A really interesting piece on how our brain works when we acquire a language

Taking up your point about repetition. In John Fotheringham’s piece I felt the early stuff about declarative and procedural memory and how academic teaching is 99% declarative was brilliant. But when he says don’t do Rote Memorisation I get very uneasy. Surely the biggest part of learning a new language is mastering several thousand words and phrases and the only way to do this is by some form of rote memorisation? Practice makes perfect, no?

Thanks, David. Repeated exposure in meaningful contexts is essential (which I think is one of the most powerful benefits of LingQ), but the problem with most traditional study is that learners attempt to do forced memorization out of context (e.g. writing down a single word or kanji again and again). This form of repetition is not very effective for most learners, which I believe is what @DrewPeacock is rightly condemning above (look, we agreed on something!).

Here, here, Steve. I love that we can compare and debate various learning strategies here. My goal with my comment above was not promoting censorship or the voicing only positive comments, just that we attempt to do so with civility. As a rule of thumb, I think it’s best to always use a real name, real photo, and try to imagine that one is talking to a person face to face in a cafe, all of which help prevent the kind of hostility that so commonly arises from the safety of anonymity.

Well said, @t_harangi!

I still don’t understand what you’re trying to say.

  1. Some people signed up to read, and so their real name wasn’t relevant. They might then have found the forum and decided to participate. People can use online pseudonym’s if they like.

  2. There is nothing about the conversation contained in this thread which wouldn’t be said in real life to your face, because again, there’s nothing controversial here. It’s simply a matter of opinion. If someone came for a drink with me and told me to bend my knees when picking something up off the floor i would tell them that’s common knowledge the same as your pamphlet is.

Either way, you responded to my fair criticism by referencing ‘negativity’ and ‘ad-hominem’ and by alluding to the fact that we are ‘better’ than ‘this’ (‘this’ being making fair criticism of a body of work and/or people and their approaches to money making).

Some people (me included) are direct when speaking to people and some people (you included) see that as an attack or a poor way to behave but really these are your neuroses.

Thanks, @digitalis. Yes, I am indeed the author of Master Japanese: The Beginner’s Step-by-Step Guide to Learning Nihongo the Fun Way. I should point out that the above link goes to a short excerpt from the guide on learning styles that I offer as a bonus to subscribers of my newsletter. If you want a wider sampling of the complete guide, go here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/masterjapanese/Guide/masterjapanesesample.pdf (Not trying to sell anyone, just want to provide more context to the topics we’re discussing here.)

Regarding Tim Ferriss (two Ss on his name by the way), he is indeed a highly effective marketer. But I don’t see why that is a bad thing. I think LingQ, for example, could employ some of his strategies and reach a lot more learners who otherwise may never hear of the platform. With regards to his books, I have read and found significant value in all of them. Yes, they have unfortunately scammy sounding titles, but I highly recommend checking them out to anyone interested in productivity, metalearning, fitness, etc. A few of my friends (including my wife) wrote him off for years, but then completely changed their view after finally reading his stuff. He is very up front about not being the expert himself, but rather the experimenter and translator. Many of the most accomplished people are the worst at communicating what they do and how they do it, so there is an important place for those who can distill best practices, habits, and patterns from experts, and then write about them in a compelling, actionable way. That is precisely the goal of my own writing.

Sorry if I have been unclear. As I said above, the negativity I was referring to was the bashing of Tim Ferriss and Benny Lewis for what I believe are uninformed assumptions, not about my book itself. I’ve been writing in public for a long time and can take the criticism. I have no problem with directness, respectful disagreement, or informed debate. I simply disagree with your opinion about these two authors, opinions I often hear from people who haven’t actually read their books. And that’s okay. Different things will resonate with different people. As Rick Rubin says, “The best art divides the audience.”

“…My problem with him is that he then aggressively markets this crap over the heads of others that are more knowledgeable/accomplished than him. A case in point would be his “Four Hour Body” book…”

Yes. This, in a nutshell, is my problem with Benny and his kind of operator. It goes without saying that anyone is free to propagate his or her ideas online - including for naked financial gain. If there is any merit to be found in any dimension of their work, well, fine. People can take it or leave it.

But it does, in my opinion, just seem wrong in principle that über-confident smooth talking people can build a whole profile as apparent “experts”, and do so over and above people like experienced teachers, academics, diplomats, etc, who are so much more accomplished and knowledgable.

I was in a bookstore the other day and I saw, to my mild dismay, that the once respected “Teach Yourself” series is now publishing a book for German learners by Benny! (No, really - it’s true! This isn’t a late April Fool’s post!) Of course I’m not going to claim that I gave it any very thorough examination, but I almost couldn’t help flicking through it for a while - seeing that German is my special subject.

My impression: if the target reader is someone with zero prior knowledge of language learning who wants to get into a bit of simple spoken German for the Oktoberfest or something, well yeah, they might get something of value from the book - albeit little that a reasonably sensible person wouldn’t intuitively do with the help of a bog standard phrasebook, IMO.

But let’s get real here. If we look at the older editions of Teach Yourself published between the late 1930s and the mid 1970s, these were often written by truly world class people - university professors with years of work in their field, highly experienced teachers. To pick an older TY book from my shelves, for example, we have the 1976 edition of “Teach Yourself Turkish”, written by one “G.L. Lewis M.A. D.Phil, senior lecturer in Turkish at the University of Oxford”…

Anyone working through one of these classic TY books could expect to cover all of the essential grammar and syntax for the language in question, and to learn a very decent basic vocabulary - something roughly equivalent to completion of an ab initio course for first year students at a British university, perhaps.

Now they are hiring a rather different member of the Lewis clan - someone who doesn’t even have a degree in the subject - to write (apparently) a kind of applied phrasebook, based on bro-science! :-0

I fear that this is a continuation of the dumbing down that we have seen over the last twenty or thirty years. It is really rather tragic.

(Okay, rant over - now back to the UKGE 2017 battlefront! :-D)

In my experience, and from my reading about how the brain learns, rote memorization is a very ineffective way of learning languages, time-consuming with poor outcomes. The more we focus on trying to master something, the less we learn. The brain requires variety and novelty together with a certain degree of repetition .

Thanks. I will probably have a look at the book some time, if you can get it in PDF form. I really only started commenting here because I am interested in this stuff- I’ve read Krashens’ two major works, for example. A lot of Paul nation’s stuff was also interesting- most of the “how many words do need to know” estimates that you find on the web are derived from his work.

WRT Tim Ferris(s) I’ll admit I haven’t read any of his major works. I used to be into weightlifting (I’m more out of shape now) and I first came across him when doing research on how to perform a deadlift.

Most of his work on the subject seemed to be “how to increase your lift by xx pounds in two weeks” type puffery, that always seemed far less impressive when you actually read what he has to say on the topic.
His books may be different though.

No arguments from me about him being a good marketer- I’m some schlub sitting in Australia and I definitely who he is, so he’s definitely getting his message out there…

This may be a bit controversial, but I’ll also say that I think there are some cultural differences at play here. I think some of the “hard sell” tactics used by Tim Ferriss, or for that matter, Benny Lewis might be appropriate for selling ideas in the American marketplace, but it comes off as being very tacky from an Australia perspective. Perhaps this is also the case in other Anglophone countries such as the UK or the English speaking parts of Canada. Just a thought though, anyone can feel free to disagree.

Yeah true, I don’t really know much about Benny’s new guides, apart from the fact that he has recently made some.
I’m purposely trying to avoid discussing the big three controversy-generating topics (it seems!) on this forum: that includes Brexit, POTUS and Benny Lewis. Enough has been said about those topics already, no need to flog a dead horse here.
I probably shouldn’t say much more, I don’t want to make too many waves. Please don’t tempt me!