How to learn any language easily | Matthew Youlden | TEDxClapham


Translator: Hoa Pham
Reviewer: Denise RQ Learning a language can feel
a bit like rocket science, something out of this world
and out of reach for the vast majority of us. This isn’t a belief, however, just held by
many English monolinguals on our island. It’s also shared
by many of our linguistic cousins further afield, say,
in the United States or Australia. Let’s be honest: when it comes to learning languages
or speaking them, we are the kind of people
that likes to think we’re fluent in a multitude
of diverse languages such as Geordie, Kiwi, Cockney,
or what about Canadian? Don’t get me wrong. I’m very, very proud
of my Mancunian heritage, but I wouldn’t suggest
it’s a separate language just yet. After all, we don’t need subtitles when we are watching
Coronation Street, now do we? Although I can see you two saying, “I do.” (Laughter) Yet, despite this, if you were
to cross the Channel, or say, if you’re feeling
slightly more adventurous, cross the Severn Estuary into Wales, there you would find that speaking another language
or being bilingual is simply a reality. Yet, there and further afield, many are still convinced of the fact this is a long, challenging,
somewhat painful, and dare I say, daunting task. In this room of 100 people, I’d guess that at least 15 other languages
are spoken besides English. In fact, the last census of 2011 revealed
that a staggering 22% of Londoners – that’s 22%, one in four, almost – speak another language at home
apart from English. I myself, even as a Mancunian,
speak approximately 20 languages, and of those,
around half I speak fluently. And the question I get asked
by people the most is, “Why?” (Laughter) Well, the answer, for me
at least, is rather simple. I’m convinced learning languages, any language
per Se, is actually easy. And I want to show you how. As a linguist, a polyglot, and a lecturer, I know what it entails
to learn and study a language. And one of the biggest obstacles we’re faced [with]
when learning are myths. And I genuinely believe
that we have to debunk them. In order to remember
these more effectively, I came up with the nice
and friendly sounding acronym D.I.E. (Laughter) which funnily enough, if you write it out
not pronounce, if you write it out, it’s one of the words for ‘the’ in German. Myth number one: learning a language
is simply too difficult. I will never be able to
speak another language quite like the language I was born with. Technically, you’re not born
with a language. All of us here could have ended up,
with say, Japanese as our first language. We were simply surrounded
or immersed in the language generally from a very early age. There are people, however,
out there – many of them, in fact – who started to learn a language,
the second or maybe even the third, much later on in life. And guess what? They’re now completely fluent
in this language or these other languages even perhaps more so
than in their so-called mother tongue. Why is this? Because there is no cutoff date by which you have to have learned
another language. Think about how many people
you know who say, “Ugh! My kids are doing French in school.
I really want them to become fluent. But I can’t, no way, it’s impossible. I should’ve simply paid more attention
when I was at school.” Well, studies reveal that whilst children
generally are much faster at picking up a new language
than people older than them, it’s actually us – you can just
breathe as a sign of relief – It’s us, the adults, who are
more effective at learning them. Why is this? Because we have
the experience of learning. We know how to learn already. Myth number two:
languages are simply irrelevant. I don’t need to learn
another language at all. And as we hear,
and unfortunately hear quite a lot – I was going to do in a cockney accent,
but I won’t do it at all. I’ll spare myself
the embarrassment of doing that – languages …
everyone speaks English, anyway. Well, besides the obvious benefits
of speaking another language – for example, financial benefits
and mental benefits, i.e., better pay, more job opportunities,
keeping us mentally fit, and actually helping to stave off
neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s- there are real hidden gems we can discover
when we speak another language. How about getting an upgrade
on your hotel room, as was recently the case with my uncle
before going to Turkey on holiday? He asked me if I could send him over a few phrases and greetings
in the language that he could try out in the hotel. Turns up, caught over this suitcase, throws out a few sentences in Turkish, and bam!, he’s given an upgrade
on his hotel room straight away. (Laughter) You might not always get
an upgrade on your hotel room. I can’t promise you this. However, I can promise
that you maybe just maybe, through another language,
will meet the love of your life. We all remember Jamie from Love Actually
learning Portuguese for Aurélia. And in fact, almost one in ten Brits
is married to someone who was born overseas. Furthermore, the Guardian
reported on research showing that people who are able to
speak two languages or more better adapt or are better equipped
at dealing with problems, that they’re better at multitasking
and prioritizing tasks. This is definitely a much
sought-after skill in our day and age when all of us appeared
to be glued to our phones. I wonder how many people now
who’re watching this will be glued to their phones, and how many are
actually going to bilingual? Myth number three: you have to be an expat and be in a place
where the language is constantly spoken, even to just get a grasp of the language. There’s no harm in simply packing up and moving to a village
in the middle of nowhere, but it’s not actually necessary. Now the great unknown: my brother and I –
I’ll leave you to decide who’s who; he’s actually my twin brother – my brother and I whilst being based
in Berlin, Germany, decided to undertake the challenge
of learning Turkish in just seven days. We decided to undertake the challenge
of learning Turkish in just seven days in order to show what you can do
by simply putting your mind to it. I’m not saying we all need to be going out there
and learning a language in a week nor that it’s actually possible to learn absolutely everything there is
in such a short space of time. I can assure you, it isn’t. Perfection isn’t the goal here. The goal, however, is to get
as good as we possibly can in a particular language,
in the shortest time possible. This means to the dismay of school teachers
all throughout the globe, “Take shortcuts.” The best thing about these shortcuts is we can apply them to any language
that we would like to learn. And furthermore, they’re so simple,
you might be left thinking at the end, “Why didn’t I think of that?” So let’s take a look at these shortcuts. Number one: analyze the similarities,
focus on similar elements. As speakers of English, we already know so much
about other languages, given the fact that our language itself,
essentially, is a Germanic language with the wealth
of influences and vocabulary from a multitude of different languages
as diverse as Latin, Hebrew, or Hindi. Doing this will help develop
patterns in the language and also will help us to guess the meaning
and formation of words and things that we don’t yet know. As you see in this slide, for example, we can see how closely related English is
to fellow other Germanic languages and even to languages that are,
in this case, Romance languages, despite the fact that English is
a Germanic language essentially. Shortcut number two: keep it simple. At first sight, you might think
you’re learning a language that doesn’t have that much
in common with our own, but by focusing on easy elements,
we will be able to learn it much quickly because every language
has easy elements to it. Some languages only have
two or three tenses. For example, you end up saying
‘I had,’ in this one form, for ‘I had,’I have had,’
and ‘I had had,’ and ‘I am’ also can be
‘I will be’ and ‘I would be.’ In other cases,
if we look at, for example, German, we have a case of advanced vocabulary that is derived from
a few simple words or verbs. In this case, we have
the verb ‘sprechen’ which is ‘to speak,’ which has now gone on and lent itself to become ‘besprechen’ – to discuss,
‘entsprechen’ – to correspond, ‘versprechen’ and ‘absprechen,’
and so on, and so on. Shortcut number three: keep it relevant. Especially at the beginning
of our process, we need to make sure
that it’s relevant to us. Not everyone is learning German in order to discuss business
with colleagues in Berlin. Think about this. As speakers of English, we don’t know every single word
in the Oxford English Dictionary. So why should we fret about remembering every single word
we encounter in the new language? We simply have to make it relevant
to our own specific situation right now. When it comes to learning a language,
perhaps the most crucial element is time. And by time, I don’t mean
years upon years of endless learning as some people still like to think. How long does it take to learn a language? How about if I were to tell you that 30 minutes per day
are a great and effective start? Thirty minutes – these are
minutes we all have. Be ten in the morning,
ten in the afternoon, ten in the evening,
or 30 minutes in simply one go on the way to work,
to university, to school, out in the evening, meeting friends,
whilst we are on the train or bus. We all have all these minutes
that we can commit to learn. Furthermore, by learning for
smaller periods and regular intervals, we won’t feel so overwhelmed
by the language. And even better, learning for regular periods
means that it’s more effective, because chances are that if you’re learning for
once a week or once a fortnight, by the time you next come to learn, you’ll already have forgotten
what you initially learned. The goal therefore is to fit language learning
into our daily routines and not the other way around. And by doing this, there’s no reason
why after simply one month, you can’t get by in your new language. These active forms of learning,
we need to compliment them with what I’d like to refer to
as passive forms of learning. Having breakfast: switch the radio on
and listen to a station in the language, become acquainted
with the music of the language. The music will not only help you
get used to the sounds, to the intonation, and to the rhythm but the words you’ll hear
will also help you associate them; because you know the songs, and you’ll be able to
associate them with these songs, thus expanding our vocabulary. Had a hard day? Treat yourself to a TV series
or a film in the language, and put subtitles on, in English, and then, others can join
and watch with you as well. We all know how everyone
seems to be going crazy about this Scandinavian TV crime series
at the moment – some of which have been
dubbed into English; keep it original. By doing this, this will get you off to a great start to go on and to actually
master your language. There are three rules, I like to refer to them
as the golden rules of language learning, that each and everyone of us
should be doing when going about learning a language. The first rule is – wait for it – the first rule is live the language, speak it, read it, write it, dream in it, sing it even; sing to yourself. My brother and I
when we started learning Greek, we decided to write songs in the language. Don’t worry, I’m not about
to embarrass my brother, and I certainly won’t be singing
for you all this morning. That said,
in order to master the language, you have to make it yours,
own the language. So why not put your phone or computer
in the language you’re learning? Number two: make mistakes. Yes, you heard me correctly. Make as many as you want. Why? Because we learn by making mistakes. It’s actually the only way
we can get things right. As children, we’re even
expected to make them. But as adults, we are apprehensive
because they make us feel vulnerable. Admitting from the beginning we don’t know absolutely everything
there is to know about this new language will not prevent us from learning it. Furthermore, it will actually give us
the freedom to go on and to master it. So go forth and make
as many mistakes as you like. The last rule, and this is the most important one,
and this is essential: make it fun. Grammar rules aren’t always fun. I mean, I love grammar, but I understand that not everyone
is so enthusiastic about it; not sure why, though. But remember,
whatever you can do in English, you can do in any other language, so make it fun. And actually, by making it fun,
by making the process entertaining, you’re helping yourself stay motivated. And the more motivated you are,
the better your chances are of succeeding. So go out and let
your creative juices flow. The best thing as well is why not try and get people,
other people, involved? Say, colleagues, friends, and turn it
into a small, friendly competition. Actually, studies show
if you get a friendly competition going, that your chances of
succeeding are much better, and they enhance your performance. Languages are often perceived
to be the great unknown. We like to think of them
as something unfamiliar, and yet, we know so much about them because all human languages have
their own peculiar yet beautiful ways of expressing ideas,
concepts, and reality, even if we’re not aware of it at first. By now delving into the unknown
and realizing the familiar, we will be able to master one of the most fulfilling, rewarding,
and efficient skills we possess as humans: human communication. And who could resist
wanting to learn a language with these linguistic pearls? The first one would be,
as you say in French, (French) Ayez Les dents longues,
(English) which is ‘be ambitious.’ It literally means, however,
‘have long teeth.’ (Laughter) Mine aren’t that long. I’d like to wish you all in Italian (Italian) In bocca al lupo,
(English) which is ‘good luck,’ but literally means
‘into the mouth of the wolf.’ (Laughter) And finally, as we say in Ukrainian, (Ukrainian) Skilʹky mov ty znayesh –
stilʹky raziv ty lyudyna, (English) which means “The more languages you know,
the more people you are.” Enjoy learning a new language. (Applause)

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