If an adult fails to learn a foreign language (and most do), most of us assume the learner did’t study hard enough or simply isn’t good at languages. The real problem is not usually a lack of talent or effort but using the wrong methods, choosing the wrong materials, and having self-defeating beliefs. Read on to see how to choose effective methods, fun materials, and empowering attitudes.
To do lists seem like a good idea in theory, but they have a major disadvantage: there are infinite potential to do items. Instead, Tim Ferriss, best-selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek (and a speaker of 6 languages), recommends “not to do lists” instead since they define a limited number of unhelpful behaviors to avoid. This idea applies perfectly to language learning, where most learners waste a lot of time on ineffective methods and bad materials. Read on to see my list of NOT to do items for successful language learners.
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.
Question: What do boiling water and learning kanji have in common? Answer: Just as you only need a certain temperature to boil water, you only need to know a finite number of high-frequency kanji to read blogs, manga, books, magazines, newspapers, etc. This is the minimum effective dose (MED), a powerful tool to save you lots of time and effort in your Japanese language learning journey.
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.
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.