Welcome to Language Mastery!

A Blog, Podcast & Language Guide Series Dedicated to Learning Languages the Fun Way

Howdy! I’m John Fotheringham, a linguist, author, teacher, and traveler.

I grew up near Seattle, but have spent much of my adult life living, learning, and working abroad, especially in Japan, Bangladesh, China, and Taiwan. Over the past two decades of learning and teaching languages, I have experimented with a wide range of learning methods. I’ve tried out every language learning tool and resource I can get my hands on. And I’ve made just about every mistake possible. But hey, as Nobel Prize laureate Niels Bohr said: “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”

So what have I learned through all this study, travel, experimenting, tinkering, and mistake making?

My Language Learning Philosophy

Anyone can learn a foreign language with the right attitude, methods, and materials.

  • You DON’T need to be “gifted” at languages. Most adult learners fail because they spend all their time learning about the language instead of actually spending enough time practicing in the language.
  • You DON’T need to spend thousands of dollars on foreign language classes or hundreds of dollars on overpriced products like Rosetta Stone. 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, grammars, and declension tables. Fun, modern, relevant materials are readily available online.
  • You DON’T need to move abroad. Creative use of technology allows you to create a fun, effective immersion environment no matter where you live.
  • You DO need to figure out what methods fit your learning style, schedule, and personality. There is no one-size-fits-all way to learn a language. You have to experiment until you find what works for you.
  • You DO need to pick materials, topics, and activities that are inherently enjoyable and fit your unique personal interests. When you do, motivation and retention increase dramatically. As the blogger Khatzumoto puts it succinctly, “Fun gets done.”
  • You DO need to maximize your exposure to the target language everyday through input (listening and reading) and active output (speaking and writing). If you put in the time on a consistent basis, your brain will do the rest.

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The Language Mastery Blog

100+ free language learning articles that include tips, tools, tech, product reviews, and more to help you learn languages in a fun, effective, adult-friendly way.

My Step-by-Step Language Guides

Detailed how-to manuals and resource guides that show you how to create fun, engaging, immersive environments no matter where in the world you happens to live.

The Language Mastery Insider

9 free PDF guides including my Quick Start Guide and 1-pagers for Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and Russian.

The Language Mastery Show

20+ free podcast episodes including interviews with linguists, polyglots, innovative educators, and the world’s top language bloggers.

Featured Articles

A Selection of My Favorite Articles from the Language Mastery Blog

Do You Really Need More Language Learning Resources or Just More Courage?

We’ve all been there. We find ourselves standing in the language section of Barnes and Noble staring lustfully at the colorful rows of shiny new books, thinking naïvely to ourselves, “This is the missing resource. If I just buy this book, I can finally make some real progress!” It’s a perfectly naturally instinct and I admit that I have succumbed to it an embarrassing number of times. I’ve excitedly purchased language learning books that ended up sitting on my shelf unopened. I’ve joined online membership sites, bought apps, or made in-app purchases, only to rarely if ever open the sites or apps. It saddens me to think of how many trips I could now take using the money I have wasted on language learning tools and resources I never ended up using. You would think I would have learned my lesson by now, but the frustrating truth is that I will likely do the same thing again. Why do so many of us fall into this trap again and again?

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Do 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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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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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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Showing Up is the Key

OK. Everyone knows that quote by Woody Allen or whoever about showing up. You know, 70% of winning is showing up. Well, Woody Allen, that daughter-dating scoundrel, lied to you. The truth is 70% of winning is showing up is a bunch of bull! Because, in fact, 100% OF WINNING IS SHOWING UP.

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