Insights on Quick Language Learning Techniques

Can you imagine learning a foreign language in ten days? This short youtube video claims that the Pimsleur approach will do just that!

Richard Simcott is a hyperpolyglot and no stranger to language learning. He’s used many methods and learned languages in a variety of contexts. The video below expresses his thoughts on the matter by using videos from other polyglots on youtube as evidence:

Anthony is a British man who lives in Prague and speaks fluent Czech. His video, Become a Polyglot in Minutes not Years, includes some very well thought out observations about mastering languages, and just about anything else:

Take THAT Mr. Pimsleur! Get ready to give people their money back! Language mastery takes time, just like every other skill. Sorry folks. There’s just no getting around it.

I think the problem is one of semantics. What does it mean to speak a language? What does it mean to master a language? I have the Pimsleur Danish and the Pimsleur Swiss-German courses and I don’t speak either of those languages. I do, however, have a good idea about how they sound and how to put together basic phrases in an intelligible way. For some people, that’s speaking a language.

Some people are surprised when I say that I would like to spend some more time in Brazil to really polish up my Portuguese. I studied Portuguese in college and speak it, write it, read it and understand it quite fluently. To many, I’ve mastered it. I don’t know the word for spine though, as in the spine of a book. I just looked it up. It’s lombada.

I think that it’s safe to say that anyone promising mastery of a language in a short amount of time is exaggerating and probably trying to sell you something. I also think it’s safe to say that you can learn a language much faster than most of us have in school and that language learning is a worthwhile endeavor.


9 Responses

  1. Hello Ryan, Wolcome back!!

    Personly, I consider that a Ten-Days-Pimsleur don’t teach you a whole new language. It learns you how to say “Excuseme, do you speak coptic”, “would you like to have something to drink”, and “Excuse me, do you know where sesame street is” and so on.

    Obviously, those are a very useful sentence that doubtlessly can help you in a real inmersion, but that’s not “learning a new language”

    I must remark, I’m a Pimsleur Method convinced and huge fan, but they aren’t the road, they are the merely the first steps inthe right directions.


    • Hey there! I didn’t mean to harp on Pimsleur so much. I agree, they are a good start and have some materials for languages that not everyone has (like Danish and Swiss-German). I do think that their claims are inflated though. I suppose that’s just advertising.

  2. Excellent post!

    Fast methods don’t get you to fluency , but they can help you to get by, faster than other methods.
    Of course you need years of prctice to become and remain fluent, but the 80/20 principle still should be used at the beginning, to speed up the process.

    Being able to say a few sentences quickly is important, because it will allow you to communicate with native speakers, and get the satisfaction to communicate. This is one of the things I love the most: being able to exchange with native speakers quickly. And when you love speaking, practice comes naturally.

  3. Ok, this method works, but what really works is to travel to an spanish city. So i recommend La Rioja.

  4. Very insightful video.

    I know people who even hesitate to take vocal lessons, insisting that it is no use because they have “no talent”. Well, duh. Lessons are exactly MEANT to help people with no particular talent learn to sing. Incredibly talented people, instead, are often autodidacts and may not even have a need for lessons (which, however, does NOT mean that it cannot be sensible, especially since autodidacts, like everyone else who has no feedback through a teacher for a longer time, can acquire nasty, unhealthy habits that can be hard to get rid of).

    This video will help me encourage and convince my friends. After all, nobody expects them to become professional opera singers or anything like that. Pretty much everybody can learn how to sing on a level that is more than adequate for a hobby singer (provided they do not have a special disability relevant for the activity).

    For those who truly desire mastery, they do have to know this, however. The only way to mastery is intense devotion. Sheer passion, even obsession. There are no shortcuts. If practicing something feels like a burden instead of joy, chance is that, perhaps, you’re simply not meant to become a master at that particular activity. All hope is not lost, however: You can still achieve a reasonably good level of skill, before you reach the plateau associated with the 20% rule.

    One aspect I still have doubts about, though: I find it hard to accept that talent should somehow play no role AT ALL. If you give two different people 2,000 (or any other number of) hours of training at something, is it really guaranteed that they’ll have the same level? Experience seems to indicate otherwise: Some people simply have to practice more, and others have to practice less to reach the same level – those we call talented. The evidence is anecdotical, to be sure, but it is so pervasive that I find it hard to believe it’s all a mere fallacy.

    For example, some people do seem to have a good ear for phonetic distinctions naturally, or a good memory for words, so they are going to have an advantage learning languages.

    In fact, I’ve heard of a different rule that resembles the one mentioned in the video: “~10000 hours of training something(from music to cooking, just anything) can make up for having no talent at all”.

    So yes, I agree that talent is not as crucial as people believe, but to me it seems it still makes a difference: having to practice less.

    What really bothers me, though, is that I haven’t found anything that I’m able to devote myself intensely and long-lastingly enough to achieve mastery, or even for those 20% of time, so I fear that I’ll have to forever remain a jack of all trades, master of none.

    • I’m glad you liked the post Florian. I agree. Talent DOES make a difference. That said, most people who are considered talented also spend many hours developing their talents. I’ve noticed that they get touchy when people say, Ah, you have gift. That’s why you speak Hungarian so well. They probably feel that it dismisses their efforts.

      As for not finding your passion, you may consider that how you combine your knowledge of many things may end up bearing fruit in a unique way. The pursuit of knowledge and truth is, in and of itself, a noble endeavor. Nur Mut!

  5. “… I don’t know the word for spine though, as in the spine of a book. I just looked it up. It’s lombada.”

    I’m a native Portuguese speaker and I didn’t know about “lombada” too…


  6. Just finished watching those videos. Great stuff.

    I believe also that the extent of your reach grows as your passion for that which you are doing grows.

    The man is right, hours feel like minutes when you are enjoying what you’re doing.

    You did really well choosing this video to emphasize your argument.

    Best regards.

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