Here is the full transcript of One Simple Method to Learn Any Language by Scott Young & Vat Jaiswal at TEDxEastsidePrep.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: One Simple Method to Learn Any Language by Scott Young & Vat Jaiswal at TEDxEastsidePrep
Scott Young: We want to start off with a question for you. By a show of hands, how many of you have put in time and effort into learning another language? Maybe you took a high school Spanish class, or maybe you took a lot of Rosetta Stone, but you can’t confidently speak that language right now.
Vat Jaiswal: Okay. That’s most of you here. Some of you are raising both of your hands. So, we’ve tried learning a few languages ourselves, we’re going to talk about that in a minute. But let’s talk about what is the problem, what is the main issue that is holding everybody back from learning languages. Could it be that you’re using the wrong program of study, and if you were to use a perfect program or the application, then you’d be able to learn the language?
Scott Young: Well, here the track record isn’t too good. Out of the 1,000 Americans who responded to the General Social Survey, only 7 claimed that they could speak another language very well, and had actually learned it in school. And if you consider self-study programs, like Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur, well, they can work some of the time, but they have another problem: huge drop-out rates. [Inaudible] at the University of Maryland did a study that took an enthusiastic group of volunteers and found that only 6% put in more than 100 hours with the program, which is far less than what you’d need using these programs to become fluent in any language.
Vat Jaiswal: Okay, well, maybe then the problem is that you don’t live in the country that uses this language, and if you were to move there, you’d be able to learn it.
Scott Young: Well, here I have to agree with you, Vat. Living in the country that speaks the language, definitely helps. It provides motivation and an opportunity for immersion. But it’s not the answer to all of your problems. If you go to the country and you don’t yet speak the language, what are you going to do? Are you going to rely on other expats and locals who speak English to help you to get by? And that’s going to create a bubble of English, it is going to insulate you from immersing yourself.
So, we know an extreme example. We know of an American businessman who went to Korea, married a Korean woman, had children in Korea, lived in Korea for 20 years, still couldn’t have a decent conversation in Korean. So, living in the other country helps, but it is not a silver bullet that will answer all of your problems on its own.
Vat Jaiswal: Okay, well, finally maybe the problem is that you’re simply too old, and you should’ve tried learning the language as a kid because kids learn the languages faster, right?
Scott Young: This is actually a pervasive myth. Steven Brown of Einstein University and Jennifer Larson-Hall of Qiushi University reviewed the literature and found that adults actually learn languages faster than children in the short run. It’s only when we talk about reaching native-like levels of pronunciation and grammar where children start to show an upper hand over an adult. So, definitely, if you want to just be able to communicate with people, have conversations, there is no reason you can’t learn a second language at any age.
Vat Jaiswal: Okay. So if those are not the core issues, what is the core issue? We have a completely different hypothesis, and to explain this concept I want you to look at this image of the ocean. Now, if you look at the water, you’re going to see two distinct zones: zone at the bottom where the waves are breaking, and the zone at the top where the water is relatively calm.
Now, I want you to imagine you’re standing on the shore, and you want to swim out into the ocean. When you first start swimming out into the ocean, you are going to be in this first zone where the waves are breaking. And swimming in this zone is incredibly difficult, you feel this incredible resistance, the waves come crushing down on you, and they constantly try to push you back to the shore. However, if you were to push through this zone and get to the second zone, suddenly, swimming becomes a lot easier and more importantly, the waves are not trying to push you back, you no longer feel this incredible resistance.
So, we believe that language learning works very similar to this. When you first start learning a language, you’re going to be in this first zone which we call the zone of fear or the zone of frustration, because this is where you fear using the language, this is where you fear making mistakes, this is where you fear embarrassing yourself. And learning a language in this zone is very difficult: the waves represent this negative feedback and this constantly tries to push you back to the shore.
However, if you were to push past this zone and get to the second zone where the waters are calmer, suddenly language learning becomes a lot easier, and a lot more fun. Mind you, I’m not saying that you’re perfect when you reach the second zone, or maybe you only know a few words, but you’re able to use them confidently, maybe you’re able to have some simple conversations. And language learning goes from being always frustrating to now being rewarding, most of the time.