How to learn any language in six months

How to learn any language in six months
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Chris Lonsdale is Managing Director of Chris Lonsdale & Associates, a company established to catalyse breakthrough performance for individuals and senior teams. In addition, he has also developed a unique and integrated approach to learning that gives people the means to acquire language or complex technical knowledge in short periods of time.

Jan-21-2014 Update. The video transcripts are now available via the following links:

English Only: http://www.the-third-ear.com/files/TE…

English + Chinese Translation: http://www.kungfuenglish.com/files/TE…

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How to learn any language in six months | Chris Lonsdale | TEDxLingnanUniversity

۰:۱۰

The people in the back, can you hear me clearly?

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OK, good.

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Have you ever held a question in mind

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for so long that it becomes part of how you think?

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Maybe even part of who you are as a person?

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Well I’ve had a question in my mind for many, many years

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and that is: How can you speed up learning?

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Now, this is an interesting question

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because if you speed up learning,

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you can spend less time at school.

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And if you learn really fast,

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you probably wouldn’t have to go to school at all.

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Now, when I was young, school was sort of OK but…

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I found quite often that school got in the way of learning

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so I had this question in mind: How do you learn faster?

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And this began when I was very, very young,

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when I was 11 years old,

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I wrote a letter to researchers in the Soviet Union, asking about hypnopaedia,

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this is sleep-learning,

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where you get a tape recorder, you put it beside your bed

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and it turns on in the middle of the night

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when you’re sleeping,

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and you’re supposed to be learning from this.

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A good idea, unfortunately it doesn’t work.

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But, hypnopaedia did open the doors to research in other areas

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and we’ve had incredible discoveries about

۱:۳۲

learning that began with that first question.

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I went on from there to become passionate about psychology

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and I have been involved in psychology in many different ways

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for the rest of my life up until this point.

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In 1981, I took myself to China

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and I decided that I was going to be native level in Chinese inside two years.

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Now, you need to understand that in 1981, everybody thought

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Chinese was really, really difficult

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and that a Westerner could study for 10 years or more

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and never really get very good at it.

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And I also went in with a different idea

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which was: taking all of the conclusions

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from psychological research up to that point

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and applying them to the learning process.

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What was really cool was that in six months I was fluent in Mandarin Chinese

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and it took a little bit longer to get up to native.

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But I looked around and I saw all of these people from different countries

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struggling terribly with Chinese,

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I saw Chinese people struggling terribly to learn English and other languages,

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and so my question got refined down to:

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How can you help a normal adult

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learn a new language quickly, easily and effectively?

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Now this is a really, really important question in today’s world.

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We have massive challenges with environment,

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we have massive challenges with social dislocation,

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with wars, all sorts of things going on

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and if we can’t communicate,

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we’re really going to have difficulty solving these problems.

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So we need to be able to speak each other’s languages,

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this is really, really important.

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The question then is: How do you do that?

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Well, it’s actually really easy.

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You look around for people who can already do it,

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you look for situations where it’s already working

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and then you identify the principles and apply them.

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It’s called modelling and I’ve been looking at language learning

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and modelling language learning for about 15 to 20 years now.

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And my conclusion, my observation from this is

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that any adult can learn a second language to fluency inside six months.

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Now when I say this, most people think I’m crazy, this is not possible.

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So let me remind everybody of the history of human progress,

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it’s all about expanding our limits.

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In 1950, everybody believed that running one mile in four minutes was impossible,

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and then Roger Bannister did it in 1956

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and from there it’s got shorter and shorter.

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۱۰۰ years ago everybody believed that heavy stuff doesn’t fly.

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Except it does and we all know this.

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How does heavy stuff fly?

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We reorganise the material using principles that we have learned

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from observing nature, birds in this case.

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And today we’ve gone even further…

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We’ve gone even further, so you can fly a car.

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You can buy one of these for a couple 100.000 US dollars.

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We now have cars in the world that fly.

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And there’s a different way to fly which we’ve learned from squirrels.

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So all you need to do is copy what a flying squirrel does,

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build a suit called a wing suit and off you go, you can fly like a squirrel.

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Now most people, a lot of people, I wouldn’t say everybody

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but a lot of people think they can’t draw.

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However there are some key principles, five principles, that you can apply

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to learning to draw and you can actually learn to draw in five days.

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So, if you draw like this, you learn these principles for five days

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and apply them and after five days you can draw something like this.

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Now I know this is true because that was my first drawing

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and after five days of applying these principles that was what I was able to do.

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And I looked at this and I went:

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“Wow, so that’s how I look like when I’m concentrating so intensely

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that my brain is exploding.”

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So, anybody can learn to draw in five days

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and in the same way, with the same logic,

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anybody can learn a second language in six months.

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How? There are five principles and seven actions.

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There may be a few more but these are absolutely core.

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And before I get into those I just want to talk about two myths,

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I want to dispel two myths.

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The first is that you need talent.

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Let me tell you about Zoe.

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Zoe came from Australia, went to Holland, was trying to learn Dutch,

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struggling extremely, extremely… a great deal

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and finally people were saying: “You’re completely useless,”

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“you’re not talented,” “give up,” “you’re a waste of time”

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and she was very, very depressed.

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And then she came across these five principles,

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she moved to Brazil and she applied them

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and in six months she was fluent in Portuguese,

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so talent doesn’t matter.

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People also think that immersion in a new country is the way to learn a language.

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But look around Hong Kong, look at all the westerners

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who’ve been here for 10 years, who don’t speak a word of Chinese.

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Look at all the Chinese living in America, Britain, Australia, Canada

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have been there 10, 20 years and they don’t speak any English.

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Immersion per se does not work.

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Why? Because a drowning man cannot learn to swim.

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When you don’t speak a language, you’re like a baby.

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And if you drop yourself into a context

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which is all adults talking about stuff over your head, you won’t learn.

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So, what are the five principles that you need to pay attention to?

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First: the four words,

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attention, meaning, relevance and memory,

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and these interconnect in very, very important ways.

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Especially when you’re talking about learning.

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Come with me on a journey through a forest.

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You go on a walk through a forest

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and you see something like this… Little marks on a tree,

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maybe you pay attention, maybe you don’t.

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You go another 50 metres and you see this…

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You should be paying attention.

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Another 50 metres, if you haven’t been paying attention, you see this…

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And at this point, you’re paying attention.

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And you’ve just learned that this… is important,

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it’s relevant because it means this,

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and anything that is related, any information related to your survival

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is stuff that you’re going to pay attention to

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and therefore you’re going to remember it.

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If it’s related to your personal goals,

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then you’re going to pay attention to it.

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If it’s relevant, you’re going to remember it.

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So, the first rule, first principle for learning a language

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is focus on language content that is relevant to you.

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Which brings us to tools.

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We master tools by using tools and we learn tools the fastest

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when they are relevant to us.

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So let me share a story.

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A keyboard is a tool.

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Typing Chinese a certain way, there are methods for this. That’s a tool.

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I had a colleague many years ago

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who went to night school; Tuesday night, Thursday night,

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two hours each time, practicing at home,

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she spent nine months, and she did not learn to type Chinese.

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And one night we had a crisis.

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We had 48 hours to deliver a training manual in Chinese.

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And she got the job, and I can guarantee you

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in 48 hours, she learned to type Chinese

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because it was relevant, it was meaningful, it was important,

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she was using a tool to create value.

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So the second principle for learning a language is to use your language

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as a tool to communicate right from day one.

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As a kid does.

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When I first arrived in China, I didn’t speak a word of Chinese,

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and on my second week, I got to take a train ride overnight.

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I spent eight hours sitting in the dining car

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talking to one of the guards on the train,

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he took an interest in me for some reason,

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and we just chatted all night in Chinese

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and he was drawing pictures and making movements with his hands

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and facial expressions and piece by piece by piece

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I understood more and more.

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But what was really cool, was two weeks later,

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when people were talking Chinese around me,

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I was understanding some of this

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and I hadn’t even made any effort to learn that.

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What had happened, I’d absorbed it that night on the train,

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which brings us to the third principle.

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When you first understand the message,

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then you will acquire the language unconsciously.

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And this is really, really well documented now,

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it’s something called comprehensible input.

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There’s 20 or 30 years of research on this,

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Stephen Krashen, a leader in the field,

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has published all sorts of these different studies

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and this is just from one of them.

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The purple bars show the scores on different tests for language.

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The purple people were people who had learned by grammar and formal study,

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the green ones are the ones who learned by comprehensible input.

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So, comprehension works. Comprehension is key

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and language learning is not about accumulating lots of knowledge.

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In many, many ways it’s about physiological training.

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A woman I know from Taiwan did great in English at school,

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she got A grades all the way through,

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went through college, A grades, went to the US

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and found she couldn’t understand what people were saying.

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And people started asking her: “Are you deaf?”

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And she was. English deaf.

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Because we have filters in our brain that filter in

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the sounds that we are familiar with

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and they filter out the sounds of languages that we’re not.

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And if you can’t hear it, you won’t understand it,

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if you can’t understand it, you’re not going to learn it.

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So you actually have to be able to hear these sounds.

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And there are ways to do that but it’s physiological training.

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Speaking takes muscle.

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You’ve got 43 muscles in your face,

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you have to coordinate those in a way

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that you make sounds that other people will understand.

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If you’ve ever done a new sport for a couple of days,

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and you know how your body feels? Hurts?

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If your face is hurting, you’re doing it right.

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And the final principle is state. Psycho-physiological state.

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If you’re sad, angry, worried, upset, you’re not going to learn. Period.

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If you’re happy, relaxed, in an Alpha brain state, curious,

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you’re going to learn really quickly,

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and very specifically you need to be tolerant of ambiguity.

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If you’re one of those people who needs to understand 100 percent

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every word you’re hearing, you will go nuts,

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because you’ll be incredibly upset all the time, because you’re not perfect.

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If you’re comfortable with getting some, not getting some,

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just paying attention to what you do understand,

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you’re going to be fine, relaxed, and you’ll be learning quickly.

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So based on those five principles, what are the seven actions that you take?

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Number one: Listen a lot.

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I call it brain soaking.

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You put yourself in a context

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where you’re hearing tons and tons and tons of a language

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and it doesn’t matter if you understand it or not.

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You’re listening to the rhythms, to patterns that repeat,

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you’re listening to things that stand out.

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(Chinese) Pào nǎozi.

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(English) So, just soak your brain in this.

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The second action is that you get the meaning first,

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even before you get the words.

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You go: “Well how do I do that? I don’t know the words!”

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Well, you understand what these different postures mean.

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Human communication is body language in many, many ways, so much body language.

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From body language you can understand a lot of communication,

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therefore, you’re understanding, you’re acquiring through comprehensible input.

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And you can also use patterns that you already know.

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If you’re a Chinese speaker of Mandarin and Cantonese and you go to Vietnam,

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you will understand 60 percent of what they say to you in daily conversation,

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because Vietnamese is about 30 percent Mandarin, 30 percent Cantonese.

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The third action: Start mixing.

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You probably have never thought of this

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but if you’ve got 10 verbs, 10 nouns and 10 adjectives,

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you can say 1000 different things.

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Language is a creative process.

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What do babies do? OK, “me”, “bath”, “now”.

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OK, that’s how they communicate.

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So start mixing, get creative, have fun with it,

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it doesn’t have to be perfect, just has to work.

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And when you’re doing this, you focus on the core.

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What does that mean?

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Well, any language is high frequency content.

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In English 1000 words covers 85 percent

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of anything you’re ever going to say in daily communication.

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۳۰۰۰ words gives you 98 percent

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of anything you’re going to say in daily conversation.

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You got 3000 words, you’re speaking the language.

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The rest is icing on the cake.

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And when you’re just beginning with a new language,

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start with your tool box. Week number one,

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in your new language you say things like:

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“How do you say that?” “I don’t understand,”

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“repeat that please,” “what does that mean?”

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all in your target language.

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You’re using it as a tool, making it useful to you,

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it’s relevant to learn other things about the language.

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By week two, you should be saying things like:

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“me,” “this,” “you,” “that,” “give,” you know, “hot,”

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simple pronouns, simple nouns, simple verbs,

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simple adjectives, communicating like a baby.

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And by the third or fourth week, you’re getting into “glue words.”

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“Although,” “but,” “therefore,” these are logical transformers

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that tie bits of a language together, allowing you to make more complex meaning.

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At that point you’re talking.

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And when you’re doing that, you should get yourself a language parent.

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If you look at how children and parents interact,

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you’ll understand what this means.

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When a child is speaking, it’ll be using simple words, simple combinations,

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sometimes quite strange, sometimes very strange pronunciation,

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other people from outside the family don’t understand it.

۱۵:۳۲

But the parents do.

۱۵:۳۴

And so the kid has a safe environment, gets confidence.

۱۵:۳۹

The parents talk to the children with body language

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and with simple language they know the child understands.

۱۵:۴۵

So you have a comprehensible input environment that’s safe,

۱۵:۴۸

we know it works; otherwise none of you would speak your mother tongue.

۱۵:۵۲

So you get yourself a language parent,

۱۵:۵۴

who’s somebody interested in you as a person

۱۵:۵۶

who will communicate with you essentially as an equal,

۱۵:۵۹

but pay attention to help you understand the message.

۱۶:۰۴

There are four rules of a language parent.

۱۶:۰۶

Spouses are not very good at this, OK?

۱۶:۰۸

But the four rules are,

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first of all, they will work hard to understand what you mean

۱۶:۱۲

even when you’re way off beat.

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Secondly, they will never correct your mistakes.

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Thirdly, they will feed back their understanding of what you are saying

۱۶:۲۲

so that you can respond appropriately and get that feedback

۱۶:۲۶

and then they will use words that you know.

۱۶:۲۹

The sixth thing you have to do, is copy the face.

۱۶:۳۳

You got to get the muscles working right,

۱۶:۳۵

so you can sound in a way that people will understand you.

۱۶:۳۹

There’s a couple of things you do.

۱۶:۴۰

One is that you hear how it feels, and feel how it sounds

۱۶:۴۴

which means you have a feedback loop operating in your face,

۱۶:۴۷

but ideally if you can look at a native speaker

۱۶:۵۰

and just observe how they use their face,

۱۶:۵۲

let your unconscious mind absorb the rules,

۱۶:۵۵

then you’re going to be able to pick it up.

۱۶:۵۷

And if you can’t get a native speaker to look at, you can use stuff like this…

۱۷:۰۲

(Female voice) Sing, song, king, stung, hung.

۱۷:۱۲

(Chris Lonsdale) And the final idea here, the final action you need to take

۱۷:۱۶

is something that I call “direct connect”.

۱۷:۱۸

What does this mean? Well most people learning a second language

۱۷:۲۱

sort of take the mother tongue words and the target words and go over them

۱۷:۲۴

again and again in their mind to try and remember them. Really inefficient.

۱۷:۲۸

What you need to do is realise that

۱۷:۳۱

everything you know is an image inside your mind, it’s feelings,

۱۷:۳۴

if you talk about fire, you can smell the smoke,

۱۷:۳۶

you can hear the crackling, you can see the flames,

۱۷:۳۹

so what you do, is you go into that imagery and all of that memory

۱۷:۴۲

and you come out with another pathway. So I call it “same box, different path”.

۱۷:۴۷

You come out of that pathway and you build it over time,

۱۷:۵۰

you become more and more skilled at just connecting the new sounds

۱۷:۵۳

to those images that you already have, into that internal representation.

۱۷:۵۸

And over time you even become naturally good at that process,

۱۸:۰۱

that becomes unconscious.

۱۸:۰۳

So, there are five principles that you need to work with, seven actions,

۱۸:۰۸

if you do any of them, you’re going to improve.

۱۸:۱۰

And remember these are things under your control as the learner.

۱۸:۱۴

Do them all and you’re going to be fluent in a second language in six months.

۱۸:۱۷

Thank you.

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(Applause)

How to learn any language in six months

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Watch on YouTube:

How to learn any language in six months | Chris Lonsdale | TEDxLingnanUniversity

Full transcript is available here (link)

Watch this video on YouTube with subtitle

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