I’m a Lazy Language Learner and That’s Fine has been transcribed from Steve’s YouTube channel. You can download the audio and study the transcript as a lesson at LingQ.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann. How is everyone? Today, I’m going to talk about motivation and lazy language learning and lazy language learners and the example of a lazy language learner is me. What I mean by that is I don’t like doing anything that feels like work when I learn languages. The only time that I really worked at my language learning was when I was learning Chinese back in 1968 and there was a good reason. I was paid by my employer the Canadian Government Trade Commissioner Service to learn Chinese, so I worked at six-seven hours a day. I was paid a salary, so I did everything. I sat in class for three hours a day. I answered questions. I wrote. I did all these things. But in all the languages that I have learned on my own since then — and there’s a total of 12 — I don’t do those things. I do things that I find interesting and things that I enjoy doing.


I like to buy books on language learning because I’m always interested in content in reading. I want to be exposed to the language. But all these books… Here’s one, for example, for Czech. It’s just full of exercises. Exercises, you know? Fill in the blanks in the sentences. Connect this to that. Explain why in the story so and so visited her cousin. I never, never do those. I hate doing them and I don’t do them because I’m too lazy.


I don’t do stacks of flashcards. I flash card in a very haphazard way when I feel like doing it. I might, typically, go through a list of words before I read a lesson at LingQ, going through the words that I have already started to learn, my yellow saved links, and I go through them in flashcards. But when I do flashcards, I don’t try and scratch my head to guess at the meaning of something. I put everything on the front side of the flashcard, the word in the foreign language in Czech, what we call the hint, which is the suggested meaning, and the captured phrase. I see them on the face of the flashcard and I just go through them very quickly. It’s just exposure; I don’t try to force myself to think. I do review grammar, but again, not with the objective that I’m going to learn it. It’s just exposure, just like the flashcard is exposure. But most of my time I spend doing interesting things.


So, yeah, I’m lazy. I won’t go to class. What else don’t I like to do? What else is there, answer questions. I like to read things of interest, but I will also review beginner material. This is another thing, when I start into my beginner books, teach yourself or whatever it might be, beginner lessons at LingQ, I know that I’ll be back at those in a month, in three months, in six months and it will be easier every time.


I’m not concerned about mastering anything. I don’t try to memorize tables. I’m too lazy to try to memorize tables. I don’t read out loud. I don’t learn the International Phonetic Alphabet. I never use it. I just listen. At first, the pronunciation is difficult and there are things that I miss at first and then I get later on. There’s always this idea that we aren’t going to notice things the first time around. Well, we’ll notice them later on, so I’m quite comfortable to just let it go.


I jump around from more difficult to less difficult, different material. Wherever the spirit moves me that’s where I go, so in that sense I’m a lazy language learner. I am not a disciplined language learner. I don’t do shadowing, for example. I won’t go out there and deliberately learn 100 phrases or 300 sentences or whatever it is. I like to review phrases, specifically, examples of different patterns in the language. All of that is just a process of exposure so that, eventually, my brain is going to start to pick up on these things, but I don’t do it with any system or with any discipline because I’m, essentially, lazy. It doesn’t matter if you’re lazy. I take the path of least resistance and it doesn’t matter because I get back to the three keys to language learning success: motivation, time on task or time with the language, specifically, and developing the ability to notice.


I’m motivated to learn. Oh, tomorrow is my birthday, by the way. Anyway, today I played Old Timer’s hockey, then I went to a Korean-run Japanese restaurant and spoke a little bit of Korean with this waitress there. She said she had a friend over, they’re both 25. The friend was here in Vancouver to learn English and she was very homesick and depressed and ended up going home. She didn’t like it here. I said well, why? Why did she even come then? Is she not interested in learning the language? Well, no, she’s not very interested.


I mean if you’re not interested, you’re not going to learn. The fundamental thing is to be interested. Motivated, interested, like it, want to do it, that’s 70% of it. If you’ve got that, the details of what you do are less important. The second thing is not only am I motivated, but I spend a lot of time at it. Mostly it’s listening. Like today, I think I did the latest episode from “Jak to vidí” (How do you see) on Czech radio. I went through it on LingQ saving all the words and phrases, which then I can read later on on my iPad. While driving to hockey, I listened to some Korean because I found a Korean book.


I like to buy books. I bought this in Beijing quite a few years ago. Never got around to looking at it, but it’s not bad. So I was listening to this in the car in Korean and then, as I say, I went to lunch, chatted with the Korean waitress there for a while. In fact, that was the motivation. I wanted to get my Korean up to where I could perhaps chat her up a little bit. I did this book, then I went to the office and worked a bit and then I came home.


I like to work out the day I play my hockey. You know, get rid of the lactic acid in your legs kind of thing. So I get on my stepper and I read the Czech text that I had gone through and saved all the links from on the computer in the morning. I did that for 20 minutes and then I lifted some weights for another 20 minutes while listening to some more Czech. So that’s how I get in my language, I spend the time.


The other thing is because I am taking the initiative in all of this, I’m looking for things that help me notice. So I do review grammar. I do go back to simple dialogues. I’m always trying to pay attention when I listen and read so I start to notice the different declensions and cases in Czech and all this kind of stuff. So motivation, time with the language and learning to notice, if you do those things you can be a lazy language learner, but you have to be motivated.


If we talk about motivation, I think a lot of the things that language learners are asked to do, forced to do, the things that are pushed at them like trying to learn the declension tables, learn the conjugation tables, answering these questions, explain this in the text, why, multiple choice, I think that’s de-motivating. As I said in a recent video, in terms of motivation for a worker they found that rather than monetary reward, independence, a sense of mastery and a sense of purpose are extremely motivating.


So if a learner is allowed to choose the language, choose what to learn, choose when to learn, that’s independence. If they have this sense that they’re gradually gaining more and more mastery over the language, that’s more important than responding to a specific question from a teacher, so mastery and then purpose. That Korean girl that came to Vancouver didn’t know why she came, but at 25 I’m sure her parents weren’t paying for it. She paid her own way, presumably, to come here to study English. She’s not interested, she goes home. There has to be a sense of purpose.


So if you have those things that motivate you, you spend the time with the language and you work on developing that alertness, attentiveness, that ability to notice how the language works, that’s all you need. You can be a lazy language learner and you can still succeed.


Thank you for listening, bye for now.



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