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Interview #1 with Tim Ferriss: Language Learning

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

Today I'm very happy to share an interview I did with New York Times best selling author, Tim Ferriss.

(This video is captioned in English on Youtube, and you can also read the full transcript below).

He got his fame initially for writing the 4 hour workweek, followed it up with the 4 hour body, and has just released the third in the series, the 4 hour chef.

The first book was about working smart, and he inspired a lot of people to go location independent and start their own businesses after reading it (although I had been travelling for several years already myself when I first read his book), his second book was about living healthily, and to complete his healthy-wealthy-wise series, his final book is about how to learn.

The “chef” in the title, as well as being an allusion to the Spanish jefe (boss), is because he wanted to share his story of starting to learn a completely new skill from scratch, using cooking as an example, but keeping the book about learning in general. He mentions language learning specifically many times in the book.

He is one of the most famous bloggers online, a genius marketer, a constant guinea-pig to his own mental and physical experiments, and he has learned several languages very quickly, several of which you can hear him speak on this page, and he even used his Japanese to become one of the few foreigners to learn Yabusame (horseback archery).

I decided it would be a great time for us to finally sit down and talk language learning, and as he said himself in the interview that us two chatting like this has been a long time coming, since people have been comparing our approaches a lot over the years. Of course, I was interested in seeing what we share in common, and finding out more about his language learning philosophy. The result is a very interesting 42 minute chat!

You can also check out the video trailer and read a sample of his book on fourhourchef.com, and can buy the book on Amazon US or UK, or on Amazon's Kindle store to read it instantly. At one point, chain bookstores such as Barnes & Noble actually banned his book, because they didn't like the idea of Amazon self-publishing authors, which I think is very strange because this restrictive move makes people like me tell you even more enthusiastically to go to Amazon instead.

I hope you enjoy the interview! Make sure to share your thoughts below! After watching/reading this interview, make sure to check out Interview #2 with Tim 😉

Transcript of the entire interview:

Benny:           Hey everybody today I have got a very interesting interview for you. I am talking to Tim Ferriss who is very well known initially for writing the 4-Hour work week but he has since expanded on that, he has written about the 4-Hour body and now the 4-hour chef and I like the way he talks about this trio of books it’s Benjamin Franklin’s healthy, wealthy, wise, isn’t that it?

Tim:                 That’s right you got it.

Benny:           Ok so most people talk to you relevant to these kind of “life hacking” things, business ideas and so on but today I want to focus almost entirely on language learning because what you have done in other areas is very impressive but just looking at your background it’s very relevant to languages because you did your degree in East Asian studies and your thesis was in Neuro science and unorthodox acquisition of Japanese by native English speakers, if I got that right?

Tim:                 Right.

Benny:           And just before you graduated you were the curriculum designer at Berlitz International?

Tim:                 I worked on Japanese and English curriculum re-design.

Benny:           I actually work for Berlitz myself too but just as an English teacher and from then you…well before all this you as a teenager you had done a year abroad in Japan and you kind of changed your language learning process over time and I think if I have got this you reached a certain stage that I want to ask you about, in Japanese in one year, Mandarin Chinese in six months, German in three months and Spanish in eight weeks, so we will get into the meat of that very shortly but the first thing that I am really curious is how did you get interested in Japanese in the first place because you as a teenager you went to Japan so obviously something kicked that off in advance before you went over there?

Tim:                 It was really simple. In my particular case I concluded I was bad at languages after my Spanish experience in the few years prior to that because like everyone, well I shouldn’t say everyone but most people who go through the normal formal schooling approach couldn’t string more than a few sentences together, certainly couldn’t have a conversation and I ended up switching to Japanese when I switched schools and I had the opportunity to study other languages and my thought was well I am going to be bad at languages no matter which one I choose I might as well, number one study something related to a culture that I am fascinated by, so Ninjas and all that stuff, Samurai and what have you and secondly my friends were in and one or two of my new friends at that school were in the Japanese class, so I jumped into Japanese. And actually what people don’t realise is it was sold or described in the course handbook as conversational Japanese and so as soon as they started introducing (Japanese terms) you know the two sylaberries I was like whoa what is this, what is this nonsense so I had like two big meetings with my resin advisor and the Japanese teacher because I was considering very seriously quitting Japanese on two different occasions because of the writing which is hysterical looking back because I was so phobic, I was like if I have trouble with Spanish I don’t want to do something that is already harder than Spanish plus all this crazy character stuff, but that is how the Japanese class came to be and Mr Shimonu who is the teacher was great he was actually very different from my previous Spanish teacher so for instance anytime he could see our faces falling or we were having trouble with Japanese he would say “ok time out” and his English was still very Japanese English he would go “right time out” and then he would say “squirrel” in English to make us laugh because that is probably the hardest word possible for a Japanese person to say, so we would go “ok watch” and he would go “squirr..” and everyone would crack up and the mood would improve and then we would continue with the lesson and I think he understood really well that it’s not just having the right method on paper you need to deal with the psychological emotional aspect of it.

Benny:           Absolutely.

Tim:                 There is always going to be frustrations as you know. So that is how the class came to be and then at some point I actually ended up doing quite well it and I think partially because the class was very frequently after sports and I have some thoughts on how physical activity pairs with language learning really well but I did progress in it really quickly and at one point he said we had this sister programme at Saiki University or Saiki High School in this case in Tokyo would you like to be an exchange student and that just came out of that field for me and I talked to my parents and off I went for my first major overseas trip.

Benny:           Excellent and one thing I didn’t know before or I would have missed it in your previous books, is you said that you had actually spent six months at first in Japan where you didn’t feel that you had made that much progress and you were still very frustrated, so what happened to change this because the same thing happened to me I actually…and I don’t have the same kind of background, I wasn’t you know I didn’t have such a good language education at first and I have got a degree in electronic engineering but after graduation I moved to Spain and I lived in Spain for six months without actually learning Spanish to any kind of degree so I know you said something similar to this, so what happened?

Tim:                 I think there are two things so I don’t have a lot of data to support this but I do think the six month point there was something like related to neuroplasticity about that six month point, there was something really unusual about it but secondly I gave up on trying to mimic what I done in school because it wasn’t working. When I went to Saiki I remember the first day of classes so I had been measured for my school uniform I looked like a WestPoint cadet and went into the English department office because I was basically their pet for the year and this guy came up to me and he goes you know and he gives me this paper and I couldn’t…I was like sorry I can’t read this what does it say and he is like ok, ok traditional Japanese [Japanese] physics ok and read through the whole list and I was just puzzled by this and it turned out that what I had been told before I went because I was very nervous he said don’t worry you will have plenty of Japanese classes and lost in translation was that they were all regular high school Japanese classes, so I went to book stores and I bought what I thought appeared to be Japanese text books like my Spanish text books had been and it just didn’t work at the end of the day, whether I was bored by the material or the books themselves were a problem in the progression, either way it didn’t work and around the six month point is when I really embraced judo text books and comic books and I found that the judo text books because I was interested in the subject matter gave me the grammar because the grammar transfers of course between subject matter and I actually think electrical engineering would be really good training for languages but at least as good as an East Asian studies degree but we can come out with the comic so I have a little show and tell, the comic books turned into a real outlet for me because it’s all dialogue it’s almost all dialogue and not only is it almost all dialogue but it doesn’t try to be, it does not attempt to be formal there is some formality but it’s mostly very informal so for a high school kid that was perfect. So here is one example this is “one piece” I have… the covers are the same so once I did that in Japanese this is one piece in German and one piece in Spanish and it’s a very popular series as you can get it in every language but the main difference was focussing on native materials that were not intended to teach language in the first place if that makes sense?

Benny:           Yeah.

Tim:                 So that was a big breakthrough point and I think that much like physical adaptation for sports there is a neuroplasticity aspect that does take time and there are ways to compress it but in my case with Japanese is was between that six and eight month point where there was a real inflexion point and that’s pretty much how it turned out.

Benny:           Yeah and for me it was mostly a mentality shift because I think those six months weren’t necessarily helping me when I was learning Spanish but something I am sure you have written about this, one of the major issues in languages is in a traditional education people look at a native speaker and that is kind of the goal and the presumption is let’s say for example that mastering a language a hundred per cent to sound like a native, let’s say it takes 15 years I mean I don’t know how long it takes, let’s say it takes that and then they kind of think logically it has to take 15 years so to get fifty per cent of that you would need seven and a half years?

Tim:                 Right that’s a great point.

Benny:           So what is wrong with this logic?

Tim:                 Well I mean it’s a….

Benny:           I know it’s not logical that’s what’s wrong with it.

Tim:                 You’re preaching to the choir! Because languages are very front loaded but if you do an 80/20 analysis and you know this of course looking at the frequency of word occurrence then I mean if you just learn the word THE in English you cover a lot of ground, now you are not going to speak to anyone you are just using THE and drive you and them crazy but as you add words there is a dramatic point of diminishing returns, many points of diminishing returns so if you wanted to get…the explanation that I sometimes give to people is if you wanted to fool a native speaker into thinking that you are close to native or perhaps grew up there, let’s say 30 days out of a 30 day calendar month that might take 10 years, it might like  you said I don’t know maybe but to get to the point where you can do it 29 days out of 30 I think you could do that in a year or less without too much trouble if you really apply yourself. But it’s getting those final grains of salt, those final words that really requires that huge investment or so it would seem but yeah that is a good point I think the mathematical… when you run the mental arithmetic and distribute it across 15 years, oh well if I wanted to be even 50% is good which in most people’s minds is pretty crappy still, it will take seven and half years I am not even going to try like that is the way it’s…yeah that’s a good point I have never put it that way.

Benny:           Yeah because like what I found is when I am trying to learn a language something similar to the Parato principle you talk about a lot is I am much more focussed on the short term and what can I do in the short term and I think this is very very different to traditional methods that kind of see anything less than mastery of a language as a waste of time and useless and I mean realistically yeah it would be great if everyone thought I was I native 100% of the time but I mean why do I really need that, what I am looking for is I want to have good conversations with people, I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings and I have actually reached the stage where I can pass for a native speaker in particular situations for you know up to two minutes and there is a lot of restrictions there like I have to be in a situation that I am comfortable in and so on and so I can’t say you know you are going to confuse me for a native all the time but these are all realistic things if you look at what you want to work on and you know people can come up with silly things like you have to be able to debate Kantian philosophy and I am like you know I don’t do that in English, yet you have to like my standards for fluency are based on what I can do in English and when people start saying you know you have got to be able to talk politics, I am like I find politics boring you know if you talk to me in English about politics I am not going to be able to do that. So like in my understanding when I say I try to be “fluent” in a language I aiming to be socially equivalent to how I am in English so I can follow many people speaking amongst one and other, I can talk to them without slowing the conversation down, you know it’s as good as speaking to a native even though you know I am not a native because I am making a few mistakes and for me that’s fluency and then a little bit higher than that would be doing these things in professional contexts, so I have actually sat the Spanish DELE the C2 Diploma which is the professional level but I still think below that it’s still very very powerful and for me it counts as fluency, it’s what I aiming for what I think is realistic in three months is this social fluency. So one of the big questions people were asking me when I told them I was going to talk to you, is how do you define fluent because in a laymen’s context it’s very easy to throw these words around like you know I learned how to speak Spanish in so many weeks, I mean what does that even mean you know?

Tim:                 So I like your social equivalency explanation applied by that but the example that I use, like when in almost every language when you run through a typical training programme for busy business people…

Benny:           Yeah.

Tim:                 Alright let’s learn to read the financial times, if I grab the financial times on an airplane I can’t read the damn thing in English and I never going to talk about it certainly but that is a whole separate gripe session, so for fluency for me personally my marker has been can I have say a 10 or 15 minute conversation without slowing down the conversation where I can express any idea I want to express and if I don’t understand something immediately clarify it, so it’s really having like a 10 minute pleasant conversation where the other person would come away saying like yes, now it’s an ambiguous term but in their language to another native speaker he fluent in Spanish or he is fluent in fill-in-the-blank.

Benny:           Right.

Tim:                 In some cases I am aiming for something like when I was in German I was at the Hochfachschule which is actually a pretty good school and I was aiming for that Mittelstufe and at first and then moving beyond that and then when I was in Argentina I like having concrete objective goals I think it’s helpful, not everyone needs it but I like to where with Spanish I was aiming for, I guess it was like Nivel Avanzado in the University of Buenos Aires  but just a side not real fast because talk about mental shift I think part of the reason that people fail in languages is the same reason that they fail at many things like dieting, think of dieting like ok this is a permanent change forever how do I feel and it’s overwhelming. And so with dieting it’s a two week trial, just a two week trial if you don’t like it you can stop, and with languages I think for instance I never tackle any language thinking this is going to be a lifelong project ever, I don’t ever tackle a language thinking this is going to be a one year project, ever when I tackle a language if I go to let’s say Turkey and I study Turkish I don’t expect to ever use Turkish again after that trip but because even having 20 phrases makes that trip ten times more enjoyable and I learn ten times more I will put in the time and that is how…you know Japanese another reason Japanese came out is I had an exchange student at my house with my family and so we all learned five to ten sentences of Japanese and we got along really well.

Benny:           That’s actually exactly the same reason I got into Spanish because we hosted Spanish students in my home town in Ireland.

Tim:                 Right and for instance when I was in Galway, this is hysterical so when I was in Galway, I am not sure I wrote about this I studied Irish and people think Japanese is hard I would say Irish just due to the lack of materials and also if you want to practice with anyone because it was funny because very Irish person I would meet they would go what are you doing here and I would be like I am doing a hurling and they would be like that’s weird and then I would say Irish and they would go what the hell are you studying Irish for and you would have to go to like Spiddal down in the Gaeltacht and oh man…

Benny:           Yeah, yeah well you would actually be surprised I did read your mention this on the blog that you would consider Irish more difficult, I think in terms of materials to come across yes you are going to find a lot less but I know a lot of people who have actually learned it at a distance and I don’t think it’s necessarily, I mean comparing it to other European languages it’s not that intimidating and especially because we are less used to foreigners learning it, you give them way more flexibility in making mistakes and you don’t necessarily have to go to Spiddal, I mean there are quite large Gaeltacht communities especially in the North West it’s a different dialect to the one in Galway but no don’t give up hope on Irish just yet.

Tim:                 I know I haven’t given up on Irish but I would say…I went there partially to study Irish and I ended up learning hurling instead which I fell in love with.

Benny:           Right.

Tim:                 So I view learning as just an adventure and I read a quote once, sorry it’s in the book I can’t remember who said it but he said ‘you know writing a novel is a lot like driving with the headlights on” you can’t see your destination but you can get there that way. And I think learning is a lot like that, but I would also say that Irish whether…I think not all languages are equally hard or equally easy for all people so it can be a very personal thing right so one of the pet peeves that I have maybe is when something is Romanised but the phonetics of that language do not resemble English I get antsy and Irish is definitely that way, like…

Benny:           Ok well another time I have got to sit down and talk to you about this it’s not as bad as you think.

Tim:                 No, no I am not saying it’s bad I am saying like it’s a very personal thing like for me it’s like Chinese whatever after Japanese sure I will learn Chinese where as most people are like oh my god it’s the devil’s language and I am like it’s not that bad. Whereas just to point out how like hysterical that is that I went oh Chinese 5000 characters I can do that and then like oh my god like spelling “Go raibh maith agat” (thank you) like oh forget you know.

Benny:           I see where you are coming from because we do very uniquely among languages I have come across we have a lot of letters to describe very few sounds but you know it can be very intimidating but believe it or not I among Celtic languages Irish is one of the easiest because of that, I mean Welsh is much more phonetic from what I have heard and this introduces a whole lot of new problems. So you know…

Tim:                 I believe it.

Benny:           Yeah I read that you got into Irish I thought that was fantastic.

Benny:           Ok so just going back from what I read in the 4-Hour chef and of course your blog post about language learning I think the core aspect of how you tackle a language is two things, firstly you would focus on the top words like the top 100 words or the top 1000 words based on frequency that they appear in a conversation or in print or something and you have a particular set of sentences that you deconstruct grammatically to help you get an overall look at the language and you generally would apply this to any language, it helps you a lot. What would you say… how does conversation come into your learning technique?

Tim:                 Yeah there is a bunch of different ways I actually have some more show and tell but I forget one so hold on I will be right back.

Tim:                 All right so conversation is…everything I do is with the target outcome of speaking fluently it’s not that I don’t value reading and writing and I can read and write, well certainly could much better back in the day but I can still read and write quite well in Japanese and Chinese and I studied Korean for a year or two and I don’t mention that much but I can still read most Korean, that is a really fun one to get people over their fear of reading because you can learn how to read Korean in about two hours. But I focus on I guess I have a particular way I approach what the German’s call Tandem  so just two person sessions and I would love to hear your thoughts on this because I know you do a lot of it, but the common way that this is approached, so finding a language partner is I will teach you English and you teach my Portuguese and it never works, in my experience if it’s that broad it never works because native English speakers suck at teaching English just like people who are the best in the world at programming suck at teaching programming it’s second nature and also it’s true with someone who speaks your target language so there needs to be a framework of some type and the way that I as an English speaker, a native English speaker I am very unfairly given an advantage that almost everyone studies English, not everyone but almost everyone so I will go to English schools and find students who are at an intermediate or advanced level assuming that I am trying to learn their language at a basic level, ideally intermediate and we will come in and we will swap back and forth we might have a 20 minute session, a 20 minute session and the first thing that we do is we will…and I have a bunch of notes I took on this but one of the approaches is to always review materials beforehand and then come in with specific questions. The second approach which I borrowed from Chinese 101 at Princeton is having a…and this is one of the first things I do I don’t think have I talked about this much but I will get a bio, a self introduction of say one page in length down on paper so my little brother is this years old, he lives here, my parents do this, my blah blah, I grew up here and it is amazing how much mileage you get out of that one page because guess what that is the first three minutes of every single conversation you are going to have.

Benny:           Absolutely.

Tim:                 But the point is I will have them help me if need be to translate that or refine it and then I will read that aloud and have them circle any phoneme or any pronunciation problems that I have then work on those sounds and this is what we had to do every week in Chinese 101 at Princeton which at the time I think was the best Chinese 101 programme in the entire country it was extremely effective. We would have to go into a language lab and read out loud several different conversations and then the professors would take time separately identify where we would have trouble and we would spend an entire private session going through those sounds.  So the tandem very often will start off light for me which means helping someone identify specific issues in English and when I say identify specific English issues it’s not going to be…and I have a set of questions I will give you a couple of examples it wouldn’t be “hey Tim what’s the difference between anything and something” no that is not a good question because I will make up an answer, I don’t know the answer and I am not going to give the right answer, a better answer is which is more common this or this, which would you say this or this, what are some examples of how you would use this or this then I can give an answer that doesn’t have any speculation in it and then very often we would go back and forth but there are a few phrases I learned right off the bat so I can get to biking without training rules as early as possible so what is the difference between, that is one of the first things I learned and you know Was ist die Unterschied zwischen blah blah and then how do you pronounce this is another one right, or how does one say in another language Wie sagt man blah blah blah auf Deutsch blah blah or whatever and can you write it down, some of the basics. But in the tandems usually it’s questions bases on material you have reviewed already and then once we get a little more comfortable one of the things I like to do is practice constructions and then have to translate it yourself, so for instance what I would say is usually start…if they want to practice let’s say the subjunctive, so they will have to practice if I had a million dollars I would buy a Ferrari, ok fine so I will give them a few pairs like ok million dollars Ferrari, go! And then they will say it in English and I will correct them if need be and then I will have to try and translate that into Spanish and then we will do the next one, ok if I had a brother I would travel more, then I will have to translate it. So formatting a tandem there is definitely I think a craft to formatting tandem so it’s the most productive. The other thing that I do while I am taking the tandem and also when I am reviewing materials, this is an old one I don’t think anyone has seen this. So these are home made colour coded flash cards, I am a flash card guy some people aren’t, I am and these are broken down I haven’t looked at these in ages but these are for German and they are broken down by daily, weekly and monthly review so I know what I have hit consistently and I know what I haven’t hit consistently and I have time reviews but I will write down typically, let’s see here typically not single words I will write down phrases like at the beginning, I guarantee this probably came up at the beginning of a tandem where it Bitte bedienen Sie sich please help yourself, all right and I just find that you are bang for the buck in terms of acquiring vocabulary and also grammar is so much faster and so much more useful when you are memorising these phrases as opposed to just memorising examples that you would never use.

Benny:           Right no because you are learning the new vocabulary but you are also learning sentences in context and I am also a huge fan of flash cards and I see just the system you have got there is spaced repetition because you take a card and you would put it in the position that you know is when you are just before you are likely to forget and like I just use the app for this, Anki which you might have come across?

Tim:                 Anki is good, super memo is not bad either.

Benny:           Yeah that’s right.

Tim:                 I think Anki might actually use one of the later algorithms from super memo.

Benny:           Yeah, yeah it’s based on that and I think memrise also has a kind of a spaced repetition system built into it?

Tim:                 Yeah memorised does as well Ed Cook was in the 4-Hour…

Benny:           Yeah that’s right.

Tim:                 A really good guy and I actually know his co-founder too because he was initially in my class at one point at Prinston the high tech entrepreneurship and then duolingo which I am an investor in which also has some mechanisms for spaced repetitions which are pretty cool.

Benny:           You know I actually interviewed Luis a few weeks back…

Tim:                 Oh you did?

Benny:           Yeah, yeah in Spanish so you can see that on my channel if you like….

Tim:                 He is a smart guy, Luis is no joke he is a smart dude.

Benny:           Oh yeah very smart had a great time asking him how he got into the whole thing and something else I wanted to ask you like in the 4-Hour chef you broke down a Kanji character explaining the kind of memory technique you used to learn it which I think is very similar to James Heisig’s strategy in remember the Kanji?

Tim:                 It is I mean and he is certainly not the first person who to have done it but he did a fantastic job of putting it into a few books that give you a very high ROI on your time because left to your own devices I mean does take more time to create your own images and there has been some pretty interesting…

Benny:           Do you do that kind of stuff for like just learning Spanish or European languages where you see a word do you have some kind of mental association or is just about you see it so many times on the flash card that it kind of burns into your memory?

Tim:                 It depends on…the way that I like to think of mnenomics and these memory devices is like wrapping a package before you ship it so if it’s fragile you wrap it more, if it is not fragile at all you don’t have to put in all this extra padding and packaging. So if something comes to me very easily I am not going to create a mnemonic device just to create a pneumonic device I don’t do it by default I do it sort of just in time and not just in case, if that makes sense

Benny:           Yeah.

Tim:                 But I do use mnemonic a lot and one of the benefits of tackling multiple languages even if you are only doing multiple languages for two to four weeks at a time and I have done a lot of languages that way I mean Vietnamese, Thai you know I have tackled a lot of languages that I never have any intention of using again, just during trip is that they allow you to…you have more pegs to work with, so I want to show you two more things, just the two tricks, I don’t know if they are tricks but two things I found are useful.  So the first is linking languages together can be very helpful it can be confusing at times but for instance this book here this is relevant to you right now, not that you would use it but this is Espanhol Facil para falar right so this is a book for Brazil and Portuguese speakers who want to speak Spanish and guess what if I speak Spanish I can use this to learn Brazilian Portuguese and it’s a bit of misnomer but I call this reverse learning and what I mean by that is perhaps a more easier example is this, so this is for Mainland China, in simplified characters, and this is sort of 900 common phrases in English. The reason I like to use books intended for native speakers for learning English is because then you know your target language is accurate, it’s astonishing how many text books written for English speakers trying to learn Spanish or whatever have mistakes everywhere, it’s amazing so this is particularly valuable if let’s say you are going to Taiwan and you are going to be spending time in Taiwan, guess what, Chinese is not exactly the same as Mainland so you are better off getting a book written for Taiwanese people who are learning English.

Benny:           I am actually doing something similar here I am learning my Egyptian Arabic through French.

Tim:                 Oh nice yeah Assimil has some great stuff.

Benny:           Yeah that is why I picked it because I have used Assimil in the past, in this case it’s not a hundred per cent useful because I am not actually learning modern standard Arabic I am learning Egyptian so you know it’s not that great but just in general for presenting examples and so on, I am really appreciating it,  so definitely you know branching and using one language to help you learn another or doing what you are doing the reverse because I agree I found so much material and you can really feel that all they have really done is ask some translators to get these phrases for them and there is no context, like the translator doesn’t know what has come before or what has come after and I could see even as a beginner learner I can see mistakes in the target language and you know this leads for me dismissing a lot of stuff as irrelevant and you and I are both not exactly huge fans of that yellow box you can buy in airports and one of the reasons is because for me at least is because it’s all about translating the same content rather than giving it to you in a context specific for that language used by native speakers and I don’t like this translation aspect and this is why like the core of me learning my language is speaking with a native speaker, I mean I do have materials I go through but like my top 1000 words are generally based on conversations I have had and notes I make on those conversations because I found some top 1000 lists tend to be based on newspapers and the written word which is a lot less relevant to me as a beginning tourist and introducing myself and so on.

Tim:                 Yeah there is a lot of cross over but it isn’t all cross over but then of course there are the phrases that you hear all the time that are never going to pop up on these lists, like Valeu! like whatever in Brazil you are just not going to have those in a frequency list but I also tend to and I know I only have a few minutes left but I tend to separate my sort of out of country training and in country training and I know that there is a lot of really interesting workarounds but I will usually use the high frequency list prior to arriving in a country where I know I am going to focus in a really dedicated fashion on the language, so it’s more of an insurance policy, or a head start but yeah I think that people should look at this as language learning it’s almost, it’s a toolkit so there are two questions, number one is what are you building, number two what tools are you going to use to get there and you have to have a clear picture of both and I really find that the one or two week trial is a fun way to get people into it, it’s like ok look you have a trip coming up you are going to be in Barcelona or you are going to be in Madrid or whatever for a week I mean how can we get you to a point where you make everybody smile and people just treat you a hundred times better and you have more fun.

Benny:           People need to embrace you know the lower end of language learning a little bit more because it’s got so much potential I mean you can get your foot in the door to start to get more things and I always feel disappointed when people only look at replicating a native you know. So I just have two final things I wanted to say before we run out of time, firstly just going to the 4-Hour chef now when I was reading about your motivation for writing it and I was kind of you know if you are going to write a book about learning I thought maybe it would be entirely about language learning, but I like your motivation for focussing on cooking a little bit more because if you were to write about language learning it’s something that you have been doing for years and you wouldn’t really have this fresh perspective anymore, but the whole point is in the book you are literally starting from scratch and you are applying your general how to learn techniques to cooking and I think people should appreciate that sometimes what you need is not actually a language learning book but you need to know how to learn, so you discuss a lot of things and you do discuss language learning but I think even when you are talking about something completely different in the book it’s the kind of philosophies people need to embrace if they are going to learn a foreign language. So I do think it is relevant to language learning and I would be very happy to tell people to check that out and I can’t wait to go through the rest of it myself, you know the real version that I can hold in my hands, so yeah the final question I wanted to ask you then is so with all of this you know you have learned a language in a couple of weeks and you have learned a language to a much higher level of fluency, what is the most valuable experience you have had from all this, what is the craziest and the most fun thing that speaking a non-English language which has opened up to you?

Tim:                 Oh man there is…

Benny:           I know its a million things.

Tim:                 I’ll say this – with just English my life would be and this is obviously very subjective but I mean 20% of the richness that I have had, I mean it’s incredible the impact that languages that have had and when I say that I don’t necessarily mean the ones I am necessarily fluent in, at all! I mean knowing ten words of Indonesian and basically getting adopted by an Indonesian family is not in Indonesia or learning just enough Arabic to communicate with a baker across the street from me in Berlin when I was there, just enough to order a little bit of food and say thank you I mean the impact that had on my daily relationship with this guy, well I will just give an unusual example and I want to underscore you said which is in the 4-Hour chef, chef is used in the sense of like jefe, sort of being a director in your life as opposed to a spectator and the recipe of the book is meta-learning, so it’s looking at how, there is sections on language learning, sections on sports and sections on everything and cooking is kind of used like Zen in the art of motorcycle maintenance but one of the oddest maybe examples I have was tackling Japanese horseback archery in Neco Japan and it would have been impossible without Japanese, absolutely completely impossible and the reason that example, there is so many I could bring up but one of the reasons I like that example is that again personal opinion but I think that Japanese are called xenophobic all the time, very unfairly because they are extremely self-conscious of their English because they lost the phone in lottery, like when god was given out sounds they just got kind of screwed they don’t have many so that is why they sound so funny when they speak other languages. And because they do this kind of thing when someone tries to speak to them in English doesn’t make them xenophobic and if you look at what has happened to me speaking Japanese it’s not just for white people either, look at like Khatzumoto on Twitter they are so open and so generous and I think people in general make the effort so learning Japanese horseback archery in Neco that was maybe the first, maybe the first foreigner or maybe the second every to train with the [Japanese name] family with these jackets, since 1147 I think I was the first if not the first then maybe the second like 50 years to train with them and it’s something I will always remember, it’s something I always remember and something I will tell my kids about and tell my grand kids about and you know it all came initially from comic books and judo text books and I think that is a stand out example.

Benny:           So I have really loved talking to you and I am definitely looking forward to reading the rest of your book and I hope other people will check it out and I think I am able to give away 10 copies if I am right, people I am going to say that…what I want to hear in the comments either here or on YouTube or on the blog post is what the most valuable (language learning) experience other people have had and I am going to take my 10 favourite ones and send them a copy of your book and then if they don’t see that by Monday they should got out and get one themselves.

Tim:                 Yeah and if people want sample chapters, table of contents… the video trailer is pretty fun it’s the most viewed non-fiction book trailer of all time now, just go to 4-Hour chef and you can get pretty good taste for what’s in there as well, so yeah thanks for having me man this has been a long time coming and I appreciate you taking the time.

Benny:           No thank you for taking the time and I am sure I will run into you somewhere around the world.

Tim:                 Absolutely Go raibh maith agat!

Benny:           Alright. Maith thú, maith thú! Great job, all right cheers.

**If you missed it, check out interview #2 with Tim

author headshot

Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

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