49 thoughts on “How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language in 1 Hour (Plus: A Favor)

  1. Steve

    As a speaker of several quite different languages, I must admit I feel compelled to bookmark your page for later reading.
    But I can’t stifle my bemusement. Do you speak a few languages yourself? I mean, have you tested your ideas and found them to work, or have others confirmed your methods? I still think you may be onto something. But if you haven’t tried it all out it strikes me as all a bit cheeky.

  2. Luke

    Nice approach and simple. Too bad it would only work for people who learn languages easily anyway, and most of them don’t even know how they do that (I know, I’m one of those)

    My favorite answer to ‘how can you learn languages that quick?’ is ‘I don’t really learn the language, I simply do impressions of the natives’.

  3. Gabriele B

    Maybe too simple, the rule #1 for me was: “never compare a language you are learning with another one you already know. Throw away your dictionary. You have no native language to start with”. Using a dictionary and comparing grammatical structures is like cheating: it can help if you only need to learn some sentences, for a holiday or so, but will only slow you down if you really need to learn a new language for your life.
    No language is harder than any other, if you consider them as separate things. I can now translate English into German, and I consider it a success, since my first language is Italian…

  4. ian

    Yes, interesting ideas. I think I’d have to agree with you about how successful language learners apply deconstruction techniques, though many of them would do it subconsciously.

    But understanding this technique and using it successfully (even to gain a basic insight into the language) would depend heavily on one’s awareness of one’s own first language. Very few people have that awareness, so it would be nigh on impossible for most to make sense of whatever conclusions deconstruction led them to.

    As an ESL teacher I find that those learners who know their first language well (in a metalinguistic sense) always do better than those who don’t. Of course there are other factors involved, but first language knowledge is always a major indicator of language learning aptitude, and sadly, it’s a rare one.

  5. Ricardo

    I believe Ian hit the point. It is unbelievable how many people cannot deconstruct his/her own native language. As an example, I have met Portuguese native speakers with college education who were not aware that the word “no” in Portuguese is the contraction of the preposition “em” (meaning “in” in English) with the definite article “o” (“the”).
    Anyway, I think the method described has its merits if used by the right individuals. Some people learn foreign languages by an “analytical” method. They try to understand the structure of the language, and why they should talk this or that way. They would probably profit from this technique.

  6. Brock

    Do the above posters realize this wasn’t written by anyone at this website? This content was blatantly ripped from Tim Ferris’ website, and I do not thing the one line link at the top is “full disclosure.” A blog that really wanted to collect “the best article every day” should have a short blurb of the article (no more than the first two paragraphs) and then direct readers to the site of the actual author to read the whole thing.

    This is 95% plagiarism.

  7. Steve

    Thanks, Brock. You’re right.
    Criteria for plagiarism: Not a review, whole article republished gratuitously and without permission, inadequate attribution =[plagiarism].
    I now give this site a Stumble-upon thumbs-down . Once again, I call for a Mozilla Firefox extension which will reject users’ thumbs-down categories. For me, plagiarism is at the first that’s got to go. Next, I’m afraid, has to be blogs in general, simply because of the plagiarized content.
    When I’ feel like browsing blogs, I’ll tell Firefox.

  8. Lavoe

    Come on Brock and Steve! First, the administrator clearly stated: Written by the blog of tim ferriss. This was even linked to the author’s site. In no way do I see this administrator trying to take credit for Mr. Ferriss’ work. Secondly, you’re well aware that blogs will have some plagiarism anyway. So, to put this in short, get a life…the sooner the better. Find something better to do than going around pointing fingers.

  9. Jake

    I hear what you’re saying, buddy. It is what it is, plagiarism is everywhere nowadays, with them blogs coming at you from every which way. Whatever makes you happy, I guess.

  10. Steve

    Lavoe,
    People like Brock and I do still have remnants of life beyond the internet; we just don’t want our precious time wasted. Give us original work every time.
    Plagiarism, despite its increasing popularity, is unlawful. The owner of intellectual property can sue, -if the owner wants to!

    These days, however, the technique of providing other bloggers with RSS feeds to your work is a better advertising revenue-earning link-farm than your Search Engine Optimizer can come up with. I have a nasty feeling we’re all in for waves of unattributed text and images which I’ll be calling Blogspam.

  11. CableModem

    well..you better rip that good knowledge out of your brain right now before it improves you without the associated acknowledgement directing your attention to where Tim himself acqquired it. :-) I don’t agree with your idea of censorship of blogs..especially general elimination. You are not helpful or forward-thinking. Thank you for your insight.

  12. Steve

    Cablemodem,
    Who said anything about censoring anything?
    I am just reminding fellow surfers they can use peer rating systems like StumbleUpon to personally filter out content they don’t want to appear on their own screens. Until now, ISP-level filters have mostly been applied to child porn and terrorist propaganda. But my own personal content filter would also extend to plagiarism and blogs. I also personally avoid racism, spam and OS debates. Life is too short.
    The unlawful use of intellectual property is different and is a legal matter. Definitions of copyright infraction differ. But in most jurisdictions it isn’t enough to simply tell readers where the content originated from. Yes, courts do order such measures as removal of content.

  13. Lavoe

    Steve, you’re really taking this too serious, eh. Plagiarism is against the law without a doubt–make no mistake.

    The problem here is that not everyone is willing to step into a small claims court, as this takes effort, is time consuming, and can be distracting. Going around like you’ve been doing complaining and pointing fingers doesn’t guarantee that whichever author it is will voice his displeasure in a court of law.

    So therefore–yep, I’ll repeat my self yet gain–find something better to do. You’ll find out that grass is actually greener on the outside. Just a thought.

    Peace!

  14. Lavoe

    Steve, you?re really taking this too seriously. Plagiarism is against the law–make no mistake.

    The problem here is that not everyone is willing to step into a small claims court, as this takes effort, is time consuming, and oftentimes can be an unwelcome distraction. Going around like you?ve been doing, ranting and raving doesn?t guarantee that whichever author it may be will voice his concern and displeasure in a court of law.

    So therefore–repeating myself yet gain–find something better to do. You?ll notice that grass is actually greener on the outside. Just a thought. ;oP

    I concur…life is too short. I couldn’t have said so better.

  15. Lavoe

    Here is a list of some of the things I love to do aside from my Nursing profession: relax; watch movies/sports in HD; take the kids to outings; and have a nice, romantic night with the wife, outside from the ordinary, you know…boy! I love that woman. The list goes on and on, but no need to bore you anymore.

    Take it easy now.

    This will be my last time here.

  16. Steve

    Oh, for crying out loud, I’m just saying I have a right to filter out what I don’t want. If I filter out plagiarism, that’s no different to you filtering out cake recipes.
    Do you really not understand? The web moves along quickly and we get to give it a hand once in a while.

  17. Ricardo

    I think what this Lavoe guy means to say is, though you have the right to anything (even to have sex with animals), people get tired of listenting to these things. So you see, it is not cool to hear anyone complain, by any means; like we’re not forced enough to hear these folks at school, work, etc. Personally, when I dislike something and/or want something done right, if at all, I do it without much ado, and believe me, things get done.

    Final Verdict: to each his own, I guess.

  18. Poly Glot

    The fastest way to learn a language is to get a girl friend who speaks it and
    and a good dictionary.
    Chinese or Japanese is yours within one year and it makes fun too :)

  19. Gary

    I believe your ideas are solid.

    What you have essentially done is to provide the outline for a matrix: on one axis is your native (or fluent) language, on the other are all other foreign languages. The matrix is then filled with numbers 0 ? 10 where say, 0 would coincide with a fluent German speaker learning Dutch and 10 would be a Finnish speaker learning Mandarin.

    As a refinement, there would be a multiplicand that would take into account (i) how many other languages the student knows (ii) to what degree and (iii) their relationship to the language to be learned. This number can be arrived at through the original matrix.

    Thus if your native language were Russian but you were fluent in Latin, Romanian would present little problem but, but for the same person whose only other language were Japanese, the difficulty ratio would be far higher.

    Then there is the factor based upon your linguistic ability: this is not so important, as it is likely that anyone wishing to learn a language and having the luxury of being able to select the next language to learn is already in the ?linguistically gifted? area. Your ideas are of no help to those who have no choice but to learn another language ? the difficulty of the transition is irrelevant ? it has to be made regardless and they will succeed or fail accordingly.

    I?d like to see the matrix.

  20. Robert

    Tim’s advice, is not a method for learning a language, but rather a method for choosing which language you wish to learn, based on your analysis of it.

    That’s great…its a great article. I don’t dismiss it.

    But, just because I know for a fact its easier to learn Spanish…doesn’t make my mother-in-law a native spanish speaker. She speaks Russian.

    I don’t have to do extended analysis to know I need Russian…and most people already have their reasons for choosing a specific language.

    Now, does it help you to do this analysis anyway? Of course, you will become at least this familiar, and actually a whole lot more familiar before you are done, on your path to fluency.

    I agree with the other commenters too, that natives cannot deconstruct their own langauge…unless they are at a certain age where they just passed that course in school.

    I told my wife that ??? doesn’t just mean no, it also means ‘it is not present.’

    She says it doesn’t. I don’t know if she doesn’t completely understand English (even though she is fluent) or has never really thought about the meaning of such a simple word. Of course, I am correct (haha, just to be safe, I’m at least correct in what I’m attempting to say), the word IS used sometimes to negate the presence of something….and isn’t used exactly like the english ‘no’, even though no and ??? are for the beginning student, roughly equivalent.

    You cannot learn the difference by studying in English about it, you learn the difference as you become conversationally fluent.

    Which is what really bothers me about every talk about learning languages….

    take all these methods

    1.) go to college
    2.) Pimsleur
    3.) dictionary method
    4.) word assocation

    …they all are introductions followed up by immersion in the language.

    the only good news in today’s world is immersion doesn’t require moving…immerse yourself in text and voice chats over the internet about 3 hours a day.

  21. C

    Your methodology definitely makes sense. I’ve always had trouble with language class because the teachers rarely did a good job of breaking down how the language worked and the sentence structure. I recently withdrew from a Japanese class because most of the time was spent memorizing common phrases instead of actually learning to build a sentence.

  22. eye_snap

    This was very helpful and i would really love to see more.

    I think it was especially helpful for me; my native language is Turkish (which is “i apple eat” and it had really been hard for me at first, to understand why English speakers were speaking backwards…) My second foreign language is Russian, which i had started to learn pretty much by asking people to write down various sentences for me. It is suprising how far that gets you if you know which sentences to ask and i think your examples are very usefull.

    And I wanted to thank you specially for the GR recommandation, because lately I ve been studying Mandarin and fighting my way through tones has been hell and not very fruitful.I planning to start looking at that tomorrow first thing.

    So, more would be very welcome

  23. Jay

    Pretty Good Article.I Just Learn English And Italian With Your Method And It Was Pretty Easy For Me.Thanks Alot.It Does Work People!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  24. chato

    I agree with Gary. I am a native english speaker (from Seattle, Wa) but leared spanish. It took me years to pick up (i am a chef and always working with spanish speaking employees) but I always fell back on what I knew of Latin from scientific terms i learned in grade school to help me out. I have recently spent time in Spanish speaking countries and realize i am quite fluent. There is deff a matrix for learning another language based on the components defined by what Gary had to say earier.

  25. Bailey

    While this is an interesting method and I will try to incorporate it in my language learning, I do not think that saying one method of learning (or in this case choosing a language) is best is a very wise move. For one thing, like another has said, necessity may outweigh the difficulty of a language. In my own experience of learning French and now Japanese and eventually Dutch, I find it best to use a myriad of techniques so that I don’t get bored. Learning grammar, vocabulary, listening to pronunciation and practicing listening, and exploring the culture of the those that speak the language with an emphasis on the first two to guarantee that I know proper sentence structure, is the best way I know to learn a language, for me.
    My boyfriend, who is learning French at the moment, does not have much interest in studying a book about French, but rather to approach it like a child would and completely immerse himself in a language. There are all types.

    About the plagiarism, it may not be completely correct, but I believe that one only plagiarizes if there is money or credit to be stolen from the original author. Considering that this person did provide a link to the original information and considering there is no money to be made by this person there is no harm done. I would think if the original author was upset about this he would have contacted this person and there’d be no article here. Perhaps the original author does not know of its existence, or he knows that it was put here to help people learn something new. It is up to you whether or not you wish to look at this site further, but to openly say that you think this is wrong is off putting to those who might benefit from this and other articles.

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