Claude Cartaginese is one of the kindest guys you will meet in the language learning blogosphere, and I really appreciate all he has done to encourage language learners, gather advice from the world’s best learners, and share his infectious enthusiasm for language learning. In 2010, he released a monumental e-book called the The Polyglot Project, a free PDF which brought together tips and advice from 43 polyglots, hyper-polyglots, linguists, YouTubers, and language lovers, including Mike Campbell, Steve Kaufmann, Benny Lewis, Moses McCormick, Stuart Jay Raj, Anthony Lauder, and many more. In the interview (recorded in 2010 as part of my Master Japanese guide), we discuss: 1) The mistakes he made when starting out in Japanese and what he would differently if he started over again. 2) Why you should focus on one language skill at a time. 3) Why you should start with listening and speaking before reading and writing. 4) Why it’s crucial to choose methods and materials that support your unique learning goals. 5) When Japanese learners should start learning kanji. 6) Why “mastery” and “perfection” are not the same thing. 7) Barry Farber on how we “marry” some languages and simply “date” others and why “expertise is a narcotic.” 8) The power of modern asynchronous learning. 9) The challenge of “resource overwhelm.” 10) Why language study should not be required in school. 11) Claude’s language learning habits and routines. 12) Why languages are not “difficult,” just “different.” 13) The similarities between learning a language and learning a martial art. 14) How the ego gets in the way of learning a language.
The author Gretchen Rubin has long been fascinated by human nature, and wanted to know why some people easily adopt new habits while others struggle to change. After years of investigation, she realized these differences could be explained (and better managed) by identifying how a person responds to expectations. It turns out that certain people respond very differently to inner expectations like New Year’s resolutions or personal goals and outer expectations like work deadlines or requests from family or friends. The personality framework she developed—detailed in her book The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better—divides people into one of four basic personality groups depending on how they respond to inner and outer expectations: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Read on to discover which Tendency best describes your personality and how to apply the framework in language learning.
You can often spot a new language learner by the scale of their language learning goals and daily habits. When we first start out in a new language, the excitement makes it easy to commit to big, hairy, audacious language learning goals and herculean daily routines. Perhaps we commit to listening to three hours of foreign language audio a day, reading one foreign language novel a week, or speaking with a language tutor for an hour every single day. We might keep this up for a few days, or even a few weeks, but eventually, our motivation will run out and we’ll fall off the pace. Perhaps we have a bad day at work, and cancel our tutor session. Or we have a fight with our spouse and don’t feel like studying any flashcards. Or maybe we get sick and opt to binge watch Narcos instead of listening to language podcasts. One missed day turns into two, and then three, and then weeks or months of zero language study. Most people (especially perfectionists like me) will then think, “Well, since I can’t do it all, I guess I will do nothing.” Fortunately, we can avoid this all-or-nothing-perfectionist trap by committing instead to a “minimum effective dose” of daily language study: a tiny, tiny amount of time and effort that we will hit each and every day no matter what.
Does this sound familiar? You stare at a given kanji (漢字・かんじ, “Chinese character”) for a few minutes, trying to will the strokes into memory. You write the kanji out a few dozen times, hoping the muscle memory and repetition will help it stick in your head. You move on to the next kanji, and repeat the same process. You flip the page over and try to write the first kanji again without looking at the model. What the heck! Where did it go!? At this point, most learners then blame themselves, assuming they simply “have a bad memory” or “aren’t studying hard enough.” The truth is that the problem lies not with your memory or motivation but with your method. Unless you have a photographic memory, this “visual memory” approach is simply not an effective way to learn highly complex information like kanji. So how should we learn then? The answer is “imaginative memory.” Read the article to see what it is and how to use it.
In this excerpt from my Master Japanese guide, I answer a number of frequently asked questions about why and how to learn Japanese kana. Even if you only want to learn to speak Japanese, I highly recommend investing the time to learn hiragana and katakana as they will help you improve your pronunciation and significantly expand the number of language resources available to you on your learning journey.
Mind maps are a powerful language learning tool that can help you better learn (and remember!) vocabulary, see connections between related terms, organize complex information, improve retention, and have more effective study or tutor sessions.