Friday, 10 February 2017

Draft 3 of Supersonic Unlearning

It all started 4 years ago when I lived in Japan. I trace it back to my daughter's third birthday. We gave her presents. She gave me a boot up the bum (figuratively speaking). Because that's the day I discovered that she had overtaken me in Japanese. I could no longer understand what she said. I couldn't keep up!

As a parent, it does NOT feel good to learn such a thing (and it didn't make her feel secure either.) I felt stupid and useless. I was dumbfounded in the original sense of the word. And me a language teacher!

Not being able to understand her was one thing. Not understanding what had happened was another. Sure, I’d only been learning the language half-heartedly, but my daughter hadn't studied at all! 


She’d never been near a school. She didn't know about about grammar, vocabulary, memory, and revision. She'd only just learned to read. She could barely use a pencil.

We all accept that children pick up a language more quickly than adults. But why should that be an acceptable thing? With all the benefits of education shouldn't we do better? 


In truth, language instruction works poorly. If only 1 in 20 adults who set out to learn another language succeed, as compared to 20 out of 20 babies, then something is rotten in the state of Denmark. And it isn’t Danish! 

What was the problem? What's the solution?
I concluded that it's actually a no-brainer. Which is to say that both the problem and the solution stem from how we use our brains. Babies and adults have the same brains. They just use them differently.

I believe that we've been seduced by the achievements of Science. We've been sucked into using only a conscious, left brain style of thinking. The education system whole-heartedly champions logical, analytical learning processes. It has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. "Oh no! That's childish. Let's not do it that way anymore. We're all grown up now."

But really—rather than replace the natural way how babies acquire language with our grown-up notions of Scientific learning, we need to meld the two methods. Quite simply, we've got to balance our brains. We've got to pick up a language and learn it so as to acquire it in the best possible way.    

Long story shortwith what I discovered I set out to . . .
  1. Improve my Japanese
  2. Help my daughter master English
  3. Publish a book showing Japanese people how to learn English, and
  4. Collaborate with innovative people to trial my ideas 
I've done, or am doing, the first three. I'm very keen now to make a start on the fourth.

Basically, I wish to test my hypothesis that anyone can acquire any language, starting any time, at any rate, and without any study. 

I did it. 
My daughter did it. 
You did it—that was how you learned English—so therefore anyone can do it.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Draft 2 of Supersonic Unlearning

Exactly four-and-a-half years ago, in Japan, this story starts (well, the current chapter). That's when my daughter, Sachi, turned three, and gave me a figurative, linguistic boot up the backside. That was when she overtook me in Japanese.

What this meant was this: I could no longer understand her. Imagine how that would feel--not to be able to understand your own child! (And it must have been uncomfortable for her too.) I felt clueless, impotent and dumbfounded in the original, literal sense.

Not only couldn't I understand my daughter, I couldn't understand how the situation had arisen. Admittedly my efforts to learn Japanese had been half-hearted, but I'd never seen Sachi study either. She didn't know about grammar, vocabulary, memory techniques, revision and note-taking. She'd only just learned to read and could barely pick up a pencil.

As of that moment, I made it my mission to understand why adults and young children pick up a language so differently. What were the principles (and principal differences)? Why was there such a disparity? 

Apparently only 1 in 20 adults who set out to learn another language succeeds, whereas mother-tongue mastery is almost universal.

Once I discovered the secret, I would use that knowledge to . . .

  1. understand Japanese better
  2. help my daughter to master English
  3. write and get published a book for the Japanese to learn English, and
  4. work with an innovative institution to spread the word

I've achieved the first three of these, now it's onto the fourth.

My mission is to make it possible for anyone to acquire any language, at any time, at any rate, without any study. 

You know, you've done it once--with English--so you can definitely do it again!

Monday, 6 February 2017

Simon Sinek

I viewed several clips of Simon Sinek, the 'Why guy'. He has some advice about how to begin a presentation. Herewith, then, my personal anecdote as to why I do what I do.

Despite living in Japan for a number of years, I never properly learned the language. To tell the truth, I wasn't very interested. I thought about it, but never got down to it. I only ever had half a mind to study.

But then something happened. My daughter turned three. That's when I changed my mind--or half a mind, rather. Why? Her Japanese was now better than mine. She had overtaken me.

Suddenly I found that I no longer understood her. Imagine that. As a parent I could no longer communicate with my child who depended upon me.

Can you imagine how disconcerting that was? I felt clueless, powerless and impotent. What if she got sick? What if she needed my help for a serious problem? What if something urgent happened and I wasn't able to understand her and act? 

I hope that you never get such a situation. Maybe the worst you'll experience is being in a different country or culture and just feel dumb instead of dumbfounded. You really ought to have learned some more phrases, but they didn't stick. You just stumble over your mihi, or end up with something else from the menu. That sort of thing.

But how the heck is it than any child learns its language faster than you can? It doesn't seem right, does it? Kids don't know about study. They don't master any rules, or use flash cards to memorize vocabulary. They hardly read and write, so they certainly don't jot down notes. So why the hell can't we do better than them? 

For me, this was a true revelation. Which is to say that it gave me a boot up the bum.

If learning a language is child's play for children, why can't adults--not to mention language teachers--do at least as well?  

To keep this short, I realized that something had to be done. This would be my mission. I would go back to the drawing board and figure out everything from first principles. And then I'd somehow apply those principles to make language learning child's play for everyone. I would . . .
  • Catch up with my daughter in Japanese
  • Help her to catch up with me in English
  • Show the Japanese how to learn English 
  • Show anyone how to acquire any language 

Conventional language-learning is nowhere near that point. 

But in my future people will pick up languages easily, effortlessly and enjoyably. Half a mind will be enough. 

No more teachers, study, homework, word lists, irregular verbs, weird spelling rules and all that jazz. Imagine how liberating and empowering that would be to all sorts of individuals. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Process language in quantity

A language is something that you need to get used to. You can't simply learn the rules and components once, and then expect to be able to use them. You need to put in a lot of practice to internalize everything.

Hours and hours. Volume. Volumes.

And so quantity is what you'll require. Figure out a way that suits that allows you to spend a lot of time enjoyably with the language(s) that you've set your heart on.

Do so heartily. With gusto.


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Polyglots perpetuate a dysfunctional outlook

I don't know . . .

All these polyglots doing their thing in public view . . .

Spreading their mirth and enthusiasm about the place (YouTube, Twitter and the general blogosphere) . . .

I feel that they may very well be achieving the opposite effect of what they intend. I mean, how is the ordinary man in the street likely to interpret it? That one is supposed to be a nerd or hyper-effusive in order to learn another language. That would seem to be a real risk that they a running.

No, you don't need to go to town about learning a language or two. It's the most natural and normal thing in the world. No need to dress it up in fancy colors. No need to shovel that language 'medicine' down with a spoonful of sugar.



You don't need to window-dress up the whole business as if it needs to be sold, as if it is inherently boring, hard work, or distasteful in some way.





Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Motivation is a mug's game

I've labelled three previous posts with the label 'motivation'. I'm going to disagree with them here, or at least go off on a different tangent.

It was a post on The Mezzofanti Guild that got me thinking, eventually to to change my mind. Donovan Nagel writes a lot of sense, but I'm going to disagree with him (and with my previous self) on the issue of motivation.

If you feel the need for any form of motivation, whether intrinsic or extrinsic, then I think that you've already lost.

By subscribing to the notion that it is necessary to be motivated to spend time on a language, then what you are saying, essentially, is that language learning is inherently not enjoyable. That it is work that you need to endure for a future pay-off.

I mean, you don't think of needing to motivate yourself to eat out at a restaurant, watch your favorite sport, or watch movie. (Well, not usually.)

Therefore, if motivation raises its head as an issue whenever you consider spending time on language learning then you're doing something wrong, it seems to me. You are going about it the wrong way.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Boy kicks a stone

Let's say that you are the grandson of Pele, the famous football player, and that you wish to follow in his footsteps and become a professional player. In fact, you feel some pressure on you to succeed.

And so you enroll at the best football school in town, even though it's on the other side of town. And you make sure never to piss a day. Everyday you walk there, or even run so as to get there on time, whatever the weather.

You work your butt off at that school. You study the theory, you do the drills, you complete your homework, and you ace all of your exams.

But all that book study doesn't help you to become a champion. You become a pretty good club player, but that is all. Did you just not have the talent? Couldn't you have tried just a little harder?

Sadly, the fault is not yours. The fault is in the schooling system. You see, you weren't studying football there. You were learning about football, and that's not the same thing as learning football itself.

In fact, the only reason you became a reasonably competent player was that you'd kick a stone along as you hurried to reach school before the bell.