.
  • Typing Chinese a certain way, there are methods for this. That's a tool.
  • I had a colleague many years ago
  • who went to night school; Tuesday night, Thursday night,
  • two hours each time, practicing at home,
  • she spent nine months, and she did not learn to type Chinese.
  • And one night we had a crisis.
  • We had 48 hours to deliver a training manual in Chinese.
  • And she got the job, and I can guarantee you
  • in 48 hours, she learned to type Chinese
  • because it was relevant, it was meaningful, it was important,
  • she was using a tool to create value.
  • So the second principle for learning a language is to use your language
  • as a tool to communicate right from day one.
  • As a kid does.
  • When I first arrived in China, I didn't speak a word of Chinese,
  • and on my second week, I got to take a train ride overnight.
  • I spent eight hours sitting in the dining car
  • talking to one of the guards on the train,
  • he took an interest in me for some reason,
  • and we just chatted all night in Chinese
  • and he was drawing pictures and making movements with his hands
  • and facial expressions and piece by piece by piece
  • I understood more and more.
  • But what was really cool, was two weeks later,
  • when people were talking Chinese around me,
  • I was understanding some of this
  • and I hadn't even made any effort to learn that.
  • What had happened, I'd absorbed it that night on the train,
  • which brings us to the third principle.
  • When you first understand the message,
  • then you will acquire the language unconsciously.
  • And this is really, really well documented now,
  • it's something called comprehensible input.
  • There's 20 or 30 years of research on this,
  • Stephen Krashen, a leader in the field,
  • has published all sorts of these different studies
  • and this is just from one of them.
  • The purple bars show the scores on different tests for language.
  • The purple people were people who had learned by grammar and formal study,
  • the green ones are the ones who learned by comprehensible input.
  • So, comprehension works. Comprehension is key
  • and language learning is not about accumulating lots of knowledge.
  • In many, many ways it's about physiological training.
  • A woman I know from Taiwan did great in English at school,
  • she got A grades all the way through,
  • went through college, A grades, went to the US
  • and found she couldn't understand what people were saying.
  • And people started asking her: "Are you deaf?"
  • And she was. English deaf.
  • Because we have filters in our brain that filter in
  • the sounds that we are familiar with
  • and they filter out the sounds of languages that we're not.
  • And if you can't hear it, you won't understand it,
  • if you can't understand it, you're not going to learn it.
  • So you actually have to be able to hear these sounds.
  • And there are ways to do that but it's physiological training.
  • Speaking takes muscle.
  • You've got 43 muscles in your face,
  • you have to coordinate those in a way
  • that you make sounds that other people will understand.
  • If you've ever done a new sport for a couple of days,
  • and you know how your body feels? Hurts?
  • If your face is hurting, you're doing it right.
  • And the final principle is state. Psycho-physiological state.
  • If you're sad, angry, worried, upset, you're not going to learn. Period.
  • If you're happy, relaxed, in an Alpha brain state, curious,
  • you're going to learn really quickly,
  • and very specifically you need to be tolerant of ambiguity.
  • If you're one of those people who needs to understand 100 percent
  • every word you're hearing, you will go nuts,
  • because you'll be incredibly upset all the time, because you're not perfect.
  • If you're comfortable with getting some, not getting some,
  • just paying attention to what you do understand,
  • you're going to be fine, relaxed, and you'll be learning quickly.
  • So based on those five principles, what are the seven actions that you take?
  • Number one: Listen a lot.
  • I call it brain soaking.
  • You put yourself in a context
  • where you're hearing tons and tons and tons of a language
  • and it doesn't matter if you understand it or not.
  • You're listening to the rhythms, to patterns that repeat,
  • you're listening to things that stand out.
  • (Chinese) Pào nǎozi.
  • (English) So, just soak your brain in this.
  • The second action is that you get the meaning first,
  • even before you get the words.
  • You go: "Well how do I do that? I don't know the words!"
  • Well, you understand what these different postures mean.
  • Human communication is body language in many, many ways, so much body language.
  • From body language you can understand a lot of communication,
  • therefore, you're understanding, you're acquiring through comprehensible input.
  • And you can also use patterns that you already know.
  • If you're a Chinese speaker of Mandarin and Cantonese and you go to Vietnam,
  • you will understand 60 percent of what they say to you in daily conversation,
  • because Vietnamese is about 30 percent Mandarin, 30 percent Cantonese.
  • The third action: Start mixing.
  • You probably have never thought of this
  • but if you've got 10 verbs, 10 nouns and 10 adjectives,
  • you can say 1000 different things.
  • Language is a creative process.
  • What do babies do? OK, "me", "bath", "now".
  • OK, that's how they communicate.
  • So start mixing, get creative, have fun with it,
  • it doesn't have to be perfect, just has to work.
  • And when you're doing this, you focus on the core.
  • What does that mean?
  • Well, any language is high frequency content.
  • In English 1000 words covers 85 percent
  • of anything you're ever going to say in daily communication.
  • 3000 words gives you 98 percent
  • of anything you're going to say in daily conversation.
  • You got 3000 words, you're speaking the language.
  • The rest is icing on the cake.
  • And when you're just beginning with a new language,
  • start with your tool box. Week number one,
  • in your new language you say things like:
  • "How do you say that?" "I don't understand,"
  • "repeat that please," "what does that mean?"
  • all in your target language.
  • You're using it as a tool, making it useful to you,
  • it's relevant to learn other things about the language.
  • By week two, you should be saying things like:
  • "me," "this," "you," "that," "give," you know, "hot,"
  • simple pronouns, simple nouns, simple verbs,
  • simple adjectives, communicating like a baby.
  • And by the third or fourth week, you're getting into "glue words."
  • "Although," "but," "therefore," these are logical transformers
  • that tie bits of a language together, allowing you to make more complex meaning.
  • At that point you're talking.
  • And when you're doing that, you should get yourself a language parent.
  • If you look at how children and parents interact,
  • you'll understand what this means.
  • When a child is speaking, it'll be using simple words, simple combinations,
  • sometimes quite strange, sometimes very strange pronunciation,
  • other people from outside the family don't understand it.
  • But the parents do.
  • And so the kid has a safe environment, gets confidence.
  • The parents talk to the children with body language
  • and with simple language they know the child understands.
  • So you have a comprehensible input environment that's safe,
  • we know it works; otherwise none of you would speak your mother tongue.
  • So you get yourself a language parent,
  • who's somebody interested in you as a person
  • who will communicate with you essentially as an equal,
  • but pay attention to help you understand the message.
  • There are four rules of a language parent.
  • Spouses are not very good at this, OK?
  • But the four rules are,
  • first of all, they will work hard to understand what you mean
  • even when you're way off beat.
  • Secondly, they will never correct your mistakes.
  • Thirdly, they will feed back their understanding of what you are saying
  • so that you can respond appropriately and get that feedback
  • and then they will use words that you know.
  • The sixth thing you have to do, is copy the face.
  • You got to get the muscles working right,
  • so you can sound in a way that people will understand you.
  • There's a couple of things you do.
  • One is that you hear how it feels, and feel how it sounds
  • which means you have a feedback loop operating in your face,
  • but ideally if you can look at a native speaker
  • and just observe how they use their face,
  • let your unconscious mind absorb the rules,
  • then you're going to be able to pick it up.
  • And if you can't get a native speaker to look at, you can use stuff like this...
  • (Female voice) Sing, song, king, stung, hung.
  • (Chris Lonsdale) And the final idea here, the final action you need to take
  • is something that I call "direct connect".
  • What does this mean? Well most people learning a second language
  • sort of take the mother tongue words and the target words and go over them
  • again and again in their mind to try and remember them. Really inefficient.
  • What you need to do is realise that
  • everything you know is an image inside your mind, it's feelings,
  • if you talk about fire, you can smell the smoke,
  • you can hear the crackling, you can see the flames,
  • so what you do, is you go into that imagery and all of that memory
  • and you come out with another pathway. So I call it "same box, different path".
  • You come out of that pathway and you build it over time,
  • you become more and more skilled at just connecting the new sounds
  • to those images that you already have, into that internal representation.
  • And over time you even become naturally good at that process,
  • that becomes unconscious.
  • So, there are five principles that you need to work with, seven actions,
  • if you do any of them, you're going to improve.
  • And remember these are things under your control as the learner.
  • Do them all and you're going to be fluent in a second language in six months.
  • Thank you.
  • (Applause)

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Chris Lonsdale is Managing Director of Chris Lonsdale & Associates, a company established to catalyse breakthrough performance for individuals and senior teams. In addition, he has also developed a unique and integrated approach to learning that gives people the means to acquire language or complex technical knowledge in short periods of time.

Jan-21-2014 Update. The video transcripts are now available via the following links:

English Only:
http://www.the-third-ear.com/files/TEDx-ChrisLonsdale-LearnAnyLanguage6Months.pdf

English + Chinese Translation:
http://www.kungfuenglish.com/files/TEDx-ChrisLonsdale-LearnAnyLanguage6Months-ENG-CHS.pdf

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