5 Techniques to Speak Any Language by Sid Efromovich at TEDxUpperEastSide (Transcript)

And for the fourth one, we have huo, which means fire in Chinese. And we get — if you’re feeling really creative, maybe a dude doing karate… But anyways, they don’t tell you much about how these things are pronounced. And if you think it’s only one way, only if you’re going from English to a different language, think about non-native speakers. And try to explain to someone that this is pronounced though, and that this is pronounced thought. And even though they look almost identical, they have nothing to do with one another. Or try to explain to them that this is enough and that this (enuf) is just simply wrong.

See, there is nothing useful about using that foreign alphabet, when you’re trying to learn a language. Why? Because it will give you wrong signals.


So what is the second technique? Scrap it. Scrap the foreign alphabet. Let me give you an alternative of how you can go about this. This is a Brazilian currency, and it’s spelled like this. So on the count of three, can we all say the name of the currency. Real.

We have some people who know the spelling. Yeah, re-al, for the most part. And as useful as this might seem, it doesn’t tell you a single thing. And when you’re speaking Portuguese, re-al means nothing.

Let me give you an alternative. See, in Portuguese, the way that you say real is heou. So let me teach you how to say it. So on the count of three, let’s say he. So it’s hey without the y sound. So, one, two, three — he. Perfect. And now let’s say ou. It’s like ouch, but without the ch sound, so it’s ou. One, two, three, OU. Perfect.


Now you all sound like passionate Brazilian capitalists. So why would we go and use something that looks like this, that looks like real, when instead you can use something that looks like this and gives you so much more information about how to say something in a foreign language. And that puts us in a really good spot because at this point we allowed ourselves to break through our database and to make mistakes, to go into that uncharted territory of a new language. And then, we figured out how to take notations in a way that the information is actually meaningful.

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But then how can we test it? And that’s where technique number 3 comes in. Technique number 3 is about finding a stickler. So finding someone who’s detail-oriented and won’t let you to get away with the mistakes. And more than finding someone who is really that person, the guru for the language, it’s more about establishing the right sort of relationship. Relationship with someone, where they’ll correct you, they’ll feel comfortable correcting you and making sure that you’re getting to that spot you wanted in a language. But at the same time, someone who will encourage you to get things wrong and to make those mistakes in the first place. And sticklers could be your teacher, it could be your tutor, it could be a friend, it could be someone on Skype or on Craigslist; it doesn’t matter. You can find sticklers all over the place, and with technology, it becomes a lot easier find them.

And then it’s time to practice. And for practicing, we’ve got the fourth technique. See, I always thought I had this thing that was a little bit of Sid craziness that I did, and then I realized how useful it was. I always did what I like to call Shower Conversations. And shower conversations are exactly what they sound like. When I was learning a new language, I would stay in the shower for a few minutes. And I would remember having all these discussions; I remember when I was learning Chinese, and I would haggle and try to get two yuan more, to get that wonderful dumpling, and getting the discount; or I would go to Rome and I’d ask for directions to the best piazza. It was amazing.

And the beautiful thing about a shower conversation is that it allows you to find wherever you have a gap in your knowledge, because you’re having a conversation on both ends. For example, it’s easy to ask for directions, how about receiving them? Or even better, giving directions. Well, the shower conversation forces you to have both sides of the conversation. And you don’t need to have them in the shower. The wonderful thing about them as well is that you can have them anywhere. So you can have them in the shower, in your apartment, walking down the streets, in the subway, and seriously, if you’re in the subway, speaking to yourself in a foreign language in New York, you’ll fit right in. You’re fine. And it’s great, because you don’t depend on anything or anyone to get your practice, and I did this for years. And later on I found out that professional athletes do, too. Michael Phelps is known to visualize every single one of his races, several times over, before jumping in the water. Worked great for him, and it works great for me, too, so it would work for you as well.

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And now let’s go to using the language. Because up to now, it’s great, we’ve figured out how to do all these things, and that puts us in a really good position to use the language, and for that I recommend you find a conversation buddy. And to find a conversation buddy, I recommend you follow what I call The Buddy Formula. And that is a way that you can make sure that your incentives are always aligned to use the new language. So for that is, the target language should be your best language in common.

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