Is Tim Ferriss’ Deconstructing Method a Better Way to Learn a Language 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. Today I want to talk — again following up on the recent videos that I’ve made — about thinking in the language and how it’s very difficult to judge when we in fact think in the language or to figure out when we increase our ability to think in the language rather than to translate. I’ve done videos about the fact that we don’t learn a language as much as we get used to a language and someone brought to my attention a video by a man called Tim Ferriss (Tim or Tom, Tim Ferriss I think it is) who talks about deconstructing a language and his secret to learning a language quickly. So I want to talk a little bit about that and refer sort of to my own experience.


Tim Ferriss has a list of I think nine or 12 sentences that he uses in order to deconstruct a language. I have an apple. I give you an apple. This is my apple. I eat the apple. Things of this nature. You can easily find it. In fact, I’ll put a link in the description box to one of the videos because I kind of looked him up. People brought him to my attention and I had been aware of him perhaps as much as 10 years ago. I think I even did a video on him and then I’d forgotten about it.


So these 12 sentences to him represent basically what you need to know about a language. In other words, you deconstruct the language. I think he actually had a video at one point that said learn any language in an hour or learn about a language, implying that this is somehow a shortcut to learning the language.


Well, my view is that these 12 sentences or however many they are is a good idea. I think now with modern technology I would take these 12 sentences or another 20 sentences and put them into Google Translate and get them translated into the language you’re learning. If you’re on LingQ import them into LingQ. Learn the words and a lot of the basic word order and how negatives are structured, how questions are structured, how pronouns are used, whether adjectives come before or after the verb. All of this stuff you will see some examples of it, which is not bad. However, I think we need to be realistic as to how much this helps you.


My biggest struggle when learning a language is acquiring words, thousands and thousands of words. So 12 sentences where a lot of the same words repeat is not helping me acquire lots of vocabulary; however, it is useful. In the mini-stories that we have at LingQ a lot of the basic structures of the language do in fact appear repeatedly so that we can start getting used to them. Just knowing what they are is not the same as getting used to the structures of a new language and learning a language is largely a matter of acquiring new habits, getting used to a new way of saying things, including learning the words and phrases, phrases which very often embody the grammar of the language. Sometimes, if we’re interested, we’ll look up the underlying grammar rules which, at least in my case, I quickly forget, but by being exposed to enough of the language over enough time I get used to it.


The most common sort of structures and the basic word order, how questions are asked and how negatives are structured, we encounter that very early. So in that sense it may not really be necessary to take these 12 sentences and learn them or study them or memorize them; however, there’s no harm in doing that. What he suggests is that this gives you on one sheet of paper or one screen a certain range of structures, but it’s not the full range of structures. If we’re talking 12 sentences where you’re trying to cover pronouns, verbs, present and future there’s lots of different past tenses in some languages. There can be some continuous. There can be subjunctive. There could be literary in the language. There can be so many different things that you don’t cover.


The second thing as part of this whole getting used to the language is I always find that when first confronted with a structure in a new language I don’t necessarily believe that that’s how they say it. It’s like my friend who is studying Chinese with me. When we discovered that in order to say are you going they say [Insert Chinese], you go. Really, they say that? Like in Russian, one year is [Insert Russian], two, three or four years is [Insert Russian] and five and more is [Insert Russian]. When you first come across this it’s like are you serious? That’s what they do? Yet, after awhile all of these little aspects of the language with enough exposure we start to get used to it.


What I wanted to say on this is that it can be helpful to take Tim Ferriss’ 12 sentences and translate them. Of course if it’s in another writing system… Even in the Latin alphabet if I were to do this say in Finnish, which I don’t know at all, just to see 12 Finnish sentences where I don’t know what any of the words mean doesn’t necessarily do a lot for me. Not to mention if we’re talking about say Arabic where I can’t even read it if I’m new to the language. So it is there, it can help us, but to me it’s not a significant secret to speeding up the process of language learning.


I should point out, by the way, that I have heard Tim Ferriss speak a number of languages and he speaks them very well. Everyone has their own favorite thing they do that they believe helps them learn languages better. They enjoy doing them and, therefore, they’re effective for them. I just feel that as a general statement learning a language is such a gradual process of getting acclimatized to a new linguistic environment that just knowing 12 sentences, certain basic structures, word order, negatives, question marks, doesn’t take you a long way into the language because, actually, to be good a language you need a lot of words and as I constantly say that requires a lot of listening and reading and eventually using the language.


Maybe when you go to use it to refresh your memory you can go to these 12 sample sentences and it might help you. But, again, when speaking I don’t think you’d want to be referring back to a particular list of sample sentences. You want to be relying on the fact that you’ve had so much listening and reading that certain patterns and structures in the language just come out naturally in the form of words and phrases that you have basically absorbed.


So there you have it, my take on Tim Ferris deconstructing a language in order learn it. Thank you for listening, bye for now.


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