Welcome to Language Mastery!


Adult-Friendly Language Learning Tips, Tools & Tech

John FotheringhamHowdy language lovers! I’m John Fotheringham, a linguist, author, entrepreneur, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP), Director of Education at the Nutritional Therapy Association, and full-time silly goose. I have been learning and teaching languages for over a decade and have seen first-hand what works and what doesn’t. And what have I learned?

  • Anyone can learn a language regardless of age, income, or zip code with the right attitude, methods, and materials.
  • Most adult learners fail because they spend all their time learning about the language instead of actually practicing in the language.
  • You DON’T need to spend thousands of dollars on classes but a little investment in the right tools and materials can go a long way.
  • You DON’T need to force yourself through boring textbooks. Fun, modern, relevant materials are readily available online.
  • You DON’T need to be “gifted” at languages, but you DO need to figure out what methods fit your learning style, schedule, and personality.
  • You DON’T need to move abroad. Creative use of technology allows you to create an immersion environment no matter where you live.
  • You DO need to maximize your exposure to the language everyday through listening and reading input and maximize your active practice through speaking and writing output.

And that’s it! You just need to show up and put in the time on a consistent basis and your brain will do the rest. We are all hard-wired to pick up the languages around us (even as adults) if you get enough input and output. The key to staying the course is actually enjoying the process by picking materials, topics, and activities that are inherently enjoyable. To that end, much of Language Mastery is dedicated to helping you pick cool tools and fun materials. Happy learning!

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My Language Learning Guides

My comprehensive, step-by-step guides show you how to learn (working with—not against—how the adult brain works), exactly what resources to use (your time should be spent learning a language, not searching for resources), and how to have lots of fun along the way.

Master Japanese | How to Learn Nihongo the Fun Way

Master Japanese

Master Japanese shares the tools and resources you need to learn languages the fun, modern way, leveraging technology instead of drudgery, intelligent use of psychology instead of sheer willpower, and free online resources instead of back-breaking, budget-busting books. The guide includes tips and tools to help you 1) Master all four Japanese language skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing), 2) Save time and learn on your own terms (Your time should be spent actually acquiring Japanese, not searching for tools and materials), 3) Use brain-friendly methods (how to work with, not against, human psychology), and 4) Learn anywhere & everywhere (You’ll see how to create a Japanese immersion environment no matter where you happen to live).

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Master Mandarin | The Beginner's Step-by-Step Guide to Learning Chinese the Fun Way

Master Mandarin

You don’t need to spend thousands on classes. You don’t need boring textbooks. You don’t need to be good at languages. And you don’t have to move to China or Taiwan (though that’s great if you can). What you need are the right tools, “S.M.A.R.T.” goals, adult-friendly methods, and fun materials suited to your interests. This is precisely what Master Mandarin provides. I’ve been learning and teaching languages for over a decade, and have poured everything I’ve learned (and everything I wish I had known when starting out) into Master Mandarin: The Beginner’s Step-by-Step Guide to Learning Chinese the Fun Way. With the guide, you’ll have everything you need to acquire Chinese using proven strategies, free online tools, and materials you love.

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The Language Mastery Philosophy

I'm a sucker for pithy quotes. Or maybe I'm just a sucker in general. Either way, here are 10 quotes from 10 of my heroes that do a good job of summing up my philosophy about language learning and life in general.

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

Albert Einstein

Theoretical Physicist & Philosopher

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Bruce Lee

Martial Artist, Actor & Philosopher

“Fun gets done.”


All Japanese All The Time

“Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

Woody Allen

Actor, Filmmaker & Comedian

“Language is infinitely expansive and therefore horribly overwhelming if unfiltered… What you study is more important than how you study.”

Tim Ferriss

Author, Entrepreneur & Angel Investor

“Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.”

Richard P. Feynman

Theoretical Physicist

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.”

Frank Smith


“In language learning, it is attitude, not aptitude, that determines success.”

Steve Kaufmann

Polyglot, Author & Entrepreneur

“Where you are isn’t what decides whether or not you’ll be successful. Attitude beats latitude (and longitude) every time. It’s more about creating an immersion environment and exposing yourself to native speakers.”

Benny Lewis

Polyglot, Author & Technomad

“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives. Choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”


Greek Philosopher & Scientist

Featured Posts

A selection of my favorite blog posts over the last 6 years of blogging about language learning. Has it really been that long? Where does the time go!?

Myth: You Have to Move Abroad to Learn a Language Well

Is it ideal to learn Japanese in Japan and Mandarin in China or Taiwan? Yes. Is it a mandatory condition? Absolutely not. Let me be clear: living in Japan and Taiwan for a number of years was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I go back to visit as often as possible. But while living in a Japanese or Mandarin speaking country can certainly provide learners of these languages many advantages, it’s critical to understand that it’s not a requirement for success. In today’s world, “I can’t learn Japanese or Mandarin because I live in rural Kansas” is an excuse, not a reality. With Internet access, a little creativity, and a lot of hard work, you really can learn any language, anywhere.

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Why Should You Trust My Advice?

I made just about every possible mistake when starting out in languages. I used terribly inefficient methods, slogged through boring materials I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, and almost gave up more than a few times. But this is good news for you: struggling so much in the beginning and later correcting course makes me a much better language coach. You never want to learn from a “natural” who picks up new skills easily. As Tim Ferriss points out in the The 4-Hour Chef: “The top 1% often succeed despite how they train, not because of it. Superior genetics, or a luxurious full-time schedule, make up for a lot. Career specialists can’t externalize what they’ve internalized. Second nature is hard to teach.”

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Frequently Asked Questions: What Do I Mean by “Mastery”?

One of the most common questions I receive is, “What do you mean by ‘mastery’?” First of all, “mastery” does not mean “perfection”. Such a thing doesn’t exist in languages. And even if it did, it would not be a “S.M.A.R.T. goal” (covered in detail in my Master Japanese and Master Mandarin guides) and is therefore irrelevant to our purposes as language learners. So if “mastery” does not equal “perfection”, what does it mean? Read on to find out.

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The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Language Learners

Most of you are probably familiar with Stephen R. Covey’s best-selling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change”. I’ve listened to the audiobook a number of times and return to it whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, adrift, or caught up in “the thick of thin things”. Many of the 7 habits actually apply quite well to language learning (especially when it comes to prioritizing and making time for study), but I’d like to tweak them a bit to make them more specific to what it takes to become a highly successful language learner.

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Help Me Help You: What Can I Do to Serve You Better?

Howdy Language Mastery-ites! I’ve got a quick—but extremely important—question for all of you: How can I be of more help? I’ve written quite a few posts over the past 4 years, but I know there are still many questions I’ve yet to answer, holes I haven’t yet patched in, materials I haven’t yet reviewed, methods I haven’t yet discussed, and probably some emails from you that managed to slip through the cracks…

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33 Life Lessons Learned Living & Working Abroad for 10 Years

33 years. 13 countries. 19 addresses. Here are 33 life lessons I’ve gleaned over the past 33 years living on the planet earth, especially the last decade living as a “stranger in a strange land” in Japan, Bangladesh, and Taiwan. I hope they offer you some vicarious expat wisdom, and more importantly, impetus to move abroad yourself.

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Why Most Fail in Language Learning & How You Can Succeed

If an adult fails to learn a foreign language (and most do), most of us assume they simply don’t study hard enough or just aren’t good at languages. It’s certainly true that some learners are lazy, and given the same methods, certain folks tend to pick up languages faster than others. But neither of these is the real issue; both are but symptoms of the underlying problem: 1) Crappy Methods, 2) Crappy Materials, and 3) Crappy Attitudes.

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The NOT To Do List for Successful Language Learners

To do lists seem like a good idea in theory, but they have one major disadvantage: there is an infinite number of potential to do items. With this in mind, Timothy Ferriss, best-selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek (and a speaker of 6 languages), recommends “not to do lists” instead. Since they isolate a finite set of behaviors that are getting between you and your goals, they are far more effective than traditional to do lists. This tool applies perfectly to language learning, where most learners waste a lot of time on ineffective methods, bad materials, and counter-productive attitudes.

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