Luca Lampariello’s method of Bi-Directional Translation

As many of you know, Luca Lampariello is a phenomenal polyglot, mastering fourteen languages [as he says “more or less”], and invariably with excellent pronunciation.

Having produced many outstanding videos Luca’s latest venture is an internet course explaining his theory of “bi-directional translation”, which he often refers to as the underpinning for his language development.

As ever there are many Luca points which resonate. On the elusive target of “fluency” Luca points out that this is essentially a mirage: “There is no clear standard, there is no finish line at the end of a race, and like the horizon - as you run towards it, there is always more road to travel!”

As an alternative to targeting “fluency” Luca wants language learners to focus on “moving forward every day”. His five basic principles also make a lot of sense:

  1. Consistency. Schedule consistent time for language learning and do it every day.
  2. Develop skills in all four key areas - reading, listening, speaking and writing.
  3. Interleaving. This is his view that you must integrate all four modes and not keep them separate.
  4. Repetition, and of course the generally accepted theory of “spaced repetition”.
  5. Above all: “place value on skills rather than knowledge”. Luca often uses the example of riding a bike as a skill, because once you know how to do it, you basically never forget. I would say the same is probably true for many other activities, such as swimming.

I can follow Luca in focusing on skills and also on the important sub-skills of intonation, pronunciation, and reading speed. He gives some good examples in a variety of languages. However, although his “bi-directional translation” [BDT] method clearly works for him, and for many people he has coached, would it work for everyone?
Where I start to part company with his BDT theory is further along the road, rather than just the beginning stages of acquiring a new language.

His method consists of six steps:

  1. intensive analysis of a short text by “listening and reading.” We can all agree on that, especially if you can listen to a native speaker while reading the text, which has become so much easier with mechanisms like Audible Books, LingQ or the “Easy Languages” organisation. Steve Kaufmann is particularly good in this regard, encouraging listening while “doing dishes, exercising, and cleaning out the garage.”
  2. phonetic analysis, especially by adding “pitch contours” to the text. Luca gives an example from Swedish where, although he was quite advanced in the language, he suddenly discovered that pitch was actually quite important and significantly changed the meaning of words. Because he speaks so many languages, Luca is able to compare and contrast these important points such as stress, pitch, and intonation, and this is very informative.
  3. Smart Review: essentially “repeat the text in different ways to consolidate it." With difficult texts, people tend to do this naturally anyway. Luca here seems oddly quite prescriptive: start with reading and listening at the same time; then you just listen; next, listen while reading the text in your own language or a language you know well; then read the text aloud. The more variety you have, the more likely you are to internalize the grammar and vocabulary points. Fair enough. This seems reasonable, if a bit cumbersome.

But we are only halfway there at this point, with three more BDT steps to go. It is here, with respect, that Luca’s methodology starts to become, in my opinion, unnecessarily tedious. Step Four is to “translate the text directly into your native language”. This may be a good idea when starting with a new language, but at an intermediate level this would certainly slow the pace to a debilitating level. Step Five is to do “reverse translation” orally of your own translated text. And then the final Step Six is actually to write down your “reverse translation”. No doubt in this “see saw” translating you would certainly “notice” some interesting features of both languages in the process, but surely everything is guaranteed to slow down to a snail’s pace? With all the texts you read every day, how would you ever have time for this methodology? And surely Luca cannot do this in all his fourteen languages?

Perhaps Luca means that this BDT method should only be used in the very earliest stages of acquiring a new language? It is not clear. We will have to wait for a promised further course on his BDT method.

In my opinion many of the differing roads in language acquisition lead to Stephen Krashen. While at the outset for any language, when it is the proverbial “wall of noise” it can be very useful to “listen and read” short chunks of text [such as the LingQ mini-stories], translate back and forth and listen very carefully to pitch, rhythm and intonation. But there comes a point when you need to fly free of any such BDT straitjacket. The basic beginner level was well described as “language pain” by Jared Turner, where you understand less than 90% of the words used:

But then you move on to “intensive reading” with a higher level of comprehension, with a range of 90% to 98% known words. There are still some words that need to be looked up or guessed, but the speed increases. And then you get to the third level of “extensive reading,” when at least 98% of the words are already known. This is where the experts such as Professor Krashen believe the most progress can be made. Some of the occasional mystery words may be completely new, or you may have a “shaky” understanding of them, especially in a new context, but huge progress is made; see Stephen Krashen, Explorations in Language Acquisition and Use (Heinemann, 2003). Professor Krashen points out that "reading teaches you spelling, grammar, and writing style - and you pick up a large amount of vocabulary and knowledge”. His various YouTube videos constantly stress “comprehensible input”, preferably from compelling material, and that seems to me the proven pathway to language acquisition.

However, what all this “reading, reading, reading” probably does not do is to give you the supreme pronunciation skills that Luca has. But is that so important for you? Professor Krashen himself quotes his “language therapist” Steve Kaufmann: “Don’t worry about making mistakes when you talk; nobody cares!”

It would be interesting to know what other people think of Luca’s BDT method. Is this just for beginners? Or useful at all stages? And does it complement or contradict the Krashen approach?


I find Luca to be among the most sympathetic language YouTubers out there and tend to agree with most of his opinions. But what you have to understand is that the language influencer game is not about making things simple, it’s about making you come back for the next video – or buy a book or sign up for a class or… eghm… a subscription based website…

If you took all the influencer advice on YouTube and boiled it down to one video it would be two minutes long and say: “Use a beginner method such as Assimil, or something similar to get to a B1-B2-ish level, then start reading and listening to books. Do some writing. Immerse with other media, and get as much speaking practice along the way along the way as you can. Have fun. Bye.”

That’s basically it. That’s every video. All the influencers are doing is addressing each one of those steps over and over again in more and more complicated ways and then slapping names an acronyms on it like “BDT method.” A version of bi-directional translation is actually part of the Assimil method’s recommended use – so again, what you have there is just adding a complication to a fairly basic technique.

And "phonetic analysis? I don’t have time for that stuff, I have books to read :slight_smile:

This is not against Luca, or Benny, or any of the other YouTubers, they are all wonderful people (except for that one dude with the sunglasses – hate that guy) but I feel like none of their methods need to be dissected because most of them are just common sense self study methods that are over complicated for influencer purposes.

I’d bet money that the person that follows the above outlined “two minute video method” (TMV – see how I just came up with that :slight_smile: would get really good much quicker than following most of the overcomplicated influencer methodologies out there. (At least they would save a ton of time on not watching one YouTuber video after another.)


I like most of Luca’s thoughts on language learning.

Without wanting to dive too deep into his method, I can share some knowledge I had from a couple of professors of mine, who both received their doctorates at Harvard in Near Eastern Languages and Culture. They studied during the heyday with scholars who were at the time the best in the world in their field, including under the renowned Semitic linguist Thomas Lambdin. I was told by Professor Richard Elliott Friedman, that during his doctoral exam, he was given a text in I believe it was in Biblical Hebrew, where he had to translate it into Attic Greek and then retranslate it back into Biblical Hebrew. One of Professor Friedman’s doctoral students would also practice doing this, but I am not sure if that was for preparation for his doctoral examinations, or just as practice. I should note that the doctoral student had incredible Hebrew and Greek, yet he still would do this. I even recall him doing this with Hebrew when we would study other Semitic languages (Aramaic, Ugaritic, Phoenician etc.), although it may not have been written down, it wasn’t uncommon for him to translate it into Hebrew. In addition to that, I had another colleague who would do something similar in our various Semitic Languages classes, where he would do it in MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) instead.

In either case, while it is tedious, from what I have been told it is extremely effective in seeing how well you grasp the actual language for which you are studying, and also the other language in the BDT.

I haven’t personally done this, however when I get a little better in Chinese, I think it may not be a bad idea to give it a shot. Just for reference, the professors I had mentioned above were my best language teachers I have ever had. They opened up the door for me to be able to confidantly study languages.

Hope it helps bud.


to focus on the least important part of your response, who is the “sunglasses guy”?


That is what I was wondering too…

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haha. I was thinking it was a joke. Of course, now I had to find this person.

May be this guy?

Never heard of him before.


Ok, so my “Sunglasses Dude” is NOT Jonathan Olelo as previously suggested (though Jonathan, indeed has a penchant for shades, I was not previously familiar with him) I don’t wanna name my Sunglasses Dude, because he’s also a mixed martial arts guru, who I have a feeling could kill me with just his thumb, and I have a particular phobia about being killed with the use of a single thumb by would-be polyglots. But Sunglasses Dude shows up on YouTube claiming to be a language guy and usually criticizing other YouTube polyglots, but I’ve never actually seen Sunglasses Dude talk in any language other than English. But if you google the right combination of words from this post, you’ll find him.


Oh man…it’s Bruce Lee, back from the dead:

I think Luca used “Project Syndicate” to do this, a website which used to be free and have versions of the same article translated into several languages. So he could translate from german to russian or whatever combination, and then check his translation with the translated article. Unfortunately last time I checked, Project Syndicate was no longer free (expect for a very few articles) and they did not translate as much as they used to…

Too long, didn’t read. The outlined method feels overly complicated, simple is best imo. Read, read, read! Listen, listen, listen. Now buy my nonexistent book.



[Hope he doesn’t kill me]

No comment :wink:

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“Use a beginner method such as Assimil, or something similar to get to a B1-B2-ish level, then start reading and listening to books. Do some writing. Immerse with other media, and get as much speaking practice along the way along the way as you can. Have fun. Bye”

You could “over-generalize” even a bit more by just writing: “Use various media on a regular basis !” :slight_smile:
As over-generalizations such statements are true, but not helpful because the devil is in the details and nuances. For example:

  • Do I have a “strong Why”?
  • Do I have SMART goals? Achieving “fluency” without quantifying what this could mean (e.g.: 2-3 million words read, 100 hours of speaking, etc.) is completely useless as an achievable goal.
  • Am I aware of the “curse” of goal fixation? That is, an obsession with certain goals can cause learners to forget to simply enjoy ride!
  • Do I know how to establish and maintain good habits because they´re crucial? Most learners I´ve known have absolutely “no clue” (!) about building habits.
  • Do I have the right mindset? A fun-first / fun-only attitude (“Learning should just be fun, playful, easy, bla bla bla!” not only undermines our frustration tolerance, but it also leads to self-sabotaging performative contradictions à la: “You have to have fun / enjoy it!”, “You have to convince yourself that it´s fun!”, etc.
  • How do I really test myself instead of just “feeling competent, fluent, etc.”?
  • How do I track my progress?
  • How do I organize myself? (time budget, materials, tools, etc.)?
  • Am I able to work alone for an extended period of time or do I need a community as support?
  • Should I speak first or later? Do I need conversation partners for this or is speaking alone enough?
  • Should I start writing early, later or not at all? What should I write? How should the texts be corrected? etc.
  • Should I use a syntactic pattern variation (i.e.: grammar-light) approach à la Michel Thomas or not? This is especially helpful when the L2 to be learned (in my case: Japanese) is very distant from my L1 or the L2s I already know well.
  • Should I resort to explicit grammar lessons? This can be useful if the grammatical structures derived implicitly from comprehensible content can be better mastered (and understood) by studying explicitly specific grammar sections.
  • How do I approach the question of pronunciation: Do I rely on comprehensible content alone or do I resort to explicit pronunciation training?
    The list goes on and on. And with regard to communicative and cultural practices/strategies à la “directness/indirectness”, various rules of politeness, etc., it goes far beyond what regular language learners normally deal with

In sum:
Achieving an advanced level in an L2 (and I don´t mean a “simple A2-lower B1 warm up” à la Benny`s “15 min conversations after just 90 days” here!) is not only a marathon, it´s a “real” challenge with many obstacles along the way.
All this is exacerbated by four things:

  1. The vast majority of learners don´t know how to tackle language learning in an efficient way.
  2. Schools often don´t teach their students how to learn an L2 efficiently.
  3. There is an abundance of SLA approaches / theories that have been developed since the 1970s.
  4. The market with offline / online tools (apps, books, etc.) is now overwhelming and more or less intransparent.

So, can we blame learners that follow the path of least resistance and adopt a “wisdom of the crowd” approach by just using Duolingo?
Or, as my neighbor put it (after two years (!) of intense Duolingo studies in Spanish and failing to understand a simple sentence like “Quieres comer algo?”): “Yes, Duolingo might be useless, but it´s free!” :-0

"And “phonetic analysis? I don’t have time for that stuff, I have books to read :-)”
As much as I admire Master Steve´s “passion for language learning”, but pronunciation doesn´t seem to be his strong point. For example, his strong accent in German is bad, but in Portuguese, oh boy, it´s just horrible.
So, if Steve should decide to publish his videos only in Portuguese from now on, I would immediately stop watching his videos, because “torture by pronunciation” shouldn´t be part of language acquisition :slight_smile:
And people who claim to speak Portuguese with a strong Spanish accent are more likely to mean that they speak Spanish using some Portuguese words.

This doesn´t mean that pronunciation or intonation have to be perfect, i.e. native-like. It just means that pronunciation / intonation can help or hinder a conversation. And Luca´s pronunciation of various L2s is superb!

Of course, people can “rationalize” everything by saying, “I don’t care about pronunciation as long as people understand what I’m saying,” etc.
But, these may be the same people who try to explain to me that they’re doing a push-up when they’re on their knees wiggling their head. Or, even better, as an acquaintance told me a few weeks ago that she does an upper body strength exercise like push-ups in a non-strength way (being on her knees and wiggling her head!) because skinny (here: weak) arms are somehow elegant/sexy.
In short, the exercise is useless and the rationale is pretty absurd, but that’s just great “real life comedy” (as in the Duolingo case above).

People like Luca or Lydia Machova, etc. aren´t interesting because they´re “influencers” on Youtube. They´re interesting because they´re professional language coaches with a lot of knowledge and experience acquired over an extended period of time.


Hi, bembe!

As an alternative to targeting “fluency” Luca wants language learners to focus on “moving forward every day”.
This doesn´t make sense to me:

  • “Fluency” isn´t a real target, i.e. SMART goal, because it´s not quantifiable. It´s just vague. But you can quantify the words read/written, listening/speaking hours, etc. And to track and visualize these measures can be useful (to a certain degree).
  • “moving forward every day”: Nice, but it´s often helpful if you know what you want to achieve in which amount of time, esp. at the beginning of your language learning journey. Besides, focusing on moving forward (while enjoying the ride) is completely compatible with goal setting and tracking activities.
    IMO, Luca gives a pseudo-solution to a pseudo-problem here. Or, to put it another way, the key is to avoid immeasurable “vagueness” because you can’t target the untargetable!

Reg. Luca´s five basic principle:

  1. Consistency. Schedule consistent time for language learning and do it every day.
    Consistency and discipline are the consequences of establishing and maintaining good habits over
    an extended period of time. So, learners should focus on building habits at the beginning. And you have to know how this mechanism works and that empty talk of motivation, fun, etc. in this context is just that: “empty”!

BTW, building habits shouldn´t be your first step on your language learning journey,. You should focus on your “strong Why” or your “vision” (coupled with visualizations and emotions) first. This will keep you going when the going gets tough (you have no motivation, you are too tired / exhausted, you seem to have no / less time, there are other, more tempting distractions, whatever).

  1. Develop skills in all four key areas - reading, listening, speaking and writing.
    Yes, this interplay can be very helpful. However, this is a nice-to-have, not a must-have.
    For instance, there are some learners of Japanese / Chinese, etc. who are content to be able to speak in Japan / China, etc. in everyday contexts. And if you think that you can get by by only being able to listen / speak while being illiterate, that´s absolutely ok, I´d say. People have done that for tens of thousands of years.

  2. Interleaving. This is his view that you must integrate all four modes and not keep them separate.
    No,. It depends on the learner´s goals. This combo is a nice-to-have, not a must-have!

  3. Repetition, and of course the generally accepted theory of "spaced repetition.
    Yes, “spaced repetition” is great for flash carding.
    But in language learning you can also rely on natural repetition by constantly listening / speaking and reading / writing in your L2… In short: “If it´s important to you then do it every day”. That´s how native speakers operate. They don´t rely on “spaced” repetition to acquire their L1 :slight_smile:
    Or, you could also combine both approaches by limiting “spaced repetition” to the things you want to remember, but easily forget (because they come up infrequently, etc.).

  4. Above all: “place value on skills rather than knowledge”. Luca often uses the example of riding a bike as a skill, because once you know how to do it, you basically never forget. I would say the same is probably true for many other activities, such as swimming.
    This is a pseudo-contrast: It´s not “skill vs knowledge”, but “skill and knowledge”.
    Both as a language learner and as a native speaker, it´s good to know what you´re talking/writing about, otherwise you might just be an empty shell. Or, to paraphrase a nobleman from pre-modern France: “Monsieur XY has a pleasant pronunciation in many languages. Unfortunately, he has nothing to say in them that is of any substance.”
    Thus, for language learners, it’s a great strategy to acquire more knowledge in a subject area that interests them while improving their skills in their L2!

Reg. bi-directional translation:
Great method (I practiced it myself while studying French at university), but it´s a humbling (!) experience, esp. in the case of literary texts.

With all the texts you read every day, how would you ever have time for this methodology? And surely Luca cannot do this in all his fourteen languages?
I agree. Luca’s method is too time-consuming and cumbersome to be used every day. But a “BDT light” approach might be a good idea - once or twice a week -, especially at an intermediate level. At the beginner stage, I agree with @t_harangi that Assimil’s translation exercises are more than enough.

Have a nice Sunday


Hi, Cody!

Thanks for sharing this story!

BTW (from your LingQ profile):
“Ancient: Classical Chinese, Biblical Hebrew, Imperial Aramaic, Phoenician, Hittite, Greek, and Ugaritic. Modern: Chinese, French, Spanish, and Hebrew.”
That’s an interesting and very unusual selection of languages you have focused on.
Very inspiring!

“(Modern) Hebrew” will also be my next language to study because I´m a great admirer of the Israeli high-tech startup community. I think my next trip should go there :slight_smile:

Have a nice Sunday

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Peter, I get your point that we need structure and discipline and good habits, that’s why I usually recommend Assimil to most people who are starting out – especially with European languages – because it gives them the structure and foundation they need and allows them to figure out the rest as they go along.

But I feel like these list of “devil in the details” questions you ask are retroactive, and would mostly be counter productive for a first time auto-deductive language learner at the beginning of their journey.

If you would’ve asked me these when I stared, my answers to most of them would have been:
“I don’t know.” And,
“What the hell is syntactic pattern variation?”

Especially the whole “strong Why?” thing you often bring up. I never had a “why?” it has always been “just because.” I’ve learned three languages just because I felt like it.

My guess is these questions are the ones we kinda find answers to as we feel our way along and course correct from time to time.


You do not study a language, you get used to the language. – khatzumoto. (AJATT).
I am actually enjoying my language studies in German this way.
Let my language device do its “due work” :wink: otherwise, our God’s invention will go wasted.
I learn language primarily for enjoying literature and for watching movies etc
If I can communicate in it, that’s great, if not, that is also great. I spoke less even in my native language.
Doing translation work does not go well with my personality unless I am working as a professional translator. For me, listening & reading are my main activities.


I think “just because” is a strong enough “why” for some people, at least if they have a clear understanding of the time investment it takes to acquire a language at a high level. Though I also wonder in that case if we’re being honest with ourselves when we say that’s the entire reason.

I do think you’re right in most of these questions are something we reflect on more retroactively when we autodidactively learned a language, and then might proactively consider if deciding how to acquire another L2.

In general I’ve come believe that language acquisition is kind of like weight loss where the solution is so counterintuitive to the conventional wisdom that it is very challenging for people to accept. Especially because day-to-day progress is undetectable. Both are made even worse in that there is no quick solution. Some methods might work faster, or have better long-term results, but even fast is on the scale of months and years.

Then when you’ve “made it”, it’s all so simple.

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Peter, I agree with most of what you’re saying but just want to bring up a few points.

I think it’s important to compare apples to apples…

For lots of language learners (like myself) the end goal doesn’t even have to be about speaking well and having smooth conversations. The goal can just be to become a proficient at absorbing/understanding the language. We can also have different goals for each language as well that change over time.

If someone’s goals are to be proficient in conversations then you have to factor in additional variables which are not just “the most efficient method”. I think having a less efficient method that is more suitable to our personalities and more enjoyable is actually a better method even if the progress is slower. You could grade a method by something like the following equation:

score = (intensity of study)(time spend)(natural ability of learner)(method efficiency)(probability of success)*(enjoyment)

Without the “enjoyment” term the learner could use the most efficient learning method and keep at it for a long time to learn the language to a very high level, but if they don’t enjoy the time spent learning then was it really a good method?

ps, regarding steve’s pronunciation, it think it’s unfair to grade someone who is stretched across so many different languages.


FAQ section of Luca Lamparielo’s website:
Question: I am not a beginner, and already have some experience with language learning. Is this course for me?
Luca’s answer: This course was designed with beginners in mind. The material is most suited for those who have no knowledge (or very little knowledge) of their target language before starting the course. That being said, this course can be suitable for experienced language learners who are simply looking for interesting and innovative methods that they can apply to future languages.