Chris Lonsdale is the managing director of Chris Lonsdale & Associates. He has developed a unique and integrated approach to learning that gives people the means to acquire language or complex technical knowledge in a short period of time.
- Have you ever wondered for so long that it became part of your thinking? Maybe part of you as a person? For many years, one question has interested me: How do you speed up the learning process?
It's a very interesting question, because if you can do it, you spend less time in a learning institution. And if the learning process is fast enough, perhaps you don't need to attend them at all.
When I was young, educational institutions were good, but I often found that they got in the way of my studies. I was very young, I was 11 years old, I wrote a letter to Soviet researchers about hypnopaedia, or sleep learning, i.e. you put a tape recorder next to your bed, it goes on in the middle of the night when you sleep, and you learn through sleep. It's a good idea, but unfortunately it doesn't work.
Also, hypnopedia does not allow for research in other areas, and it is unlikely that we can find anything new by starting there.
But I continued to pursue it until I came to psychology, and I have had to return to it many times throughout my life and still do.
In 1981 I went to China and decided that after two years I would speak Chinese like a native.
You have to understand that in 1981 everyone thought that Chinese was a very, very difficult language, that people from the West could learn it for more than 10 years but would never be able to speak it well.
But I started to teach it and I had a lot of ideas, with all the insights from psychology that are still valid today, and I put them into the learning process.
The great thing is that after 6 months I was fluent in North Chinese.
It took a little longer to reach native level. I looked around and saw that people from different countries were "fighting" with Chinese, and the Chinese were "fighting" with English and other languages. Only one question stuck in my mind: How can I help an adult learn a new language quickly, easily and efficiently? This question is very, very important today.
We have a lot of problems with our environment, social dislocation, wars and more, but if we can't communicate, we will have great difficulty in solving all these problems.
So, we have to be able to speak each other's languages, and this is very, very important. Then the question arises: how to do it? Well, it is quite simple.
Look at people who already speak other languages, look at situations where they speak other languages, then pick out the principles and apply them. It's called modelling, and I've been observing and modelling language learning for 15-20 years. My observations are that any adult can learn a second language and speak it fluently in 6 months. Now when I said that, most people thought I was crazy and that it was impossible.
Well, let me remind everyone of the history of human progress. It is about pushing the limits.
In 1950 everyone thought running a mile in 4 minutes was impossible, but Roger Bannister did it in 1956 and the results have been getting better ever since.
100 years ago everyone thought heavy objects wouldn't fly. But they do fly, and we know it. How do heavy objects fly? We are transforming the principles of using materials that we knew from observing nature, in this case birds. And so far, humanity has advanced even further... We have advanced so far that you can fly in cars. You can buy a couple of these for $100,000. And here we are flying cars all over the world.
There is also another way of flying, which we borrowed from squirrels. All we have to do is replicate what a flying squirrel does, i.e. create a suit, a suit with wings, and that's it, you can fly like a squirrel.
Now most people, but I wouldn't say all, but a lot of people think they can't draw. However, there are 5 key principles which, if you apply them, you will learn how to draw in virtually 5 days. If you draw, so learn these 5 principles in 5 days and you will be able to apply them and draw something cool. When I drew my first drawing after 5 days, I looked at it and said: "Wow, this is what I look like when I concentrate hard on something and it blows my mind".
Anyone can learn to draw in 5 days, and so can anyone learn a foreign language in 6 months. There could be more, but these are the main ones. And before I get to them, I want to tell you 2 myths. Or rather, I want to dispel them.
The first is that you must have talent. I'll tell you about Zoe. Let me tell you about Zoe.
Zoe moved from Australia to Holland and tried to learn Dutch, she tried desperately and for a long time, and eventually people started telling her "You're totally hopeless!", "You have no talent!", "Give it up!", "You're just wasting your time!" and she got depressed. Then she understood these 5 principles, moved to Brazil and used them, and in 6 months she was already fluent in Portuguese. So talent is not important.
People also think that immersion in a new country is the way to learn a language. But look at Hong Kong, look at all those people from the West who have lived there for 10 years and don't know a word of Chinese. Look at all those Chinese people living in America, Britain, Australia, Canada for 10-20 years who don't speak English. Immersion itself doesn't work. Why? Because a drowning person will not learn to swim.
If you don't speak the language, you're like a child. And if you get into an environment where everything sounds incomprehensible to you, you will not learn. And what are these principles that you have to pay attention to?
4 concepts: attention, meaning, importance and memory, and the connection between them is very important, especially when talking about the learning process.
Well, let's take a trip through a dark forest. You're walking through a forest and you see something... Small marks on a tree, maybe you pay attention to them, maybe not. You walk another 50 meters and you see something else... You must have been paying attention. Another 50 metres, if you weren't already paying attention, you saw footprints ... and this time you paid attention. And you realised it was important.
It is meaningful to you because these footprints mean bear, and it is relevant to you and contains information related to your rescue, something inconspicuous, but which you paid attention to, and so you will remember it. If it is related to your personal goals, you will pay attention to it. If it is important, you will remember it.
So the first rule, the first principle in language learning: focus your attention on what is important to you.
What leads us to the tools. We master tools by using them, and we learn how to use them if we need them.
I will tell you my story.
The keyboard is a tool. To type in Chinese, you need a certain way, and there are many methods for that. And the keyboard is a tool for that.
I had a colleague many years ago who took classes at night; on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and practiced at home for two hours every day. After spending 6 months on it, she never learned how to type in Chinese.
One day the critical moment came. We had 48 hours to finish the tutorial in Chinese. She got the assignment, and I can tell you that after 48 hours she was able to type in Chinese, because it was meaningful and important, she was using the tool to her advantage.
The second principle
The second principle of learning a foreign language is to use the language as a way to communicate from day one. Like children do.
When I first came to China, I couldn't speak a word of Chinese, but after a week I was able to take an overnight train ride. I spent eight hours in the dining car talking to one of the train conductors. He was interested in me for some reason and we chatted all night in Chinese. He would draw or indicate with gestures or facial expressions. And step by step I understood him more and more.
But what was really cool was that two weeks later, when people around me were speaking Chinese, I could understand some of what they were saying, but I hadn't even made any effort to learn it.
How did this happen? I absorbed it all that night on the train. Which brings us to the third principle
The third principle
If you understand what you're being told, you begin to master the language unconsciously. And it's even documented and called "comprehensible input". This phenomenon has been researched for 20-30 years.
Stephen Krashen, a researcher in this field, has published many different scientific papers, and this is one of them. The columns show the scores on various language tests.
The people in the purple set learnt the language using grammar and the traditional way, the people in the green set learnt the language using the comprehension input method.
So, comprehension works.
Understanding is the key, and learning a language is not collecting a lot of knowledge. In many, many cases it is physiological training.
I know a woman from Taiwan who was excellent at English at school. She was getting excellent all the time, after getting a top grade in college, she went to the US and found she couldn't understand what people were talking about at all. And people started asking her, "Are you deaf?" And she was. Deaf to the English language.
This is because we have filters in our brains that filter out all the sounds we know, and filter out all the sounds of the language that we don't know. If you can't hear them, you won't understand them. If you cannot understand them, you will not learn them. That is, you must be able to hear these sounds.
There are ways to do this, but it is physiological training. The process of speaking engages the muscles.
We have 43 facial muscles, and we have to coordinate all these muscles in such a way that we produce sounds that others can understand. If you take up a new sport, how do you feel? Does your whole body hurt? If your face hurts, you're doing it right.
And the last principle is state
Psychophysiological state. If you're sad, you're angry, anxious, upset, you can't learn the language, full stop. If you are happy, relaxed, curious and your brain is in an active state, then the learning process will go very quickly, and you should be especially tolerant of ambiguous expressions.
If you are someone who needs to understand 100% of the incoming information and every word you hear, then you will go crazy because you will be incredibly frustrated by not being perfect.
If you feel OK about understanding a little bit there and a little bit there, then just pay attention to what you understand. You should be in good spirits, relaxed, and then you will learn faster.
Based on the 5 principles, what are the 7 actions you should take?
One: listen a lot.
I call it brainwashing. You create a situation for yourself where you listen to tons, tons of information in the language, whether you understand it or not. You listen to the rhythm, the language patterns that are repeated, you listen to the highlights in the speech. You just fill your brain with it.
The second action is to catch the meaning before you've even heard all the words.
You say, "How am I going to do that? I don't know the words!" Well, you have to understand what the different postures mean. Human communication is in many cases body language, even mostly body language. With body language you can understand a lot of your communication, so you begin to understand and master the language using the comprehensible input method.
You can also use language patterns that you already know. If you are a native speaker of a language such as North Chinese or Cantonese and you go to Vietnam, you will understand 60% of what the locals say at home because Vietnamese is made up of 30% North Chinese and 30% Cantonese.
Third action: start mixing
You may never have thought about it, but if you know 10 verbs, 10 nouns and 10 adjectives, you can say 1,000 different sentences. Language is a creative process.
What do toddlers do? "Me", "Bath", "Now". That's how they communicate.
So mix it up, get creative, have fun with it, it doesn't have to be perfect, it has to work. And when you do that, you focus on the essentials. What does that mean?
Any language is frequent repetition of content.
In English, 1,000 words makes up 85% of all the things you use in everyday speech. 3 000 words gives you 98% of all the things you use in everyday speech. If you know 3 000 words, you speak the language. And then there is more. When you start learning a new language, start with a box of tools.
In the new language, you say sentences like, "How do you say this?", "I don't understand", "Repeat please", "What does it mean?" All in the language you want to learn. You use language as a tool to your advantage. But it's also important to learn more about the language.
In week 2 you should already be saying: "me", "it", "you", "this", "give", "you know", "hot", simple pronouns, nouns, verbs, simple adjectives, i.e. talk like a child.
In the third or fourth week, you should move on to conjunction words. "Although", "but", "therefore", they logically link sentences, allowing you to put more complex meaning into them. And at this stage, you will speak.
If you are going to follow this, you should surround yourself with language parents. If you have observed how parents communicate with their children, you will know what this means. When a child speaks, they use simple words, phrases, something strange sounding, people who do not live with them do not understand them.
But parents do understand.
So the child is in a safe environment and becomes confident. Parents talk to their children with body language and simple language, and they know that the child understands them. As a result, we have a safe environment for the comprehensible input method and we know that it works; otherwise none of you would be speaking your mother tongue.
Surround yourself with language parents who will be interested in you as a person and who will communicate with you as equals, but will make sure that you understand the message they want to convey to you. There are four rules for such "parents". Spouses don't really qualify for this, okay?
The 4 rules
First of all, they do a very hard job of trying to understand what you mean, especially when you are pointing your finger in the sky.
Secondly, they never correct your mistakes.
Thirdly, they go back to what they have understood from your speech and you can respond accordingly and refer to what they have said, as they will use words you know.
Fourth rule: Repeat facial movements. You need to get your muscles working properly so that you can pronounce the sounds correctly and people will understand you. There are several ways to do this.
One: You hear what it sounds like and feel what it feels like, which means that you have memories which allow your face to move. But if you can look at a native speaker and just watch their face move, this allows you to subconsciously absorb the rules, you only have to internalise them.
If you don't have the opportunity to watch a native speaker, you can use this kind of material...
And the last thing you have to do is "direct contact". What does that mean?
Simply, most people who learn a language learn words in a foreign language by memorizing them over and over again in their native language, they repeat them to memorize them. But this is inefficient.
You have to realise, everything you know is a reflection of your inner world, of your feelings. If you talk about fire, you can feel the smoke, you can hear the crackling, you can see the flames.
All you do is turn to your imagination and memory and come out the other way from there. I call it 'the same box but a different way out'.
You follow that path and build it up over time. You have more and more ability to link new sounds with the images you already have, into an internal representation. And over time you will become even more free in this process, it will become unconscious.
So, there are 5 principles and 7 actions which you have to use.
If you follow some of them, you will improve your skills. Remember: it is under your control.
Follow all of them and in 6 months you will be fluent in a foreign language