Recent Posts From All Categories

Speaking a Language is Like Riding a Bike

Few of you probably know that long before I was “John the Language Guy” I was “John the Bike Guy”. I got my first real (i.e. non-Huffy) mountain bike in junior high (a beautiful blue GT Tequesta), and my life changed forever. Suddenly, my world was not limited to just the backyard or schoolyard. I could now go anywhere my 12-year-old quads could propel me! Reflecting back 22 years later, I now realize that when learning to ride a bike or speak a foreign language, the key is building robust procedural memories that you never fully forget no matter how long you go without riding or using the language. And how does one go about learning in the first place? There are 3 fundamental principles involved in all physical and psychological transformations…

Interview with Olly Richards

With seven languages under his linguistic belt and an academic background in Applied Linguistics, Olly Richards of IWillTeachYouaLanguage.com has proven that he can both talk the talk and walk the walk. His infectious passion for all things language is a breath of fresh air in the increasingly cynical language learning blogosphere. In the interview, we discuss the under-appreciated importance of psychology in language learning, how he has had to alter his approach to language learning now that he is learning a language in country where it isn’t widely spoken (Cantonese in Qatar of all places!), his experience participating in Brian Kwong’s +1 Challenge (an approach he lovingly refers to as “crowdsourced motivation”), the role of teachers in language education, and the power of “negotiated syllabi”.

Interview with Keith Brooks

Keith Brooks is the man behind Pardon My Norwegian, a site dedicated to “everything cool from Norway from the eyes of a Kentuckian”. Prior to “marrying” the Norwegian language, Keith sampled a number of a potential languages in a project called 37 Languages. His “speed dating” or “taste testing” approach to choosing just the right “significant linguistic other” got picked up by PRI’s The World in 2009 (“Blogging the Love of Language“), and Keith was asked back again in 2010 to report on which language he finally chose to settle down with (“A Language Speed-Dater Gets Serious“). In our interview, Keith: 1) Shares his favorite tips and tools for learning Norwegian online, 2) Confirms that contrary to what many may expect, it is indeed possible to learn Norwegian even in Louisville, Kentucky, and 3) Compares Norwegian with other Scandinavian tongues: ”Danish sounds like Swedish, but is written like Norwegian. Swedish sounds like Norwegian, but is closer to Danish. And then Norwegian, in my opinion, is the best one of them all!”

The Global Guide to Hand Gestures

While being able to understand, speak, read, and write world languages is usually the primary focus of language learners, we musn’t forget the importance of non-verbal communication cues like hand gestures. Even with impeccable pronunciation and perfect grammar, you may inadvertently offend someone using “false friend” gestures from your home culture that have wildly different connotations abroad: 1) In Japan, for example, I saw the shock on a British friend’s face when he first saw Japanese students pose for a picture. Many young Japanese think it’s cute to use backwards peace signs, unaware that it means “f*ck you” to people from the U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand! 2) In Bangladesh, I made a serious gaff when trying to congratulate my team for a job well done: I didn’t know at the time that in that part of the world, a thumbs up means “up yours”, not “great job” as it does in the U.S. To avoid making a fool of yourself like I tend to do so well, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the following infographic that details many of the most common hand gestures around the world.

Why You Should Learn Languages with Lang-8

I’ve already written many tens of thousands of words about how to learn Japanese using modern online tools, so it’s time to let someone else share their point of view on the subject. In this guest post, Saravanaa Vijay from Lang-8 (which happens to be one of my favorite online language learning tools!) discusses the advantages and disadvantages of learning languages online, and why Lang-8 should part of any language learner’s online arsenal.

Is Learning a Foreign Language Worth It?

The latest episode of Freakonomics Radio really caught the attention of this language nerd. Titled “Is Learning a Foreign Language Worth It?“, the episode looks at the economic benefits and opportunity costs of learning a foreign language. At first glance (or rather, first listen), the economists they interview seem to make a pretty strong case against teaching foreign languages in U.S. schools. Fortunately, the economic arguments against language learning are based on two major false assumptions…

Whatever Your Dream May Be, Start Today

I am equal parts sadness and gratitude as I write this post. My friend Joe “Ninja” Northup (or “Sai” as my band of martial arts crazies knew him) passed away yesterday after battling brain cancer for six years. Though I have known him for over 15 years, I am truly grateful that we were able to deepen our friendship these past two years. The proximity helped (I moved down to Los Angeles in August 2012), but more than geography, it was his psychology that drew me near. Despite facing one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer (Oligoastrocytoma) and round after round of chemotherapy, he committed himself to living as long, lovingly, and completely as possible. Ask anyone who knows him and they will confirm that he succeeded on all counts.

  • Languages
  • Linguistics
  • Media
  • Methods
  • Resources

Why It’s Impossible To Learn New Words And Phrases Out Of Context

As language learners, we’re often told that we need to memorize new words followed immediately by memorizing a phrase that uses the word. There’s no disagreeing with the important of seeing new vocabulary in context, but this method does not tell the full story of context and its power.

50 Fun Facts About World Languages

Check out this nifty infographic from NeoMam Infographic Studios that shares 50 facts about languages, some interesting (Pinocchio is the book available in the most languages after The Bible), some funny (a man spoke to his baby for 3 years in Klingon), and some downright sad (e.g. one endangered language dies out every 2 weeks). Enjoy!

Language Immersion Using Social Media

In this guest post, website developer, language tutor, and language enthusiast Teddy Nee shares how you can learn a foreign language better by immersing yourself via social media networks, plus some powerful little features that you might not know about.

Review of Skritter

Skritter has been on my radar for quite some time, but the need to sit at a computer was less than ideal. With the release of their iOS apps, however, Skritter has finally been given the touch-based format it deserves.

Effects of English Hegemony on Education

In this guest post, writer Estelle Shumann discusses the effects of English on world education, culture, and ideology, and how some consider the prominence of English a form of neo-colonialism. What’s your stand?

How to Conquer Chinese Characters

Chinese characters are arguably the most intimidating part of getting started in Japanese or Chinese, but I believe they can also be the most enjoyable if tackled correctly. This article shares the tips, tools, and psychology you need to master kanji and hanzi.

Review of Brainscape Spanish

If you are learning Spanish on your iPhone, Brainscape’s Spanish! app is definitely worth checking out. Read on to see why.

Is Learning a Foreign Language Worth It?

The latest episode of Freakonomics Radio really caught the attention of this language nerd. Titled “Is Learning a Foreign Language Worth It?“, the episode looks at the economic benefits and opportunity costs of learning a foreign language. At first glance (or rather, first listen), the economists they interview seem to make a pretty strong case against teaching foreign languages in U.S. schools. Fortunately, the economic arguments against language learning are based on two major false assumptions…

Why It’s Impossible To Learn New Words And Phrases Out Of Context

As language learners, we’re often told that we need to memorize new words followed immediately by memorizing a phrase that uses the word. There’s no disagreeing with the important of seeing new vocabulary in context, but this method does not tell the full story of context and its power.

Are Outdated Methods & Boring Materials Making You a Language Learning Masochist?

The Internet has blessed modern language learners with unprecedented access to foreign language tools, materials, and native speakers. Assuming they can get online, even a farmhand in rural Kansas can learn Japanese for free using Skype, YouTube, and Lang-8. But language learning luddites and technophobes scoff at these modern miracles. Like Charleton Heston clutching his proverbial rifle, they desperately cling to tradition for tradition’s sake, criticizing these modern tools—and the modern methods they enable—from their offline hideouts. Communicating via messenger pigeon and smoke signals no doubt… “Technology is for for lazy learners!” they exclaim. “Real language learners”, they insist, use the classroom-based, textbook-driven, rote-memory-laden techniques of old. I call bullshit.

5 Reasons You’re Not Improving as Fast as You Want

Have you been studying a language for a few months, years, or even decades, but aren’t seeing any noticeable progress? If so, read on to see five likely reasons you’re not improving as quickly as you’d like…

Busted! Five Myths About Learning New Languages Debunked

In this guest post by Jennifer Birch, she busts the all-too-common myth that “only children can learn a foreign language well”, along with four other frequent offenders that are likely holding you back from mastering a foreign tongue.

Radio Drama Can Make Waves in Language Learning

In this guest post, writer and editor Matthew Pink shares how language learners can acquire vocabulary, improve pronunciation, build confidence, and have an all around good time recording radio dramas.

Supercharge Language Acquisition by Improving Brain Fitness

Language ability obviously starts in the brain, so we should do everything we can to maximize this organ’s blood flow, plasticity, and functionality. Fortunately, there are three guaranteed ways to do just that…

The Global Guide to Hand Gestures

While being able to understand, speak, read, and write world languages is usually the primary focus of language learners, we musn’t forget the importance of non-verbal communication cues like hand gestures. Even with impeccable pronunciation and perfect grammar, you may inadvertently offend someone using “false friend” gestures from your home culture that have wildly different connotations abroad: 1) In Japan, for example, I saw the shock on a British friend’s face when he first saw Japanese students pose for a picture. Many young Japanese think it’s cute to use backwards peace signs, unaware that it means “f*ck you” to people from the U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand! 2) In Bangladesh, I made a serious gaff when trying to congratulate my team for a job well done: I didn’t know at the time that in that part of the world, a thumbs up means “up yours”, not “great job” as it does in the U.S. To avoid making a fool of yourself like I tend to do so well, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the following infographic that details many of the most common hand gestures around the world.

Interview with Susanna Zaraysky

Susanna Zaraysky is a self-proclaimed “language geek”, a speaker of 7 languages, and the author of “Language Is Music: Over 100 Fun & Easy Tips to Learn Foreign Languages”. She has been featured on CBS, BBC Radio, CNN, NBC, and Univision, and now thanks to me, the world’s most famous podcast! Just kidding. In our interview, we discuss the weaknesses of traditional language education, the power of music in language acquisition, the importance of developing a resonance for one’s target language and culture, and the fact that you can learn any language, anywhere.

50 Fun Facts About World Languages

Check out this nifty infographic from NeoMam Infographic Studios that shares 50 facts about languages, some interesting (Pinocchio is the book available in the most languages after The Bible), some funny (a man spoke to his baby for 3 years in Klingon), and some downright sad (e.g. one endangered language dies out every 2 weeks). Enjoy!

Language Learning: Why Most Fail & 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.

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.

Benny Lewis Interviews Tim Ferriss, Author of “The 4-Hour Chef”

Benny Lewis, the Irish Polyglot, and Tim Ferriss, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, and The 4-Hour Chef, discuss language myths, and how to learn languages quickly using the 80/20 rule.

5 Good Reasons to Raise Your Children Bilingual

Are you a parent seeking ways to improve your child’s future academic and professional prospects? Read on to see how being bilingual can give your children a leg up in today’s hyper-competitive world.

Why It’s Impossible To Learn New Words And Phrases Out Of Context

As language learners, we’re often told that we need to memorize new words followed immediately by memorizing a phrase that uses the word. There’s no disagreeing with the important of seeing new vocabulary in context, but this method does not tell the full story of context and its power.

Are Outdated Methods & Boring Materials Making You a Language Learning Masochist?

The Internet has blessed modern language learners with unprecedented access to foreign language tools, materials, and native speakers. Assuming they can get online, even a farmhand in rural Kansas can learn Japanese for free using Skype, YouTube, and Lang-8. But language learning luddites and technophobes scoff at these modern miracles. Like Charleton Heston clutching his proverbial rifle, they desperately cling to tradition for tradition’s sake, criticizing these modern tools—and the modern methods they enable—from their offline hideouts. Communicating via messenger pigeon and smoke signals no doubt… “Technology is for for lazy learners!” they exclaim. “Real language learners”, they insist, use the classroom-based, textbook-driven, rote-memory-laden techniques of old. I call bullshit.

5 Reasons You’re Not Improving as Fast as You Want

Have you been studying a language for a few months, years, or even decades, but aren’t seeing any noticeable progress? If so, read on to see five likely reasons you’re not improving as quickly as you’d like…

Busted! Five Myths About Learning New Languages Debunked

In this guest post by Jennifer Birch, she busts the all-too-common myth that “only children can learn a foreign language well”, along with four other frequent offenders that are likely holding you back from mastering a foreign tongue.

Radio Drama Can Make Waves in Language Learning

In this guest post, writer and editor Matthew Pink shares how language learners can acquire vocabulary, improve pronunciation, build confidence, and have an all around good time recording radio dramas.

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.

The Only Way to Learn a Language

Disregard everything I have written or said since beginning this blog and the Language Mastery podcast. Ignore every single one of the 150,000+ words in my Master Japanese guide. There is only ONE way to learn a language…

Why You Should Learn Languages with Lang-8

I’ve already written many tens of thousands of words about how to learn Japanese using modern online tools, so it’s time to let someone else share their point of view on the subject. In this guest post, Saravanaa Vijay from Lang-8 (which happens to be one of my favorite online language learning tools!) discusses the advantages and disadvantages of learning languages online, and why Lang-8 should part of any language learner’s online arsenal.

Language Immersion Using Social Media

In this guest post, website developer, language tutor, and language enthusiast Teddy Nee shares how you can learn a foreign language better by immersing yourself via social media networks, plus some powerful little features that you might not know about.

Review of Skritter

Skritter has been on my radar for quite some time, but the need to sit at a computer was less than ideal. With the release of their iOS apps, however, Skritter has finally been given the touch-based format it deserves.

Review of The Michel Thomas Method

From surviving Nazi internment camps to teaching French to Hollywood stars, Michel Thomas was truly an amazing man. Read on to learn more about his life and his unique language learning approach.

The Secret to Learning a Language in 10 Days?

Check out this beautifully illustrated talk about how to learn foreign languages using the Pimsleur approach. No, I don’t believe you can learn a language in 10 days, but you can certainly get started in one, and Pimsleur is a good way to help get your brain and tongue used to a new language.

How to Conquer Chinese Characters

Chinese characters are arguably the most intimidating part of getting started in Japanese or Chinese, but I believe they can also be the most enjoyable if tackled correctly. This article shares the tips, tools, and psychology you need to master kanji and hanzi.

Review of Brainscape Spanish

If you are learning Spanish on your iPhone, Brainscape’s Spanish! app is definitely worth checking out. Read on to see why.