There are many great books about learning out there, but one of my favorites to date is “The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance” by Josh Waitzkin. The book shares core learning principles that have allowed Josh to master multiple diverse disciplines, including chess (the movie Searching for Bobby Fisher is based on Josh’s childhood, during which time his impressive chess skills led to him being called a “prodigy”, a word he doesn’t particularly care for as it discounts the massive amount of practice, effort, and psychological tactics he relied on to win eight National Chess Championships), Taiji Push Hands (Josh has won a number of medals in the sport, the World Champion Title in 2004, and went on to coach others to victory themselves), and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Josh holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which he obtained training under Marcelo Garcia, considered to be one of the world’s best practitioners and teachers of the art). So what do chess and martial arts have to do with language learning? Quite a bit, actually. Mastering any skill requires that you travel down the same basic road. Whether you are learning the Japanese language or a Japanese martial art, you will encounter many of the same challenges, pitfalls, and joys on your journey. And, many of the same metalearning techniques can be applied. Here are few key learning principles that Josh shares in the book that can be of big help in reaching fluency in a foreign language.
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 language, linguistics, 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 challenging than Japanese and Chinese! And it turns out I am not alone in my frustration with overly complex, stilted language. In this great talk by cognitive psycholinguist Steven Pinker, an academic who refreshingly avoids most Academese himself, he argues that w e should simplify written communication using “Classic Style” (a clear, conversational writing style that places the writer and reader as equals so that the latter can see the world through the former’s eyes) as opposed to the Postmodern Style (a cumbersome, bloated style that prioritizes communicating the intelligence of the writer).
The long wait is over. After many months of hard work, late nights, and early mornings, I have finally finished the second edition of my Master Mandarin guide. What’s New? 1) A new 300-page PDF version of the guide (nearly twice the length of v 1). 2) An EPUB version for use on iPhones, iPads, Macs, and other EPUB readers. 3) A MOBI version for use on your Kindle or in any of the Kindle apps (iOS, Android, etc.). 4) A new Chinese 101 chapter that covers the most important elements of how the Mandarin language works. 5) Tons and tons of new tools and online resources. 6) New discount codes for iTalki, Chinese Learn Online, and WaiChinese. 7) New expert interviews with Benny Lewis from Fluent in 3 Months, Olly Richards from I Will Teach You a Language, Jake Gill from Skritter, Vladimir Skultety from Forever a Student, Chris Parker from Fluent in Mandarin, Ash Henson from Outlier Linguistics, and Adam Menon from Chinese Learn Online. 8) New cheat sheets including: The Most Common 500 Words in Mandarin, complete lists for Remembering Traditional Hanzi and Remembering Simplified Hanzi, a Hanyu Pinyin chart, a Time Adverb chart, a SMART Goals work sheet, and a weekly study plan.
Benny Lewis is a fun-loving blogger, YouTuber, author, language hacker, and technomad from Ireland (hence his nickname “Irish Polyglot”). He is the creator of the most popular language learning site in the world as of writing, Fluentin3Months.com, and has authored five books. He has demonstrated again and again that it’s possible to reach conversational fluency in a matter of months, not years as most believe. Benny’s philosophy on language learning is right in line with my Self-Guided Immersion™ approach, as exemplified in the following quote from his book Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World:
“…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, exposing yourself to native speakers, and doing everything you can in that language.”
The season of giving is upon us! Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Yule, Saturnalia, The Gregorian New Year, The Lunar New Year, or just TGIF, here are some gift ideas to help spread some love to those you know trying to learn a foreign language. And don’t forget to pamper yourself a bit, too: if you’ve diligently put in the study hours this year, reward yourself with a little something something. Here now are ten gift ideas for the language lovers in your life.