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The 4-Hour Life

Lesson 6 of 16

Learn Any Language in 3 Months!

Tim Ferriss

The 4-Hour Life

Tim Ferriss

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Lesson Info

6. Learn Any Language in 3 Months!

Lesson Info

Learn Any Language in 3 Months!

So we're going to talk about language, and I'm actually going to keep it pretty short. And then we will take some questions, hopefully, on languages, people have any questions. Putting things in reverse, I, to reiterate what I said earlier, I was never good at languages. I never considered myself good at languages until I was forced to learn Japanese in a very unorthodox way as an exchange student because I did not have really structured, formal classes. So it was comic books, judo textbooks, so forth and so on. And as I refined this approach, Japanese took about 11 months to become functionally fluent in reading, writing, speaking. The next time I applied that and refined the approach, Mandarin Chinese, and that took about six months. Again, reading, writing, speaking. Then about three months for German when I was living in Berlin. And then I took my old nemesis, which was Spanish, which had defeated me, for many years. And then took eight weeks in Argentina to get to the most advance...

d level for Spanish, at the University of Buenos Aires. So this is a recipe that you can apply. And ultimately, The 4-Hour Chef, as it applies to food, to cooking, to skills, to life, to survival, whatever, there are recipes for all these things. So I'm going to share a few things that I've learned and we'll go from there. They all, what this approach has in common with, let's say, the four-hour body, four-hour work week, a few things. The minimal effective dose. Just like taking antibiotics. Too little doesn't get the job done. You're not speaking the language, let's say, in this case. Too much and it takes 20, 30 years. Just the right dose, and you get exactly the highest ratio of benefits to side effects. Sometimes those side effects are social. You can't spend five hours studying languages a day, if you have a family, a full-time job, et cetera. Other things, 80-20 analysis. So we talked about vocabulary. And if you choose the right 1200 words, properly, then you can be functionally fluent, express almost any idea in any language, in a very short period of time. Eight to twelve weeks, and that is possible through different mnemonic devices, which we'll talk about. Mnemonic, Mnemosyne goddess of memory, mnemonic is a memory trick or mechanism that you can use to absorb more information, and take unfamiliar items like vaca in Spanish, let's say, and convert it into vacuum, sounds similar. Then you see a cow with a face as a vacuum, let's say. And that's the way that you create the proper sequence so that cue, cow, vacuum, vaca, right? And by doing that, you can absorb say, 100 to 300 words a day, pretty easily, in a Romance language like Spanish. Okay. Well, if we have a target of 1200 words, 4 to 10 days and you have all vocabulary that you need to express yourself in a foreign language. Pretty cool. So when people tell you it takes 20 years to become good at a language, not true. When people say it takes a lifetime to sound like a native speaker, no, it doesn't. To become someone who appears fluent, sounds fluent 90-plus percent of the time, really only takes a few months. But you have to go about it intelligently. So grammar can be very intimidating for people. And this is a collection of 12 sentences that I've used to deconstruct different languages. So if you remember, we talked about earlier, there's this dis-process for addressing any skill. Breaking it down, learning it quickly. So your deconstruction, selection, sequencing, and then stakes. Okay. Right here we have 12 sentences and then an optional 13th, and I'll explain these very briefly. So, we'll first give an illustration of Cardinal Mezzofanti, perhaps the most famous language learner of all time. So he was called the hyperpolyglot. Polyglots speak multiple language, hyperpolyglot. So depending on who you ask, anywhere from 30 to 72 languages. Pretty awesome. And he could fool speakers of very, very seldom spoken or archaic languages. Give him a week and he would knock it out. He always started with the Lord's Prayer. He would have them translate the Lord's Prayer into their language. Because in the Lord's Prayer, he could then pick out indirect objects, direct objects, how the grammar was structured. So in that one or two paragraphs, he would then have the entire language represented. And that is the minimal effective dose. So in the same way, grammar of any language. So if I'm sitting on a plane, God forbid, you speak a language that I don't, you're probably going to end up having me ask you about these questions. So I've done this with Russian, learning how to read Cyrillic on an airplane ride. And it's not because I'm good at it. It's because I have an approach. So here we have, the apple is red. It is John's apple, possessive. I give John the apple. John, that is a direct, being given the apple. We give him the apple. So then we have pronoun here, the apple. So whether it's Spanish, German, Japanese, you get to see how they're structured differently. He gives it to John. So here we have that it. She gives it to him. Like, le, los, se lo in Spanish. Is the apple red, question mark. So in different languages when you ask a question, the word order can change. Or like in Japanese, you have it goes from desu to desuka, you have a -ka at the end for a question. That's a question mark. The apples, plural are red. So is it like el chico, los chicos, or is there some other tweak that makes it into a plural? And these are very simple sentences. I want to give it her. I'm going to know tomorrow. I can't eat the apple. We're going to come to these. These are very important. The must, want, I'm going, I can't, these are super important. I have eaten the apple, and I'm not gonna delve into the details into the weeds of the grammar, but I have eaten the apple, once you have, I have, the verb to have, like tener in Spanish, you can say, or like habe for the first person in German, then you can say, I have eaten, I have gone, and it saves you the trouble of conjugating all of those verbs. Okay. So basically with 13 sentences, 12 sentences, you can get a very firm grasp of the fundamentals of any grammar. So, how do you kickstart, this is nine languages. This is a table from The 4-Hour Chef. But kick-starting nine languages with four sentences. So I mentioned there a few things, like, I must eat, I want, I'm going, I can't. So, I must, or I want, these would be referred to as helping verbs. So let's say you have 1000 verbs, and you're trying to learn Spanish and they're like congratulations, here's 1000 verbs in Spanish. And you get this huge phone book, and you open it up, and it's just like graphs and graphs and graphs of conjugations. It's terrible. It's horrible. That's why you quit. That's why I quit. Instead, the approach of, let's say, Michel Thomas, M-I-C-H-E-L Thomas, who was a holocaust survivor then an intelligence officer. Became very famous for acquiring languages quickly. And the way he teaches his students, he has some fantastic audio recordings you can get on Amazon, by the way, but get his recordings, his live recordings. He would take a few words, I must eat, he must eat, she must eat, they must eat. This eat is the infinitive of the verb. So let's say, to eat, comer, instead of, como, in I eat, you don't have to conjugate it. So, tengo que comer, I have to eat. You have to eat, tienes que comer. She has to eat, he has to eat, tiene que comer. You avoid conjugating all these verbs. You're only conjugating four or five verbs. So you learn four or five verbs which you can do in an afternoon. You can use any verb in the language. And what's really cool about that is, I have to eat. Alright, fine. I have to go, tengo que ir. Okay. I have to sleep, tengo que dormir. Really, really straightforward. I want to eat, quiero comer. Now, I want to point out something underneath. So you see these translations, they're a little weird. The way that I like to translate, when I'm translating is not from Spanish to, say, native English. It's an approach that you see in a book series, originally out of France, called Assimil, A-S-S-I-M-I-L, where you have one word is then translated with hyphens. So you know that's one word, I have is tengo, I-have. Que, that, comer, to-eat. I-have that to-eat. So you're putting in a bridge between English and this target language, so that as you start to think about I have to eat, I have to go, it's I have that to go. Okay, that's easy, tengo que irse. And same story, voy a comer manana. So instead of learning, let's say, comere, a future tense conjugation, voy a, so all you're learning is voy, vas, va, van. Super straightforward. Then I'll point out a few things here. Why this becomes really important, these translations. So, no puedo comer. So, I cannot to eat, kind of similar to English, right? But then you have other examples like Japanese. To-eat thing cannot, kind of weird. So English is like Chinese. It's subject, verb, object. I eat the apple. I go to the library. Japanese is flipped around a little bit. So it's I, the apple, eat. Right? But by translating it this way, you actually learn to bridge, again, between those very odd or I'd say, diametrically opposed ways of translating. So, taberu koto. Taberu is to eat, koto is thing, ka, which is like a subject marker, dekinai, dekinai is I cannot, or cannot. Dekiru is I can. And you'll notice taberu. Ashita taberu, tomorrow to-eat. So what do you notice here? To eat, I eat, I eat tomorrow, this doesn't change, taberu. It's indicated by ashita. And then, want to eat, has a conjugation at the end. But this is a very important example. Don't worry, I'm not going to make your brains melt by doing this for half an hour. In Japanese, you could say, I have to eat, I must eat, you could conjugate it. You could conjugate it and you could say something like, tabe nakereba naranai. That's freakin' long. That's really long. A lot of syllables. Hard to remember. And the way you get around that is you use something that is slightly less native but it is perfectly grammatical and makes sense. In that case, you say, I have the necessity to eat, basically. Doesn't sound as weird in Japanese as it sounds in English, necessarily. Taberu hitsuyoo ga aru. Okay, so taberu, to-eat necessity there-is. And by translating these, you start to figure out, okay, taberu hitsuyoo ga aru. Aru is to exist. So, to-eat necessity, subject marker, there it is, same thing that we have here. To-eat thing I-cannot. And this is all you need. So effectively in two pages, you're able to deconstruct an entire language and gain access to thousands of verbs. And that's kind of the starting point. Where I recommend, this is the starting framework. Before you do this, what I recommend is getting, let's say, a Lonely Planet phrasebook, or you can get the Vis-Ed fleshcards, fleshcards, that sounded in tense. Flashcards that I talked about before. So, and learn 20 to 40 set phrases. Alright? And what you'll notice is if you just learn to say good evening, good morning, how are you, nice to meet you, et cetera, in a given language, after you just read through, even these examples, you start to look at languages completely differently. And then you'll pick out grammar from those set patterns. So I went to Turkey, for instance, went to Istanbul and spent some time learning phrases. And they would say like, "Iyi aksamlar," good evening. "Iyi aksamlar," and I was like, how does that translate literally though? Not like iyi aksamlar, good evening, like what does it mean in Turkish? What do those words mean? And it's kind of like, and I might be screwing this up, it's been awhile since I spoke any Turkish, but good evenings, iyi aksamlar. Lar is the plural, not for everything. You have, I think, it's cocuk, is child, and cocuklar is children. Like, ha, interesting. So I started memorizing these set phrases. I was there for about 10 days and went through this. Learnt maybe a bare minimum of like 300 words. Very easy, just like a couple a day. Whatever it was, 50 a day, which you can do in like two hours. Really, just spread throughout the day. And on my way back to the US, was able to stop, I think I had a connecting flight in Frankfurt, and there was a Rosetta Stone kiosk. And, Rosetta Stone's expensive, couple hundred bucks for each packet of CDs, DVDs, et cetera. And looked at it for a minute and was like, "Do you mind if I try your level 3 test?" She's like, "Oh, you've been studying Turkish for awhile." I'm like, "Yeah, a long time." And, I mean, I don't know what that is, a year later after you've finished number three. And just by doing this, I was able to score above 85% on the level three test. So not only did I save months and months of time, I saved hundreds and hundreds of dollars, thousands of dollars, potentially, over time. So that's about it. I think that is probably all I want to say about language. So let's see if there are any questions about language. I know it can seem like a very daunting subject. If you were, let's just say, going to tackle Spanish, so in the US, very, very helpful to know Spanish in many states. You can use it all day long in many places. What I would recommend, Michel Thomas. No note taking, no homework, get his recordings of learning Spanish, where he's actually teaching to students live, who do not speak a word of Spanish. You follow along, so there's actually a pause for you to answer as the third student. You don't have to write anything. It's great. Start with that and he uses a very similar framework with the helping verbs and things like that. Then, the Vis-Ed flashcards. Actually a new tool, Duolingo, is really outstanding. It's a free website that you can use. And then I would focus on 20 to 40 set phrases. Once you've gotten through that, which takes maybe a week, week and a half, and have fun with this. It's like, if you like comic books, read some comic books. I used a comic book called One Piece, it's a Japanese comic book. And I went to book stores for each language. Like in any major city in the US, you can find Japanese book store, Spanish book store, da-da-da-da-da. So I had One Piece, volumes one to six, in all the languages that I wanted to learn, Spanish, German, Japanese, et cetera. And then when I would learn one, I would, instead of using English as my reference, like if I miss something in the German, I would then go back and look at, let's say, the Japanese version. And that's how you learn multiple languages. I'm using each language I learn, to learn the next, if that makes sense. But have fun with it. So watch movies, et cetera. Any questions about language learning? We do have a question in the audience. Can you stand up, Angeline? Hi, I just had a question about pronunciation. How do you tackle pronunciation? I mean, obviously, you seem very fluent in Japanese, I'm Indian, at least my parents are, and I just remember growing up, I couldn't say certain sounds 'cause they don't exist in English, and they still make fun of me, so, I would love to know. There is a good way, there are better ways to do it. I'll give you an example of Chinese, because that's a tough one for a lot of English speakers. Basically, how easy it is for certain people to learn languages, is dependent upon the number of sounds they've been given with their native language. So people make fun of Japanese people all the time 'cause they're like, (speaking in Japanese), and it's like, it's not their fault, is the sad thing. They just got screwed in the sound lottery. They got a really small set of phonemes. And so it's tough for them to learn certain languages, but not Spanish because pronunciation's really similar. They always end on vowels, almost always, right? The best way to go about it, I think, is the way that Chinese 101 goes about it at Princeton. And when I went to China, the summer after my first year of Mandarin, became clear how ineffective most teaching of pronunciation is. Like, listening to yourself, how's that going to help? If you can't get it the first time, how the hell are you going to correct yourself, right? So what I would suggest is you could use many different sites. You could use craigslist to find someone, but find a native speaker, like Live Moko, or Verbling, I think, is another one, and have a text. And my recommendation is rather than using like a newspaper article or something, write out your bio, like a five-minute self introduction. My younger brother is this old, and lives in blah-blah-blah. And blah-blah-blah, I went to this, and I graduated from this. Because guess what, that bio is going to be 90% of what you talk about when you meet every single person speaking that language. So you will seem really good if you have that stuff nailed, right. So if I'm like (speaking in Spanish), they're like ooh, (speaking in Spanish), oh, look at that, his Spanish is amazing. It's like, "No, I just memorized my self intro." (audience laughs) So you get that self introduction in say, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, whatever. Have it translated so it's natural, and then read that and record it. And then you send that to a native speaker who also has the same text, and they will circle or otherwise highlight the sounds and things that you have trouble with, and then you go through and you drill the hell out of those. Over and over and over. And then you read it again. And then you just rinse and repeat. And we had to do this every week in the language lab at Princeton. See, I think it's one of the few reasons that the students uniformly had the best pronunciation when we went to China. Because pronunciation is not a nice to have thing. Depends on the language. Like, if you're Bloomberg and you massacre Spanish and you're like, "El storm is coming-o to New York," (audience laughs) it's like you can kind of get away with it. It's like, "El truck coming-o," people will let you get away with it in Spanish. In Chinese, if you mess up your tones, forget it. Ma, is like mother. Ma, is marijuana. Ma, is to scold. Ma, second tone, is marijuana. Ma, is horse. Ma, is to scold. So it's like, you mess that up, you could really get punched in the face. Or just not understood at all. So having a set text and then reading it, recording it, providing it to someone, and then having them review it, and circle the items that you have trouble with, is by far, in my experience, the best approach. And you might think like, oh, we'll do it in real time, no, don't do it in real time, because 9 times out of 10, people will be too polite to interrupt you, or they'll wait until the end, and they'll only remember one thing you said wrong. So I actually like the asynchronous approach more than the real time. Real time's helpful if you have two or three things that are really hard. Like second tone in Chinese is hard for a lot of people to hit, then you need a super militant teacher. And it's not always the case that a native speaker is the best teacher. This is something that's really important. Like in 4-Hour Chef, I talk about being the best versus becoming the best. Do you want to learn from Michael Phelps, or do you want to learn to swim from someone like Shinji Takeuchi who didn't know how to swim until like 30-something, and now is the second most viewed swimming technique video on YouTube? Maybe the second because he's going through exactly what you are going through, or he has been through what you're going through, right? So the head instructor for Chinese 101, was a White dude, non-Chinese, Perry Link. And his Chinese was so good that it made native speakers like, "Wow, oh man, this is embarrassing." But he had absolutely no mercy for people who were learning language. He was like, "I've been through it. Don't expect any sympathy from me." And so I just remember once, this is just a quick story. Chinese 101, we had like eight classes a week. It was just brutal. And we started off like 60 bright-eyed, bushy-tailed students. We're like, "I want to learn Chinese." And like within a week and a half, it was down to like 12 students. And I remember one class, huge snow storm, everyone had canceled classes, except for Chinese 101. So like, trudging through the snow to class, 8 a.m. or whatever, and get in there. And one girl was really sick, she had strep throat or something. She was like (hoarse voice). So the routine was come in and be like, okay, "xu," which is a really hard sound. Like, "yu," all that "yu" type of stuff or like, (speaking in Chinese), like the retroflex is really hard for native English speakers. And so he did some sound, and he's like "xu," and he's like, okay, (speaking in Chinese). And everybody's like "xu," and she's like "xu" (in hoarse voice). And he's like, (audience laughs) one more time, in Chinese. Spoke the entire time pretty much in Chinese. And she's like "xu" (in hoarse voice), and he's like, you know, whatever her name was, (speaking in Chinese), you again. And she was just like "xu" (in hoarse voice). And he's like brutal, just like, he was like the drill sergeant in full metal jacket, but for Chinese. But at the end of the day, they were all good. So, anyway, long answer to a short question. But the pronunciation's super, super critical. Yeah. Well, this is so cool to talk about this. And if people want more information about this and kind of extending further about what you're talking about here with the languages, is your book. Your upcoming book, The 4-Hour Chef. Yeah, The 4-Hour Chef is, so chef I use, this is actually a good time. So chef, I talk about what I mean by chef. And I'm not just talking about cook versus chef, like someone who can make dishes versus run a kitchen, whatever it is. So chef, I'm talking about in the sense of like, jefe, like boss, or head from Latin. Being self-reliant, so you're a director in your own life, instead of a spectator. And part of that is becoming a world-class learner. So if people want extended information about language learning, and it's a choose your own adventure book, so you don't have to get into it. If you want to skip around, fine. But I cover exactly how I tackled all of these different languages, and the recipe that you use, in The 4-Hour Chef.

Class Description

New York Times best-selling author Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, introduces a new holistic life strategy aired only on CreativeLive: The 4-Hour Life: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise. This business course features the best of mind, body, and enterprise strategies that Tim Ferriss has to offer. In the footsteps of the infamous scientist/sociologist Ben Franklin, Tim presents his best lessons, principles, and hacks for becoming (and remaining) 'healthy, wealthy, and wise.' This CreativeLive course includes never-before-discussed tactics related to The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, and The 4-Hour Chef. From accelerated learning to investing, The 4-Hour Life is as comprehensive as it is broad.

Class Materials

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Ratings and Reviews

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Fascinating interviews. Lot's of useful tips for business and life. It's a bit of a gamble because this style of seminar does not have a clear curriculum (e.g. it's not "how to edit photographs in Photoshop"). I would say that if you have found Tim Ferris interesting and useful in the past (e.g. books, articles, talks) then you will enjoy and find this seminar useful. Try listening to the free portion and see whether it resonates with you.

Debbie Takara Shelor

I loved this class. I greatly enjoy Tim's writing and having him share and interview others on numerous topics that I'm very interested in was fascinating and fabulous.