At the age of 9 years old I made a short list of everything I wanted to achieve in my life, including all the languages I wanted to learn. I wrote down 8 languages including:
At age of 25 I’ve updated my CV “language section” with 8th languages whereas I had all the above languages on above list. I was surprised and excited. This is a story of how I did it and you can do it too.
Am I Gifted To Speak 8 Languages?
One of the arguments I often hear when people hear that I speak 8 languages is that I am a polyglot and somehow gifted with an ability to lean languages.
To some degree I agree with that statement, as some things come more easily to me in my life while other other things are much harder.
On other hand, I completely disagree with this statement, as among other things I am dyslexic. In practice this means that biologically I have a less developed brain part responsible for speech, compared to other “normal” human beings. This, however, did not stop me from learning all these languages, writing this blog, and a book.
I do attribute my success with languages to hours, sweat, and tears I put into learning all these languages. This is to say that without work any gift is wasted.
This is consistent with the work of Malcolm Gladwell who in his book “Outliers” breaks the myth of “gifted people”. Oppositely, he believes that people who become good in anything are so because they put work into mastering any skill. More specifically, Malcolm believes that that in takes 10.000 hours to master any skill. Put in these hours and you will be good in anything. And while I agree with Malcolm on the value of hard work, I do believe even more in the power of motivation.
Motivation Is Like Mathematics
“There is no such things as lazy person; he is either sick or uninspired” – Zeg Ziglar
My favorite metaphor to learning to speak any languages is that it is like mathematics. Essentially, there are two types of people:
1) These who think they are good in math; and
2) These who think they are bad in math.
In first case, we have people who when faced with a mathematical problem to which they don’t know an answer, they will at least try to find an answer, before giving up. In second group, people don’t even try to find an answer and immediately give up.
Over time, people in the first group will have more practice solving problems meaning that they will get better and better in this skill, while people in the second group will never learn anything and continue blaming their poor performance on their inability to do math, while they should blame it on their motivation.
The same thing applies to learning languages, or anything in life for that matter. If we are truly motivated to learning a language eventually we will that language. Period.
Interestingly enough, “on paper” we all want to speak 20 languages, to be rich, and know all sorts of other skills. In reality, however, we rarely have these things, meaning that “on paper” and “real” motivations are two different things. As such, the key to learning a new language is motivation and believe that we can learn languages (which we can cultivate through affirmations).
Worst Advice I Heard About Learning Languages
One of the worst ways I heard on learning new languages is to do it in a country where no one speaks that language. I tried to follow this misguided advice several times in my life, such as when I decided to learn Italian while living in Netherlands and when I was leaning foreign languages in school. Indeed, my teachers and I had the best intentions in heart, but rarely remembered anything after classes were over.
Thus, if you are really serious about learning a foreign language you can do certain things to facilitate the learning:
- Immigrate – Go to a country where they speak the language you want to learn;
- Get a girlfriend of boyfriend – They need to be a native fluent in language you want to learn and make sure that they will only speak in that language with you;
- Watch movies and listen to music – In languages which you want to learn;
- Go to language exchange groups – There are language cafes or other initiatives, such as conversationexchange.com where you can find people who want to learn language you speak and in exchange for teaching you their language.
Which Is The Hardest Language To Learn?
This is another question I get asked on regular basis and the answer to this question is that all languages can be easy and hard to learn. It mostly depends on you:
- Languages will be hard to learn if you don’t have any basis related to that language; and
- Languages will be easy to learn if you have certain basics.
For example, if I want to learn Japanese and the only other language I know is English this may be a difficult language to learn since everything from pronunciation to alphabet are different. Contrarily, if I want I want to learn German and I already speak Dutch this should be an easy language to learn since they are of the same language group.
This is exactly how I speak 8 languages:
1st Russian – I was born in Russia, where my parents worked when I was born. I lived there for 10 years. If I wasn’t born there, I doubt I would speak any Russian today;
2nd German– Then I went to Germany for 1 year. This was a transition period for my family. There I learned German, just to forget it later, because I did not speak it for over 15 years. I learned it again years later, thanks to similarity it has with Dutch;
3rd Portuguese – Then I immigrated to Portugal, where I lived for 10 years. There I finished secondary school and did my bachelors in Management, which is also to say that studying in a language will help learning that language. This is exactly what happened later with French and English;
4th French – Then I went to do my Erasmus program (exchange) to Paris, France. There I took all my classes in French, because I did not speak well English and everyone only spoke French;
5th and 6th English and Dutch – After my bachelor I decided to go back to my origins, so I did a MBA in Tilburg University, Netherlands, where I specialized in Marketing. There I improved on my English and Dutch.
7th and 8th Spanish and Italian – I learned Spanish and Italian in only ONE WEEK, which you can read about bellow.
How To Master a Language in ONE WEEK
I learned to speak Spanish, Italian, and German each one in ONE WEEK and this is how you can do it too:
Essentially, I when I was leaning to speak Spanish, Italian, and German I already spoke Portuguese, French, and Dutch. This helped me a lot since these languages are of the same language groups. This, however, was not enough to learn these new languages since there are plenty people who speak one or more of these languages, but cannot understand each other. An extra few steps is therefore required. My personal story of studying them only for ONE WEEK can share some light on these extra steps.
This story starts in a job interview where my future boss asked me how good was my Spanish. I told him that it was basic and that I could understand the basics since I already spoke Portuguese and French. “Perfect,” he says. “You will work with our Spanish speaking customers”. For that position this meant that I was going to cold call Spanish people who live in Spain and ask them a bunch of questions. Reluctantly, I accept this job as who says “No” to a job? I had 1 week before starting of this job.
In desperation, I called all my Spanish speaking friends, bought books on learning Spanish, and downloaded all movies and music I could find in Spanish language. I also visited already mentioned language websites and made a bunch of language exchange appointments. In one week, I understood that to speak Spanish the only thing I needed to do is these following two steps:
Step 1 – Change Pronunciation – For example, in Portuguese many similar worlds to Spanish are pronounced as “SH”, while they are pronounced in Spanish with “S”.
Step 2 – Change Key Words – For example, if Portuguese world “wallet” is pronounced “carteira” while in ES a better translation is “billetera”. However, “billetera” in Portuguese is a “ticket office”, which is why Portuguese and Spanish often don’t understand each other.
These two steps many not be enough to speak a language fluently, but for all three languages Spanish, Italian, and German they were more that enough to speak to communicate with the locals and even to speak with my foreign customers.
400 Words You Need To Know To Speak Any Language
– Fluent speakers know between 40.000 – 60.000 words;
– Very good speakers know between 20.000 and 40.000 words;
– Good speakers know between 2.000 and 20.000 words;
– Basic speakers know between 0 – 2.000 words.
However, it all only takes 2.000 words to achieve 80% of conversational fluency, which is essentially the 2.000 words we need to learn to speak language on a basic level.
Moreover, every ONE word we learn open access to FIVE new words. This is because there are often many similar in words or different conjugations of the same word.
Altogether, this means that essentially we need to learn 400 words (= 2.000 / 5) to speak any language at 80% fluency, which is often more that enough.
Does It Gets Any Easier To Learn A New Language?
I often hear people say that every additional language makes it easier to learn new languages. As such, because I speak 8 languages I am supposed to pick up new languages faster compared to a person who only speaks 2 languages. This is true, but only to a certain extend.
It is true, because of already mentioned language similarity effect, whereas the more languages we speak, the more we understand, because of their similarities. Moreover, knowing more languages can give us more confidence to learn more languages.
It is false, however, because when these advantages disappear, such as when we are learning completely new language, there is no difference between a person who speaks 2 and 8 languages. They both need to put the same amount of work to learn this new language.
Also, ONE WEEK learning often only applies to the languages which are very similar. For most languages, however, these languages are often too different, meaning that often we can get lucky and only need to learn 35.000 instead 40.000 worlds, which is not that big improvement. Indeed, instead of 12 month learning we need to put 10 month into leaning a language, which is still considerable amount of time.
How Do All These Languages Fit In Your Head?
When I hear this question, I often think that people unconsciously assume that there is a certain physical capacity that we have when it comes to leaning different languages.
Limited mental capacity is, however, completely unfounded assumption as I once heard that our brain has capacity to remember astonishing amount of information, which is equivalent to 200 years of nonstop YouTube video recording.
This comes back to that argument whereas we are only using 5% of our brain capacity, meaning that we can probably learn 50 languages if we really wanted to.
Overcoming Problem of Switching Between Different Languages
Some people also tell me that they have some difficulty switching between different languages they know. This is the case of my mother who has to stop for few minutes before she can talk in another language.
Personally, I don’t have this difficulty, but I recognize how it manifests in others, as I myself sometimes need few seconds before I can start speaking a different language. To overcome this mental block all I do differently from other people is realize how how this block manifests itself.
Specifically, our brain is essentially composed from a connection of different nodes (aka thoughts, ideas), whereas one node leads to activation of another node, and another, and another, such as when we see an animal we can think it fluffy, which can make us thing of something else which is fluffy. Practically, it means that sometimes if we are experiencing a mental block we simply have not activated the right set of mental nodes. As such, the only thing we need to do is to remember few basic words we already know in a language we want to remember, and if block continues to try to make some super simple sentences with these words. In no time, this technique will allow us to speak the desired language.
Why You Want to Learn Many New Languages
Of course, I don’t speak all the 8 languages fluently. I do speak:
- English, Russian, and Portuguese – At a fluent level;
- Dutch, French, and Spanish – At very good or good levels;
- Italian and German – At conversational basic levels.
I can also fabricate few words in Thai, Arabic, Turkish, and bunch of other languages, but I don’t know these languages enough to claim I speak them.
Still, one thing is for sure. There I tremendous value of speaking more languages as I can’t even count the amount of friends I made and business opportunities I got just because I could fabricate few words in some language. This is to say that the more languages we speak the better our life becomes, which is especially a must in our multicultural and multinational world.
Want To Learn More About Leaning Languages?
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