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Interviewing Myke Hawke: Quick & Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast

Myke Hawke Interview

The power of learning languages…

Before I start the interview, I’d like to share a quote Myke has in the prefaces of The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast.

“He who learns another language earns another soul”

When I first read the quote, my heart glowed. And then I grinned.

Now, just sit back and think about it. Without being able to communicate, we cannot possibly understand the nuances of a different culture.

So, by learning their language, we acquire the ability to absorb parts of their world and possibly their mindset.

The power of it totally blew me away.

And now I give you… Myke Hawke…

Myke Hawke is a TV personality, professional soldier, and author, as well as being an accomplished linguist. And while the many attributes of Myke are quite an attraction, it is his language skills that suit women and men learning Thai.

Quoting from The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast:

To develop my specialized method of instruction, I built backward, the way you are supposed to plan. First, I figured out what was needed and then how to get it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Using this method I have become officially rated in seven languages: Russian, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Serbo-Croation, and Turkish. I used many of these languages within weeks of beginning to study them and served as the official interpreter on our missions.

In addition, with a little research and effort, I was able to create summaries for the other members of my Special Forces team so that they too could function with a day of study.

From these summaries, I wrote this book so that you could learn a foolproof way of conquering a foreign language.

Do not kid yourself: you still acquire the language, the good, old-fashioned way – you have to learn it. But here I have trimmed the fat for you and gotten down to the brass tacks. No fluff, all action words, so you can get down to the action yourself.

Myke Hawke, the interview…

Being a pathetically poor language learner, I’ve always wondered: Are linguists created or born? Were they subjected to a variety of languages when young? Did they always have the language knack or, from a variety of circumstances, did they fall into learning languages later in life?

Hahaha! The answer is easy- it’s both! Like music, everyone can learn to play an instrument, the degree to which they carry it, will depend on natural aptitude of course, but no one just gets there without effort. So the second ingredient is the most important, it’s hard work. Usually, this work is more effective if well organized and that’s all my book really does, is provide a structured framework, but the individual has to build their own house. The third ingredient is motivation… If one lives in a culture surrounded by other languages, or they see a need as a way to increase income, or they just meet a romantic interest of another tongue… But without motivation, the other two ingredients don’t usually amount to much. So, being born with ability helps, but desire and endeavor are what makes a linguist.

Myke, you mentioned that it was in the Special Forces where you first tackled a foreign language. Did you have any leanings at all towards learning foreign languages when you were growing up, or was that your first drive to learn a language other than your mother tongue?

No way! In fact, the way I was raised was to think I was stupid. And, since I never got past junior high school, I didn’t think I’d ever be smart enough to learn another language. I only knew what I believed, and that was that during the cold war, the Russians were the threat, and since I had just become an Intelligence guy after being a communications guy first, I felt it was imperative that I learn the language of the threat. So, I requested Russian school with much apprehension, but equal fervor. I graduated early, with honors and all while being a platoon sergeant for 70 troopies.

In The Quick and Dirty Guide you write:

It works for any language… For the less familiar languages, you will need to select and use a very good guide or dictionary in conjunction with this guide.

I’m guessing that Thai would come under a ‘less familiar language’. So, what additional tips do you have for Thai language learners?

  1. For the languages that come in squiggles and symbols, like Thai, it is good to get the kids books that are made for English speakers or anything that gives phonetic pronunciation examples for starters.
  2. Get some kids tapes or childrens videos, especially with subtitles and listen to how they say simple words and listen for how they say it, as it sounds to you. This will help you refine your own phonetics standards. (For example, I often find when someone who wrote a phrase book uses a “Th” sound for a letter, I might find it sounds more like a “Dh” sound to me.) So, I tweak it according to how I hear it, and this makes it more intuitive and therefore, a bit easier.
  3. Get a long haired dictionary… of in your case, a short haired one, ha! Having a sexy or romantic person who can work with you on the language helps a lot. The reason is that we learn most from our mistakes. The mistakes are a lot easier to take if they come with friendly giggle when the human dictionary corrects you as opposed to a snarl when you make a mistake with a stranger. Positive reinforcement!

Quoting from The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast:

You know your mission, whether it’s for travel, business, or just speaking with a friend. Your objective is to conduct your mission in the language required. Your goal is to obtain the instrumental tool needed, which is the language itself. Your parameters are to do all this in the time allocated.

What were the circumstances for you coming to Thailand, and how long did you have to become proficient in Thai?

We were going there to train their Delta Force and Seal guys. I had 30 day notice. I was functional, but not at all pretty. Mostly simple sentences that conveyed the thought I wanted, but always with flaws. As with anything like this, if learned fast, it’s forgotten fast, unless you remain at it or in the country. So, it’s still a super way to get up and running in a hurry, then it’s easier to use and build as you can manipulate it more. So again, it’s a positive reinforcement.

Due to the time constraints of your job, how far were you able to get with Thai?

I only got far enough to be able to communicate basics ideas. I wasn’t there long enough to solidify a base in it.

Did you find anything particularly difficult when you set out to learn the Thai language?

Actually, no. Only because I did not set out to learn to read and write, only to speak and hear. But I have found that the more foreign the letters, the easier to learn as I still confuse Russian and English letters in cursive, to this day, 20 years later.

What are your favourite Thai phrases?

Every cloud has a silver lining- (Chew a jet, T D, jet hun)
I recall it as chew on a jet, while viewing the clouds, I make a mental TD, or touchdown, and jet to my hunny, for her silver lining….

So, I play with the sounds of the phrase, to make it make sense to me and remind me of something in English I can relate to, and in this way, I can call it to the forefront of memory when needed.

Have you had the opportunity to use your skills with languages in any of your TV or movie roles?

Ya’ know, I really haven’t. Media folks are surprisingly closed minded. Once they get it in their head you fit into one box, and that’s the label you get. So, they often forget that I was a Medic, and Officer, an Aikido guy or even a Linguist. But, I keep hope.

More on Myke, but no more on languages…

At the same time as I read The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast, I was also reading other books on learning foreign languages. And while reading Quick and Dirty, a visual image of A. G. Hawke formed in my head.

A. G. Hawke: Seasoned, middle-aged male nudging 60-65+ years old, skint on top with a wee bit of a pouch in the front and love handles hugging both sides. He no longer consumes healthy amounts of caffeine or alcohol, prefers a sofa lifestyle over jumping out of planes, and mostly writes to reminisce over past successes.

When I finally tracked Myke down, I was not expecting what I found. Not even close.

So with that visual in mind, I just have to ask Myke this question: At some point a decision must have been made to omit your photo from the book cover. Why?

That’s funny! Really, Military guys don’t take looks into consideration when it comes to fellas. The language book and dangerous fun books are both published by Paladin, a military niche publisher, so, it was never even a planning factor. Besides that, I think photos cost more, haha!

Thailand is an incredible place to live or visit, so what Thai experiences stand out the most for you?

To me, buildings and trees are nice, but the people make a place. The Thai people are simply the warmest, friendliest on the planet.

What is your take on Thai food? Just right? Too spicy? Or not spicy enough?

Like the people, the food is just right! I mean, what is not to like?! A subtle but complex fusion that bursts with perfect flavor, wow!

What so far has been your favourite role(s)? (in either TV or movie).

To me, TV is like life in that it only gets better and better. So, While my first role on MTV’s Road Rules back in ’98 was great fun as I got to play a good guy and the bad guy and had lots of freedom to make it up as I went, I have to say the last show was the most fun- working with Andrew Zimmern and the crew of Bizarre Foods was a real joy. Andrew was super and the crew was fun, so, it made the work easy and enjoyable. I think it will show when the program airs soon.

And one more question…
Now, about that Paris Hilton… ;-)

The ladies were great, that show was a lot of fun, too. The personality of the production company leadership really impacts the outcome of a show and they had some awesome folks on the ground. The kids were a challenge and entertaining. But Richie was a real feisty one and that ain’t never a bad thing, haha!

Thank you Myke. I’ll be right there, watching you on the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern next month.

Thanks, Cat! Take care and a big squeeze!

Coming next in the series will be the free Thai download prepared from Myke Hawke’s The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast: .

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My passion is promoting the Thai language. Fullstop. Oh, and traveling. I'm passionate about that as well. And photography too.

24 Comments

  1. The “nuances of another culture” – so true. It really does open up a new world that is hidden to those who don’t come to terms with learning the language beyond the basics. No conversation is possible on the deeper issues, except with the linguists from the country concerned – but the trouble is the non-learners rarely come across these, as they tend to retreat into groups of like-minded expats.

    Kids books? Couldn’t agree more. When I first went to France, I remember someone saying that they were impressed by my spoken French. I answered that my level was nearly up to that of a French three year old. Non-linguists will laugh, but the point is that a three year old already has a good basic vocab and understanding of grammar… and it’s on these fundamentals that you build.

    Mental touchdowns? Definitely more useful as the years pass, and we don’t have the same learning abilities as we once had. How many of us can recall the numberplate of our first car… but don’t know the one they’re driving now? Their phone number at home as a child, but struggle to remember the PIN code on a new credit card?

    Good interview Catherine, wonder why you chose Mike and not the Berlitz ;-)

  2. Catherine Wentworth

    June 4, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    I’m looking forward to digging into the nuances of Thai. Right now most everything needs to be explained to me, but knowing what I know now, it’s going to be a hoot tying it all together. Thais love a play on words, as do I. So fun times ahead.

    Phone numbers, pin numbers, small details, they are all stored on speed dial or some handy contraction (they won’t fit in my brain).

    Let’s see… why did I choose Myke over Berlitz? Besides the obvious – Myke has a great vocab list and is willing to share – he is rather cute, yes? My Thai teacher wasted way too much time in class this morning going over the same. And I’m not talking vocab list :-D

    Now excuse me while I run out to locate a short-haired dictionary and a new stash of bananas…

  3. Sorry Catherine, he’s a ugly so-and-so, don’t know what you see in him. Special Services, phooey, doesn’t impress me. Ok I’m off to my safe house now …….. ;-)

  4. Run Pete run :-)

    On the subject of survival… Myke actually gives survival training courses (but I don’t believe he talks about safe houses) and has a new book out – Myke Hawke’s Green Beret Survival Manual: Your Essential Guide to Getting Out Alive.

    Back in my Borneo days I was interested in taking an Australian survival course. But it’s been too many years under the bridge since then so I guess it’ll have to be one of those dreams that passed me by.

  5. Hi Catherine,
    Great interview. Myke brings out some excellent points for language learning. As Pete mentioned about Myke’s suggestion, tapping into the kid stuff is a wise idea.

    His advice for finding a long-haired dictionary is spot on. I need to find a few of those.

    After Tony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” “Bizarre Foods,” is my favorite show. I’ll be sure to grab a bowl of grubs, pull up a chair and tune in.

  6. Hi Neil, are you up early, or late? :-) I went through a stage of buying kids books in Thailand. One company reprints Western books with Thai and English, side by side. Some of the books are beautifully crafted, so at first I started buying them for the artwork alone.

    I’ve never seen the show. Maybe it’s not in Thailand? Maybe someone could tape it? (hint) (hint).

  7. Early or late? Both, I guess. My day’s been starting at around 4 AM and finishing around 11 PM. It’s morning here now.

    The side-by-side thing would work for me, I think. Languages are really starting to effect my work since I moved down here to Never Never Land. I have several South American clients, one German guy and friends/associates from all over the place – Europe, China, Thailand, etc. None of whom have English as their first language. So, I’d like to learn at least some words and phrases. I figure they’re working hard to learn English, I can at least try to learn some of their words.

    Bizarre Foods is a great show. Andrew travels here and there, sampling the local culinary delights. Those typically include an array of bugs, assorted creepy crawlies, along with several entrees I can’t come close to identifying. He’s also rather fond of entrails.

    You’ll appreciate this more than most. With all the strange things Andrew’s chowed down on, the one thing that did him in was a fruit. Yup. Durian. The look on his face was priceless when it landed on his palette. Needless to say, it didn’t stay there very long :-)

  8. Catherine Wentworth

    June 4, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Whooh, that’s a lot to take on. Let me know how you are going (learning all those different languages is beyond me).

    He eats bugs, but he cannot stomach Durian? The King of fruits? Hah!

    (thanks for the link)

  9. The only one I’d like to become fluent in is Italian. I used to be when I was a kid, but as I grew and the family went hither and yon, there were less and less people to talk to, so I’ve forgotten a lot. Oh, Spanish is another necessity. At least the two are closely related. For any others, I’d just like to learn enough to get by.

    As you know, I started with Mandarin, but my long-haired dictionary went away. I have a friend here from Hong Kong, but that’s Cantonese. You’d think they’d be close, but they’re not all that much.

    A trip to the grocery here is like being at the foot of the Tower of Babel. Although it’s the US, actually hearing hearing English while perusing the aisles is getting rare. Down in Miami, almost everything is bilingual or Spanish only.

    Yup, bugs are a large part of Andrew’s show. But durian … not happening. Well, he actually did try it a couple of times, but with the same result. I found an Asian grocer here who carries it. I was going to pick one up (along with a clothespin and a sic sack) and give it a try. :-P

    Happy to share the link. Check it out when you have some time. They usually have clips from the shows and other interesting stuff. I would imagine they’ll have a clip with Myke at some point.

  10. A lovely polished but homely feel interview and Myke sounds one hell of a guy. I like the advice he gives on taking a Thai phrase and making sense of it in your own language or as Myke puts it ” So, I play with the sounds of the phrase, to make it make sense to me and remind me of something in English I can relate to, and in this way, I can call it to the forefront of memory when needed.”….a method I have used in the past but one that I struggled to adapt too many singular Thai words. Myke’s learning of the Russian language was completed with a “needs must, must do” outlook whereas most of us adopt a “want to do, can do tomorrow” attitude and for most of us tomorrow never comes. I once met a guy in my Pattaya days who could speak fluent Thai, slang and all. It transpired that he had learned it in a Thai prison and after being deported had somehow got himself back into Thailand, he had learned Thai on a needs must basis, it was that or rot in a cell alone.“He who learns another language earns another soul.”

  11. Catherine Wentworth

    June 5, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Martyn,

    ‘Myke’s learning of the Russian language was completed with a “needs must, must do” outlook whereas most of us adopt a “want to do, can do tomorrow” attitude and for most of us tomorrow never comes.’

    Nothing truer was ever said. If I know I cannot study, I try and watch or listen to Thai (tv or Thai on my iPod or computer). But you are right, there IS always tomorrow…

    Putting together a regular schedule is not difficult – I have a calendar on my blog to keep record – keeping to a regular schedule is. And I have a LOT of excuses why that is. Sigh.

    Maybe a group commitment would work…

    Neil,

    Do you mean that after all these years of listening to me go on and on about the attributes of Durian, you STILL have not tried it? You don’t know what you are missing.

  12. Nope. Still haven’t tried it. Now that I’m here and have access to it it’s on the list. It’s the “don’t know what I’m missing” part that freaks me out. :-)

  13. Chew a jet, TD, jet hun. If you can get any more phrases like that that would be brill as I like to remember that way…. I reckon I will remember that now, a great little show stopper for amatuer speaking farang, I will try that one at dinner tonight ;) probably naff it up though !

  14. ‘Chew a jet, TD, jet hun’

    I asked my Thai teacher about the phrase, so we included it in a lesson.

    I was going to save it for a future post, but since you are going to use it tonight I’ll add it here too (especially as you need to get the tones right :-D

    Every cloud has a silver lining…

    ชั่ว เจ็ด ที ดี เจ็ด หน
    chûa jèt tee dee jèt hŏn
    Evil seven times, good seven times.

    Ben, please let me know how you get on, especially if something funny comes of it!

  15. Neil, you just need to jump in and savour the moment.

    Truuuuuuuuuuuuuuust me, heh?

  16. That’s a strange translation…. Sort of, evil happens, so good happens, equally. then?

    This blog is a just a treasure trove of knowledge!

    Ben Shingletons last blog post..Garden pathways

  17. Ben, I had the same reaction as you. When I discussed it with Myke, what he said made sense to me (thanks Myke!)

    ‘…connecting one cultures phrases to another’s is like trying to compare their cuisines, same meat, same ingredients but different flavor, any way you slice it…’

    Looking at it as Myke suggests:

    A dark cloud = Evil seven times
    The silver lining = Good seven times

    So even though we can be bad (human nature), we can also gain merit(?) / recover our goodness(?) by being good an equal amount of times.

    So the silver lining is us making an attempt to do good to make up for being bad.

    And how many of us have done just that? Most, I imagine.

  18. Great stuff. I like the connecting culture quote. I have to say I do like the seeming simplicity of the Thai expressions, gives me a little more hope that one day I may be able to crack it.

  19. Me too, although they do take a bit more time to get into my head their way.

  20. >> Truuuuuuuuuuuuuuust me, heh? <<
    Why is it every time I truuuuuust you, I get into trouble?
    (just kidding:-)

    I’ll let you know how my durian adventure goes. A trip to the Chinese store will give me a chance to yap a bit in Mandarin. I always screw something up. But, it’s usually good for a laugh or two. Sort of like you telling that taxi driver to make a turn.

  21. Excellent interview Catherine. I was actually looking into one of his suggestions to get childrens books to aid in learning Thai. Chew a jet, T D, jet hun…I tried this last night on my girl and obviously butchered it because she just said Ari na?

  22. Talen, thanks! Myke is fun to work with so it was a hoot putting together. He even corrected my spelling :-D

    I have a post on reading Thai with sound (I feel it’s important to get the sound too)

    Thai English Readers With Sound

    In there you’ll find the Thai publishers I mentioned earlier:

    Nation Egmont
    Nanmee Books

    Neil,

    Moi? Get you into trouble?

    The taxi driver… are you talking about this?

    What I Love About the Thai Language

    :-)

  23. >> Moi? Get you into trouble?
    Oui, vous. :-)

    >> The taxi driver… are you talking about this?
    Yup. That would be the one.

  24. I recall getting you out of trouble but my mind pulls a total blank on the other.

    (getting older means I get to enjoy selective memory)

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