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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!