Language learning and golf

There is a well known book on golf called “Golf is not a Game of Perfect” by Bob Rotella (available from Amazon) which points out that striving for perfection in golf will simply make players too nervous and uptight to really improve. If players enjoy the game every time out, they are more likely to improve. Language is a bit like that as I pointed out in my book, The Linguist, A Language Learning Odyssey, also available from Amazon.

In golf most teachers emphasize using the large muscles of the back, hips and thighs, rather than the small muscles in the wrists and hands. The large muscles are more stable, easier to control and give stability to the golf swing. The wrists and hands can come later. In many cases they take care of themselves if the big muscles work properly.

Language is similar.To me the big muscles of language learning are the important words and phrases. The key words that describe people, things, and actions. The small muscles are the details of articles, prepositions, verb or noun endings etc. Unless you have the big pieces in place, the little pieces do not matter.?? You can communicate well with a big vocabulary of words and phrases without knowing much about the smaller details.

Many textbooks, however, focus on the small details. My Russian text starts right in with talking about the genitive and dative case and when they are used. The book introduces different tenses and other rules. I just ignore them. If I can learn the words for the key people, things, and actions, that is all I need for now. If I learn the nouns and verbs as parts of phrases that I start to recognize, the little pieces will slowly fall into place. If I read and listen a lot my language will become more and more natural.

But I need to continue listening, reading, observing the language and reviewing words and phrases. I must not just think I have reached my level of competence in the language and then stagnate in the?? language as so many people do.

If I keep listening and reading and learning I can continue to ignore the rules, drills and questions and still improve, all the while enjoying my studies, without any pressure to be perfect.

Closing the loop

Click here to hear the podcast of this post.

One of the important advantages of The Linguist system is its integrated nature. At The Linguist you listen, read, review words and phrases, write and speak. All of these activities reinforce each other.

The more you make all parts of your learning work together, the better you will learn. Here are some tips for using The Linguist system in order to become familiar with words and phrases:

1)?? ???? ??When you read or hear words and short phrases that you want to learn to use, write them down on a piece of paper. When you are next at your computer write simple sentences using these new words and phrases.

a.?? ???? ?? Submit these sentences for correction in WRITE, even if you have only written two or three sentences.

b.?? ???? ??After your sentences have been corrected by your tutor,


and PASTE the corrected text into Imported Content section in the READ area.

c.?? ???? ?? Now you can save words and phrases from this text. This will create new example sentences in the Words I am Learning and Phrases I am Learning sections of the REVIEW area.

d.?? ???? ??You can also import your sentences directly into the Imported Content area without submitting them for correction first.

e.?? ???? ?? You could also try Googling new words and expressions and importing whole paragraphs into the Imported Content area.

f.?? ???? ???? You can then treat this content like any other imported content and use them to systematically increase your familiarity with important vocabulary that matters to you.

2)?? ???? ??When you have an online discussion with your tutor you will receive some corrected words and phrases from your tutor. The tutor types these words and phrases in the Chat box.

a.?? ???? ?? Write some short sentences using these words and phrases

b.?? ???? ??Import these sentences into the Imported Content area, just as described here above.

c.?? ???? ?? You may have these sentences corrected first or not. It is up to you.

d.?? ???? ??The point is to create more examples of these words and phrases in use. These example sentences will come from The Linguist content that you are listening to and reading.

3)?? ???? ??Whenever you have any writing corrected by your tutor in the WRITE area, make sure you read the corrected text out loud five times. This will reinforce your learning and help you with pronunciation

a.?? ???? ?? Then


and PASTE your corrected texts into the Imported Content section of the READ area.

b.?? ???? ??You are now ready to save words and phrases and create more example sentences that will help you remember these new words and phrases.

Why Russian?

Nangpan asks me why I have started learning Russian. First of all?? I have always wanted to learn it, just as I want to learn Arabic and Hindi one day, and maybe eventually Turkish and Swahili.

But why now? We are redoing The Linguist system and I wanted the experience of starting another language from scratch to see what I can learn about learning. I believe some of my experiences with different Russian learning systems can help us develop an even better Linguist system.

As to the father and son at the Sushi counter last night, they were Korean. They were customers at the Japanese restaurant. Nangpan asked how they reacted to my speaking to them in Korean. The son was interested and the father not so much.

In my experience, amongst Asian people, the Chinese are the most pleased to hear you speak their language. I believe they would like to see a greater international role for Chinese, perhaps a little bit like the French with their language. The Chinese are also quite willing to chat with people they do not know. I have always found it easy to strike up spontaneous and casual conversations with Chinese people I meet in my travels.

The Japanese react in a friendly way when I speak to them in Japanese, but are not so impressed, since they are more used to foreigners speaking their language perhaps. I also find that the Japanese, especially the younger ones, have an easier time dealing with a foreigner as just another human being. With the Chinese I meet I often feel a certain tension as they are concerned about the relative position of their culture or national group vis a vis others. What I call the “cultural ego” is stronger with Chinese people, particularly those from the Mainland.

The Koreans I find the most closed or reluctant to strike up conversations with people they do not know. They normally show the least interest in the fact that you speak some Korean, unless you already know them.

Of course I am generalizing and?? there are as many exceptions as cases which would confirm these observations. These are just an impressions that I have formed. Perhaps my initial impressions have tended to make me selectively remember only those people who confirm my impression. What are the opinions of others?


My wife Carmen is in Toronto visiting her 90 year old mother. I had a busy day on my own. I had a nice full breakfast including two cups of cappuccino made on my own cappuccino machine. I recently went back to the place where I got the machine and got a complete lesson on how to heat the milk to bring out the natural sweetness of the milk. I now just love my cappuccino in the morning.

Anyway, then I studied some Russian. Then I went to watch my granddaughter (8 years old) play soccer. Then I went snowshoeing with my son on the local mountain. ( Photos to follow) Then with my wife away I decided not to bother with cooking dinner (including not even heating up one of the cooked meals she left me) and headed off to the local sushi restaurant.

I love to sit at the counter. Everyone working in this restaurant including the owner and head sushi chef is Japanese. There is something to be said for “authenticity”. Not for me the Japanese restaurants run by Chinese and Koreans, nor Italian restaurants run by Greeks and Turks. Sorry.

I chatted up the staff in Japanese then started up in?? Korean with the father and son sitting beside me at the bar. The son was studying culinary arts in a famous Vancouver cooking school Dubrulle. The young fellow was totally into cooking and wanted to learn French. I gave him our website address telling him that we would have French in a few months and gave him some tips on language learning, whether he wanted to listen or not. On the other hand he called me “Sir” when he left. There is nothing wrong with a little politeness.

Let things go

As I start to get into my Russian I run into so many things that are impossible to learn and remember the first time around.?? An example is the names of the numbers in Russian.

The system I am using is “teach yourself Russian” . “Teach yourself” claims to have sold 40 million of their books on learning different languages. One of their instructions is to make sure you master one chapter before going on to the next.

What nonsense! To be good a language learning you have to let things go by you. I cannot count to ten, and then to one hundred and then to ten thousand, and then identify telephone numbers etc. in Russian. I cannot remember the names of the days of the week. It does not matter. Gradually, as I need this things, and after seeing and hearing them often enough, I will learn them. I know I will. So I let them go. I advance to chapter 8 when I still only know parts of chaper 4. Then I will go back and do chapter 4 again, many times.

You have to let things go. Eventually it all starts to make sense. When it does you start to use the language. Before that, you just let it flow by you, picking up what you can, confident in the knowledge that you will learn if you stay with it.

Now of course if I had The Linguist system in Russian at least I would have a better grasp of new vocabulary and more interesting content to learn from.

What is there to lose?

I am in the midst of reading an excellent book on marketing called “The Wizard of Ads” by Roy H. Williams. One of the interesting chapters talks about people’s aversion to risk. I guess the question is whether it is a risk to try a new and possibly better way to learn languages or a greater risk to not try it.

Over the period of the past few years as I have been involved in the development of The Linguist system I am always impressed by the reluctance of so many people to try a new way of improving their English. Of course those people that do join us at The Linguist are part of our wonderful learner community and are overwhelmingly satisfied. But so few take the plunge.

I have given lectures to hundreds of immigrants to Canada who generally agreed that their English was holding them back and that the methods they had used to learn English previously were probably not effective.

I have had seminars with young international language students studying English here in Vancouver. They complain that their large classrooms are ineffectual and boring. They change school every three months. They seem interested in our site. Yet only?? small percentage give The Linguist a try.

There are many hundreds of people who visit our site every day. We do not know these people but we know the kind of searches that attract them to our site. We know they are?? interested in improving their English. Again, only a small percentage join The Linguist.

I know our approach is different. I know there is a lot of competition out there. But somehow I do not think we lose customers to other on line programs. I think we lose customers to inaction and inertia. They either do nothing or stay with traditional methods.

I always ask myself two questions. What have they got to lose? Can they really afford not to try a new approach that might really make a difference?

I guess the real answer is that we have to do a better job of explaining how The Linguist can help people. The customer is always right, including the customer you do not get.