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.