Language learning is like falling in love

I have been asked to redo the recording for this podcast that I did over two years ago. Here it is again.

This evening I have to give a short talk in Japanese to about 30 members of the Japan-Canada Chamber of Commerce. I am a Director of this Chamber, which consists mostly of recent Japanese immigrants to Canada who are involved in their own businesses here. Here is what I intend to say in Japanese.

Language learning is like falling in love. In fact you have to be in love to learn a language well. I mean in love with the language. You have to have a love affair with the language. You do not have to marry the language. You can have an affair and then move on to another language after a period of time. But while you are learning the language you have to be in love with it. And you will learn faster if you are faithful to the language while you are studying it.


Just as when you are in love, you want to and need to spend as much time as possible with the object of your love. You want to hear its voice and read its thoughts. You want to learn more about it, the many words and phrases that it uses to express itself. You think of the language wherever you are. You start to observe the object of your love closely. You notice all the little things it does, you become familiar with its peculiar behaviour patterns. You breathe it. You hear its voice. You feel it. You get to know it better and better, naturally.


Just as in a love affair, there are things about the object of your love that you do not like. You ignore these. You only think about the things that you love.?? You do not question the object of your love. You just accept it. You do not ask why. You do not ask why it behaves a certain way. You do not seek to understand the secrets to its structure. You just want to be with it, and even to imitate it, the highest form of appreciation.


Loving a language is a one-sided love affair. You love the language. It does not love you back. But the good thing is that it is not jealous of you, of your other previous love affairs. It really does not care if you carry on another love affair at the same time. But, as with people, doing so can create problems???..The language does not criticize you. You can use it however you want, as long as you enjoy yourself.


You are not jealous of other people who love the language you love. In fact you like to meet people who love the language you love. It is a lot less bothersome to love a language than to love a person, Because the love of the language is its own reward. You do not care what the language thinks of you. You are enjoying your affair with the language and do not expect anything in return. As long as you have that relationship, you will learn and improve in the language.


If you just use a language without loving it, you will not improve. If the goal is only to get a better job, or to pass a test, you will not improve. People are the same way. You cannot have a love affair with someone just to get a better job, although?????????.


This has been my approach. So when I learn a language I spend most of my initial time just listening and reading and building up my words and phrases. I just want to get to know the language, enjoy its personality and get used to it. I do not want anyone to question me, or explain my love to me. I do not want to speak in the language before I have really gotten to know the language, because I know that I will not do justice to my love. I only speak in the language when I want to, when I am ready.


I practice what is known as the “silent period” approach to language learning. Right now I am learning Russian and have been doing so for one year. I read and listen to many different kinds of content, including simple stories, podcasts and Tolstoy. I love it. I do not yet speak Russian. I could if I wanted to. I have been using the latest version of our language learning system, LingQ, which enables people to learn any language they want.

If any of you are interested in having a love affair with a language, send me an email. I will give you one month free use of our language learning system, or should I say language loving system. You can also pick up a copy of my book, The Linguist, at the back or here.

Why LingQ is a commercial site.

I posted a video in French earlier, in response to a video message on youtube, from a young Frenchman, who expressed disappointment at the fact that LingQ was a commercial site, even though my videos encourage people to learn languages. I answered him in French in an earlier video. Here, in response to a request from Vera, I answer him in English.

?? ???????????? ?? ?????????????????????? ?????????????????? ???? ?????? ???????????? ( My radio interview with Vladislav Tretiak, legendary Russian goalkeeper, on Echo Moskvi),

I could not hear the questions very well, and was under?? bit of pressure. Made a lot of mistakes. ???? ?????????? ???????????? ????????????, ?? ?????????? ?????????? ????????????, ???? ?????? ???????? ??????????????.

Language learning is good for your brain

Here is yet another report that shows that language learning is good for your brain. Apparently any amount of language learning is good for you. You do not need to reach a high level of fluency. Here are some excerpts.

The report identifies six areas in which the multilingual mind differs in some way to the monolingual mind…..

Most of the advantages ??described support overall competence-building for life and work in modern, information-rich, internet environments.

The benefits reported include enhanced capacity for learning whereby knowledge of languages can lead to superior memory function, especially short-term ???working??? memory. This enables the brain to hold information longer while the thinking processes are engaged, which can have a profound impact on cognitive function. One implication is the positive impact of languages on the learning of other subjects.

Another cluster concerns enhanced mental flexibility. This involves neural pathways being opened up, which extends the capacity to think and opens access to differing avenues for thought. Languages appear to exercise the brain as if it were a muscle and flexibility links directly to the development of digital literacies. For instance, some of the research in this area looks at the advantages of language knowledge in relation to the speed and accuracy of decision making when using multimedia such as gaming.

Enhanced problem-solving capability is also reported. This involves superior performance in problem solving, which is cognitively demanding, including abstract thinking skills, higher concept formation skills and creative hypothesis formulation. It is about strengthening our capacity to identify, understand and solve problems.

Finally the study reports on research that links knowledge of languages to a slowdown of age-related mental diminishment such as certain forms of dementia. Language knowledge appears to reduce the rate of decline of certain cognitive processes as a person ages, by helping the brain tolerate pathologies. This resistance to neuropathological damage is considered to be in the range of two to four years. Delays in mental decline of even up to six months are viewed as having considerable implications for individuals, their families and public health.

Chinese immersion schools – a fad?

I read more and more about Chinese immersion schools for kids in the US.

My grandchildren go to French immersion. My wife is against the idea. When she was small, growing up in Macao, she was suddenly taken out of the comfort of her Chinese language school background and but into an English only school. The other kids were all Chinese. They had to speak English at school. She spoke Chinese at home. She did not enjoy the experience. It was unnatural.

I think it is better to let kids explore learning many things in the language that is most natural to them. I am favour of teaching foreign languages as a subject, but more intelligently. We should teach languages using stories and interesting content, with lots of listening and videos. Let kids enjoy language, and don’t test them. Expose them to more than one foreign language. When they are older they may get interested and they will learn in a hurry.

If I were going to put a child into immersion in the US, it would not be Chinese.It would be Spanish. Most kids will have no opportunity to use Chinese. For most, it is entirely artificial, more so than was the case for my wife in Hong Kong. Furthermore Chinese requires the learning of many characters, in an environment where Chinese is essentially absent. Spanish is more useful, easier, and readily available. It is written as it is spoken.

I would not do it, but Chinese immersion seems to be a major fashion right now. Parents want to give their kids an advantage. Well, it is not something I would do.