Mattias Ribbing is a Swedish author, lecturer, and Grandmaster of Memory. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the 2016 Bulletproof Conference and was blown away by his highly effective methods and positive attitude. Contrary to what most people would assume, Mattias isn’t a savant and wasn’t born with extraordinary cognitive skills. He had average grades at school and struggled to remember what he had studied like almost everyone else. It wasn’t until he was 29 that he developed his impressive ability to remember. The secret, he discovered, was thinking in images. By visualizing specific 3-D images during a lecture, reading a book, or learning a new language, he created a memorable visual context that his brain could then attach the information to and more easily recall. In the interview, Mattias shares how to apply his powerful memory techniques to language learning, Japanese kanji, and even daily life.
Want to learn Japanese but don’t think you have enough time? Even the busiest person has chunks of time hidden in their day that can be applied toward Japanese study. Renowned polyglot Barry M. Farber calls these chunks “hidden moments”: tiny scraps of otherwise unproductive time you can apply to language learning. Though each individual hidden moment might be minuscule and seemingly insignificant on its own, over the course of a day, week, or month, they can add up to a meaningful amount of language study that you might otherwise never get around to. So where can you find your hidden moments? It will ultimately depend on your age, job, schedule, lifestyle, marital status, etc., but read on for some suggested places to look.
Most learners mistake “studying” a language for actually “acquiring” a language. The two are very different beasts, which is one of the major reasons why most adult language learners fail despite years of effort: they spend all their time reading about Japanese instead of spending the requisite time in Japanese. This is like trying to learn how to drive by reading the car’s owner’s manual. Obviously not a good recipe for success.
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder is the first book I’ve read by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, but it will certainly not be the last. The book is actually the fourth in a four-volume series on uncertainty the author calls “Incerto”, which also includes the previous works Fooled by Randomness (2001), The Black Swan (2007–2010), and The Bed of Procrustes (2010). Taleb sums up the basic premise of the book as follows: “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.” This is definitely true of language acquisition. The safe, predictable, highly structured nature of classroom-based academic language study does not prepare one for the messy interactions that one will encounter in the real world. To reach fluency in a foreign language, one needs randomness, not a lesson plan. Read on for a few of the best language learning lessons from Antifragile.
One of the most frustrating challenges I have encountered throughout my diverse career in education, government, startups, consulting, and nutrition is the widespread use of clunky, confusing language. In many ways, learning the ins and outs of Academese, Bureaucratese, Corporatese, Legalese, and Medicalese have proven much more frustrating than Japanese and Chinese! In this great talk by Steven Pinker, an academic who refreshingly avoids most Academese, he makes a case for using “Classic Prose” to communicate more clearly in the 21st Century.