Chris Lonsdale – Managing Director, Chris Lonsdale & Associates
The people in the back, can you hear me clearly? Okay, good.
Have you ever held a question in mind for so long that it becomes part of how you think? Maybe even part of who you are as a person?
Well I’ve had a question in my mind for many, many years and that is: How can you speed up learning? Now, this is an interesting question because if you speed up learning, you can spend less time at school. And if you learn really fast, you probably wouldn’t have to go to school at all.
Now, when I was young, school was sort of okay but…I found quite often that school got in the way of learning so I had this question in mind: How do you learn faster? And this began when I was very, very young, when I was 11 years old, I wrote a letter to researchers in the Soviet Union, asking about hypnopaedia, this is sleep-learning, where you get a tape recorder, you put it beside your bed and it turns on in the middle of the night when you’re sleeping, and you’re supposed to be learning from this. A good idea. Unfortunately it doesn’t work.
But hypnopaedia did open the doors to research in other areas and we’ve had incredible discoveries about learning that began with that first question. I went on from there to become passionate about psychology and I have been involved in psychology in many different ways for the rest of my life up until this point.
In 1981, I took myself to China and I decided that I was going to be native level in Chinese inside two years. Now, you need to understand that in 1981, everybody thought Chinese was really, really difficult and that a Westerner could study for 10 years or more and never really get very good at it. And I also went in with a different idea which was: taking all of the conclusions from psychological research up to that point and applying them to the learning process.
What was really cool was that in six months I was fluent in Mandarin Chinese and it took a little bit longer to get up to native. But I looked around and I saw all of these people from different countries struggling terribly with Chinese, I saw Chinese people struggling terribly to learn English and other languages.
And so my question got refined down to: How can you help a normal adult learn a new language quickly, easily and effectively? Now this is a really, really important question in today’s world. We have massive challenges with environment, we have massive challenges with social dislocation, with wars, all sorts of things going on. And if we can’t communicate, we’re really going to have difficulty solving these problems. So we need to be able to speak each other’s languages, this is really, really important.
The question then is: How do you do that? Well, it’s actually really easy. You look around for people who can already do it, you look for situations where it’s already working and then you identify the principles and apply them. It’s called modelling and I’ve been looking at language learning and modelling language learning for about 15 to 20 years now. And my conclusion, my observation from this is that any adult can learn a second language to fluency inside six months.
Now when I say this, most people think I’m crazy, this is not possible. So let me remind everybody of the history of human progress, it’s all about expanding our limits.
In 1950, everybody believed that running one mile in four minutes was impossible, and then Roger Bannister did it in 1956 and from there it’s got shorter and shorter. 100 years ago everybody believed that heavy stuff doesn’t fly. Except it does and we all know this.
How does heavy stuff fly? We reorganize the material using principles that we have learned from observing nature, birds in this case. And today we’ve gone even further… We’ve gone even further, so you can fly a car. You can buy one of these for a couple $100,000. We now have cars in the world that fly. And there’s a different way to fly which we’ve learned from squirrels. So all you need to do is copy what a flying squirrel does, build a suit called a wing suit and off you go, you can fly like a squirrel.
Now most people, a lot of people, I wouldn’t say everybody but a lot of people think they can’t draw. However there are some key principles, five principles, that you can apply to learning to draw and you can actually learn to draw in five days. So, if you draw like this, you learn these principles for five days and apply them and after five days you can draw something like this.
Now I know this is true because that was my first drawing and after five days of applying these principles that was what I was able to do. And I looked at this and I went: “Wow, so that’s how I look like when I’m concentrating so intensely that my brain is exploding.”
So, anybody can learn to draw in five days and in the same way, with the same logic, anybody can learn a second language in six months. How? There are five principles and seven actions. There may be a few more but these are absolutely core.
And before I get into those I just want to talk about two myths, I want to dispel two myths. The first is that you need talent. Let me tell you about Zoe. Zoe came from Australia, went to Holland, was trying to learn Dutch, struggling extremely, extremely… a great deal and finally people were saying: “You’re completely useless, you’re not talented, give up, “you’re a waste of time” and she was very, very depressed. And then she came across these five principles, she moved to Brazil and she applied them and in six months she was fluent in Portuguese, so talent doesn’t matter.
People also think that immersion in a new country is the way to learn a language. But look around Hong Kong, look at all the westerners who’ve been here for 10 years, who don’t speak a word of Chinese. Look at all the Chinese living in America, Britain, Australia, Canada have been there 10, 20 years and they don’t speak any English. Immersion per se does not work. Why? Because a drowning man cannot learn to swim.