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Interview: Luca Lampariello on Learning Languages

Interview: Luca Lampariello on Learning Languages

YouTube polyglot Luca Lampariello…

Back in 2009 YouTube polyglots were becoming all the rage. Poking around to see what all the excitement was about, Luca Lampariello’s Channel stood out for me. What really impressed me was Luca’s method for learning languages. And the array of languages he spoke wasn’t too shabby either: Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Russian, and Portuguese.

After Luca and I’d been chatting for awhile, he agreed to explain his method in more detail in order for me to share it here. With much patience on his side (thanks Luca) together we created what became two top draws on WLT. And by the end, Luca and I became friends.

If you haven’t read them yet, they are absolutely worth your while: An Easy Way to Learn Foreign Languages: Part One and An Easy Way to Learn Foreign Languages: Part Two.

Over the years Luca has continued to dedicate his time to the language learning community. Definitely past time for an interview!

Interview: Luca Lampariello on Learning Languages…

Hi Luca, how are you? Long time no see! During our first collaboration you spoke nine languages. How many languages do you speak now?

Interview: Luca Lampariello on Learning LanguagesHi Catherine. I am great thanks! Well, it depends on the definition of “speaking a language”. I like thinking of a language as a network that we build with time. In my opinion, being able to speak a language means being able to assemble words together to form sentences, as well as being able to interact with native speakers in daily life. It is a bit like playing with Legos. When we have 100 Lego pieces in front of us, the very first thing that comes to mind is not the quantity but the question “how am I going to assemble them together?” One can know an incredible amount of words without even being able to string a sentence together. Also, communication between two human beings is always bidirectional, so when somebody asks me such a question, I always think about speaking as well as understanding what people say. That’s another capacity that we develop by way of practice and exposure, and it is an integral part of using a language.

How do you choose which language to learn and why do you decide to study a particular one?

I have to say that in this regard languages are like girls. We have the illusion that we choose them, but in the end, they choose us. If I think about it, it is the languages that have chosen me along my path, and every single one has a different story.

How long does it take for you to learn a new language to fluency?

Once again, one should clearly define the term fluency. Unfortunately it is a very vague term, and everybody has their own definition. Having said that, and having given my own definition, I would say that the amount of time it takes to reach fluency depends on your mother tongue and the target language. In my case, it took me less than a year to become fluent in Spanish, and more than two years to become fluent in Chinese. So in general, it takes six months to two years to become “fluent”, depending on the language. In this regard, I would also distinguish between “conversational fluency” and “advanced fluency”. One thing is to be able to speak and understand natives, another is to enjoy a language in all its aspects: books, movies, cultural jokes, etc. That takes a much longer time.

Is it possible to learn a language in one month or in a relatively short amount of time?

The modern world is obsessed with speed. Language learning is a long road if our objective is to be able to use language in all its aspects. That said, adults already have their own native tongue in place, which is an advantage because we don’t start totally from scratch like kids do. But just to start communicating at a very basic level is certainly possible, especially in languages that are close to our own.

Regarding your study routine, how many hours a day do you spend on learning your languages?

Not that much to tell you the truth. I spend relatively little time deliberately studying a language, 30 minutes, maybe 1 hour a day when I am inspired, but the key factor is consistency: I do it every day. Learning something every day, even at small doses, leads to success in every activity. I call it “the bucket effect”. Look at an empty bucket. A drop falls in it. “Ok”, you might say – “it still looks empty”. Without realizing it though, one drop every five seconds can fill a bucket in a matter of hours. Our brain is like a bucket, and the drops are the bits and pieces of information that flow into it, day by day. After months our brain is full of information and ready to be used in the real world. And when we start doing that, we start learning faster and faster as we get exposed to the language.

People are often in awe of your pronunciation in all the languages that you speak. How can you reach such near-native pronunciation? And how can one reach a near-native pronunciation in a foreign language?

Oh, that’s a tough one (kidding). I think that there are two main factors that really make a difference in this regard:

First, I am interested in sounds, and I do care about having good pronunciation. So I start paying attention to phonetic patters from the very beginning.

Secondly, I am good at impersonating other people. I think that while training is great, I also believe that in order to reach certain results, one has to let go of his personality in one’s native language and “live” another character in another language. If the world is a stage, like Shakespeare writes, then taking on another language is like switching from the character one has always played into a different character within the frame of another story.

Proof of this is that when I speak another language I have a different personality. I do different things, I act differently, my gestures are different. Everything changes, and when I speak, it is as if I had another experience of life. This is the sum of all my experiences, the people I’ve met, the movies I’ve watched in that language. They all breathe and live inside of me when I use the language.

Did it ever happen to you to be taken for a native speaker? What was people’s reaction about that? Do you think it is that important?

Yes, many times. Especially in English, French, Spanish and German. Now it is happening more and more often in Russian. People are always surprised, and it always ends up spawning interesting experiences. Once I was sitting in a square in Rome and I heard a loud burp. I said, in English, “what, that is a loud burp there”. The girl who belched laughed and asked me if I was American. From that little exchange, I got to know someone who became one of my best American friends, and I don’t think it would have happened if I hadn’t replied in that accent. I can tell you countless stories like this. People’s attitude towards you changes considerably, and I found it be a strong motivation in learning other languages.

Speaking like a native doesn’t have to be the main goal of a language learner. It is not an easy goal to reach, and to be totally frank, just a tiny fraction of people achieve it, and for a number of various reasons. Having said that, I think that achieving good pronunciation within everyone’s reach, provided that they start working on it from the very beginning.

Which is the most critical aspect in learning a foreign language: grammar, syntax or vocabulary? Any useful tips or piece of advice to tackle these three aspects?

There is no single aspect more critical than the others. They are all equally important. I think that languages are living, extremely complex entities and we shouldn’t focus too much on the single parts because we run the risk of “getting lost in the maze”. That said, some languages have specific features that pose problems. The characters and tones of Mandarin Chinese, for example. I think that one should find a way to tackle languages in a way that suits their needs and tastes, and that embraces languages as a whole. The method needs to be flexible though, so that one can adapt it to the specific language.

As far as grammar and syntax are concerned, a famous Hungarian polyglot used to say “don’t learn language from the grammar, but grammar from the language”. I completely agree. I think that while some grammar explanations are great at the beginning, one starts figuring out the patterns of the language through exposure. If we try to learn all the rules at the beginning, we end up getting lost and frustrated when we realize we cannot actually use those rules in the real world. The same goes for syntax. I say, get exposed to the language, use it, and the fog of grammar and syntax will lift in the course of time.

As for vocabulary, my first piece of advice is to get a hold of content that you like. Interest causes your brain to retain information more efficiently. Then use spaced-time repetition. We don’t store a word just by looking at it. We need to see it a few times and in different contexts before it “sinks in”.

You are known for using a technique involving translation from and to the target language. Some might find it a hindrance to the development of the capacity to “think” directly in the foreign language. What is your take on that?

It is always a question of how you do it, and my experience is that there is a “right” way to use translation. I use translation as a tool to figure out the patterns of a foreign language while using my own as a crutch. I do this for a few months, after which I start using the language without even thinking about my own. If one translates with the wrong goal in mind and does it poorly, they run the risk of filtering everything through the lens of their own language, and that should obviously be avoided because it creates considerable interference.

What other languages are you planning to learn? Thai, for instance?

Of course I have! Thai is one of the languages that I would really like to learn. I have heard great stories from friends who went to Thailand, and the idea of enjoying such a lovely country and interacting with the locals in their own language is exhilarating.

Do you enjoy traveling? Do you think that it’s important to travel to learn languages? And … any plans to come Thailand?

I love traveling. I was thinking about this recently on the plane back to Rome. Travelling, like language learning, is a journey into new worlds, but it is also an inner journey that we take inside ourselves. All those who have traveled, no matter the distance, have felt that strange, bittersweet feeling of bewilderment, a sudden desire to live more and more intensively. One of my favorite quotes comes from Chris McCandless, a guy whose story inspired “Into the Wild”: “staying is existing, traveling is living”.
Of course I will come to Thailand – did you have doubts about it? (laughing)

How has the ability to speak different languages changed your life?

They dramatically changed it in all its aspects. I work full-time as a language coach on-line, and I use tons of languages every day. I made friends with many many people from all over the world, and when I travel or I live in a foreign country, life is so much easier. If somebody were to ask me for one reason why I learn so many foreign languages, I would simply answer “for all the reasons of the world”

Where are you now in your path? What are your projects for 2014?

I have a ton of projects lining up. The most important one is the book I have been writing for quite some time now. But right now I am working on a huge workshop that is going to take place in Vienna next week. I have been working hard on it. The main goal is to give people the right tools and frame of mind to achieve their dreams. For example, with the internet, I think the focus is shifting from giving language learners the “right” materials (of which there is overabundance) to teaching them first how to find and create their own materials according to their tastes, and above all, how to use them.

Thanks for this interview Luca.

Thank you Catherine!

You can find more about Luca’s workshop here: How to learn a language WITHOUT killing yourself

Luca Lampariello
Web: thepolyglotdream
Facebook: Luca Lampariello
YouTube: poliglotta80

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Polyglot Project: The Absolute Best Way to Learn Languages

The Polyglot Project: Ready for Download

The Absolute Best Way to Learn Foreign Languages…

Back in August I wrote about an undertaking Claude Cartaginese took on: The Polyglot Project: In Their Own Words. His idea was to compile a smorgasbord of language learning experiences. Claude put out a request for entries, and during a several month spread we’d get to read the new additions.

Just this week Claude announced the finished project. You can buy the book at amazon.com, or download it free from his post: The Absolute Best Way to Learn Foreign Languages.

Claude’s YouTube announcement is quite fun, so if you have the time…

Generous contributors to the polyglot project…

Before I sign off, I thought I’d list those who gave time to this project. First off, editor Claude Cartaginese. Claude has put together an amazing product for the language learning community. Nice job Claude!

Next up are the YouTube polyglots, hyper-polyglots, linguists, language learners and language lovers… in alphabetical order (apologies for the lack of links but coding boogers drove me crazy for over an hour so… linkless):

The Polyglot Project: Ready for DownloadAaron Posehn (aaronposehn), Albert Subirats (alsuvi), Amy Burr (pinkpumkinn), Anonymous, Anthony Lauder (FluentCzech), Bart Vervaart (Bartisation), Benny, Carlos Cajuste, Christopher Sarda (The Word Collector), Cody Dudgeon (Codylanguagesblog), Dave Cius, David James (usenetposts), Dion Francavilla (paholainen100), Edward Chien (propugnatorfidei), Fang (Creativity Japanese), Felix (loki2504), Felipe Belizaire (newstylles), Graeme (roedgroedudenfloede and Hvad Siger Du), Ivan Kupka (Rekreacni anglictina), Jara Kristiaan, Kathleen Hearons (katrudy7), Lorenzo R. Curtis (5Language and 5languages Blog), John Fotheringham (Foreign Language Mastery), Luka Skrbic (LukaSkrbic), mick, Mike Campbell (Glossika), Moses McCormick (laoshu), Nelson Mendez (NelsonMéndez.com), Oscar (OscarP282), Paul Barbato (Paulbarbato), Peter E. Browne (alkantre), Philip Price, Raashid Kola (sigendut1), SanneT, Shana Tan (Hangukdrama and Korean), Skrik (shriekshriek), skyblueteapot (May Contain Traces of Dodo), Stephen Eustace, Steve Kaufmann (lingosteve and LingQ), Stuart Jay Raj (stujaystujay and Language and Mind Mastery), Vera ( LingQVera and Sprachenlernen mit LingQ), Yuriy Nikshych (yurithebest).

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Cracking Thai Fundamentals: Interview with Scott Eddy

Cracking Thai Fundamentals: Interview With Scott Eddy

Talking about Stu Jay Raj’s Cracking Thai Fundamentals…

Stu is back in Bangkok with Cracking Thai Fundamentals. You already know my experiences with Stu’s workshop, so to give you another opinion I asked a former student of Stu’s, Scott Eddy, for an interview.

I first heard about Scott from Claudio Sennhauser, a mutual friend (thanks Claudio!) As mentioned, Claudio will be attending Stu’s coming workshop and plans to give an interview as well.

Scott has spent the past few years bouncing around the world, with Thailand drawing him back just recently. So recent, that I made contact with Scott right when he was moving into his new digs in Phuket.

Interviewing Scott Eddy…

How do you learn languages?

Myself personally, I really need to have a teacher. When it comes to learning new languages, I am somewhat lazy, so if I leave it up to books and cd’s, I will do it for a few days, then get bored.

How did you hear about Stuart Jay Raj’s Cracking Thai Fundamentals programme?

I was reading through some forums where people were talking about this “language guru” that was the best in the world. More than looking for a teacher, I have never met a “guru”, so I just wanted to meet him. And after a few classes, we actually became good friends, and started hanging out outside of classes.

What was your Thai level before hooking up with Stu?

My Thai was non-existent.

What is your Thai level now?

When I left Thailand in 2006, after living there many years, my Thai level was pretty good, comprehending 60-70%, maybe more, and speaking 40-50%. Fortunately, I had a Thai girlfriend/fiancée for 3.5 years, so I used to keep my Thai going, even though she is an executive at Chevron and speaks perfect English. And while I was away 4.5 years, 3 years in Barcelona, 6 months in London, and 1 year in Miami, I tried to go eat Thai 2-3 times per week and speak to my Thai friends in Thailand as much as possible. Now that I am back, I am probably comprehending 30-40% and speaking 20-30%.

Can you describe Stuart Jay Ra’s style of teaching? How did Stu help you improve?

His style is unlike any that I have ever seen or heard of. As a religious follower of self improvement motivational speakers, I was immediately drawn into his methods. He uses your body movements in many of his methods, which helps you remember longer than traditional methods. And most of all, his classes are fun, not just about learning the language, you will also learn about the culture and hear about his crazy past, and his dealings with every level of Thailand, from the every day Thai’s that you will meet walking down the street to the Royal level.

Would you recommend other people learning with him? Why?

Everyone that wants to learn Thai I send to him. There are not too many teachers out there with his background and knowledge.

The bottom line is this, being a foreigner in a third world country is hard enough, but it becomes harder if you do not open your eyes and try to learn not only their language, but their culture as well. And, with his background, there is no one better to help you achieve everything you hope to gain in Thailand, than Stu. He takes a special interest in each student, something that you will never find, in any teacher, anywhere in the world!

Scott Eddy
Facebook: MrScottEddy
Twitter: @MrScottEddy

Stu Jay Raj’s Cracking Thai Fundamentals…

If you want to get the tiny details about Stu’s workshop, then head over to Cracking Thai Fundamentals for more.

Stu can also be found at the locations below:
Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Language and Mind Mastery
YouTube Channel: stujaystujay
Twitter: @stu_jay
Facebook: Stu Jay Raj
Facebook: Stujay.com – Language and Mind Mastery by Polyglot Stuart Jay Raj

And here are Stu’s growing posts on WLT:
Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Interview Part One
Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Interview Part Two
Successful Thai Language Learner: Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj
Mnidcraft: The Art of Language
Cracking Thai Fundamentals Meets Mnidcraft Over Songkran
Stu Jay Raj is Back in Bangkok with Cracking Thai Fundamentals

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Baby Steps to Fluency on Skype Language Exchange Partners

Baby Steps to Fluency on Skype Language Exchange Partners

Fiona from Baby Steps to Fluency…

This is the seventh post in the Learn Thai via Skype series. If you’ve just arrived, feel free to start at the beginning with How to Learn Thai via Skype and work your way up from there.

When I have time to spare, I enjoy reading the experiences of other language bloggers. And not just those from the Thai persuasion. Fiona’s Baby Steps to Fluency (no longer online) is one I follow for awhile.

Young Fiona is on her way to being a polyglot (which is waaaay over my abilities), so it’s interesting to read her mindset.

I don’t have experience with language exchange partners so Fiona kindly agreed to an interview to help me out.

Interviewing Fiona about language exchange partners…

Fiona, could you please tell us about your interest in learning languages?

Fiona from Baby Steps to FluencyI’ve been interested in languages pretty much since I can remember. I grew up to an American mother in The Netherlands – and, though I didn’t speak English, I remember spending hours looking through my mom’s English books, copying different words, trying to pronounce them, and asking my mom what certain words meant. When I moved to America, I learned English ‘for real’, and the ability to talk to a whole ‘nother culture fascinated me. Throughout school, I studied languages – and now, I’m an addict ;)

When did you first start using Skype for language exchange?

The idea of using Skype for language exchange actually snuck up on me. I had been a member of a group Unilang Language chat for quite a while, when we started casually having voice chats, which, inevitably, turned into a chat with a medley of languages. After a while of doing this, I started talking to some of the members individually, and started having chats in my target languages with these people. It wasn’t until later that I realized there were actually websites based on this concept.

What is a typical Skype language exchange for you?

Typically, I get together with someone for who English or Dutch is their target language, and where Russian or Spanish is their native language. We usually spend about 30 minutes speaking in one language, and then 30 minutes in the other. When I’m speaking in one of my ‘native’ languages, I correct the other’s mistakes and answer their questions, and when we switch, I get my mistakes fixed and questions answered. To have an effective language exchange, we generally use a mix of text and voice chats, though both have their benefits – at night, usually, I’d do just text chats, whereas during the day, I prefer voice chats.

How many times a week/month do you set up a language exchange?

Depends – since I’m a student, I usually have no more than one or two chats a month during the school year – I generally have many chances to talk in my target languages during the school day. During the summer, I try to get in at least one chat a week.

How long is a regular language exchange session?

Usually an hour – 30 minutes per language. If we both have more time, we talk longer, and if we have less time, we decrease it to 15 minutes per language. However, an hour total seems to be perfect.

Do you follow a structured exchange as suggested by the Cormier method?

My language exchanges tend to be similar, but I’ve never purposely followed this method. I tend to go with the flow – if we’re having a great time talking about a subject in a specific language, we will continue talking in that language until we feel like changing. 30 minutes per language is a guideline, not a rule. I focus on having fun and learning, if that means deviating from the different methods, that’s fine!

Do you record your language exchanges? If so, what software do you use?

I try to record my language exchanges when I can. I find it very beneficial to listen to our discussions later, so that I can review corrections and listen to my accent so that I know what to improve on. I use Audacity.

Other than Skype, what other resources do you use for language exchanges?

If I am doing a voice chat, a headset is integral – it reduces echo and makes it easier to understand each other. I keep my language books close by incase I want to look something up, and as mentioned before I like using Audacity to record my conversations.

Do you prefer language exchanges with a group, or one on one?

For serious studying, I like doing languages exchanges one on one. It is easier to concentrate talking to one person, and I tend to get more done. However, for ‘fun’ discussions, group chats are great – not quite as effective, but it’s fun talking to a lot of people and listening to people with more knowledge talk can expose you to more vocabulary. So, I speak mostly one on one, but try to talk to groups as well.

Where do you normally find your language exchange partners?

Most of my language exchange partners come from message boards and other websites I’m a member of. I hardly ever go to dedicated language exchange websites. Most of my partners come from How To Learn Any Language and Unilang.

How many language exchange partners do you juggle at one time?

I don’t have more than one or two per language. Most of my partners are friends, so we usually just hit each other up when we feel like chatting, so it doesn’t feel like I’m ‘juggling’ partners, per se – I just focus on talking to a couple people that I feel are particularly knowledgeable.

Is it difficult to find a good language exchange partner fit?

It can be. Not only do you need someone that speaks your target language, you need to find someone who has similar interests (so you have something to talk about), similar goals, and knowledge of grammar and other aspects of your target language. I have gone through a lot of language partners before I found one that I really click with.

Have you ever had a teacher driven language exchange?

No, I haven’t. However, I am planning on asking my language teacher next year to do something similar – I’ll let ya know how it works!

What advice can you give to students considering a language exchange partner(s)?

Make sure you know each other’s goals so that you can both get something out of the exchange. Also, make sure it is someone with similar interests and personality, because a language exchange partner that you don’t get along with or can’t talk to won’t be your partner for very long.

Fiona,
Baby Steps to Fluency

How to learn Thai via Skype, the series…

This post is part seven of an eight part series.

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The Polyglot Project: In Their Own Words

The Polyglot Project: In Their Own Words

The Polyglot Project: In Their Own Words…

I’m a slooooow mover in the mornings. I flop out of bed, stagger stiff-legged and mostly blind to the kitchen, turn on the kettle, and then fix my breakfast while waiting for the water to boil. With pot, cup, and bowl or plate in hand, I point myself in the direction of the sofa to set up my computer.

First up, email. Second, site stats. Third, twitter.

And twitter is where I found lingosteve’s tweet announcing: The polyglot project, my submission (posterous is no longer online).

I didn’t read Steve’s post (I figured the guts would be in the pdf). Instead, I went straight to The Polyglot Project’s download page on docstock.com: The Polyglot Project _Draft-August 1_ 2010

And there went a chunk of my Sunday. Bye bye.

What is The Polyglot Project?…

Many of the language enthusiasts sharing experiences and tips in The Polyglot Project have YouTube channels, so I located as many as I could (links below). And it was on YouTube where I discovered more about the project from its creator, YouTube polyglot Claude (syzygycc).

Naming it The Polyglot Project is sort of inaccurate because not everyone submitting is a polyglot, or even admits to being one. But they certainly have a passion for learning languages in common. And I agree that giving it a long title such as ‘YouTube Polyglots, Hyperpolyglots, Linguists, Language Learners and Language Lovers’ is too much of a mouthful. But calling it plain ‘Language Lovers’ would be too… sweet. Yes?

From Claude: The Polyglot Project is a book written entirely by YouTube Polyglots and language learners. In it, they explain their foreign language learning methodologies. It is motivating, informative and (dare one say) almost encyclopedic in its scope. There is nothing else like it. And, best of all, it’s completely free!

It is currently in the draft stage. The final book should be ready sometime in late September, 2010. If you wish to submit, it’s not too late–you have until August 31.

It sort of reminds me of a series on WLT – Interviewing Successful Language Learners – excepting that mine is limited to those learning the Thai language (not polyglots), with the replies being less freeform (ok, ok, apart from one: Chris Baker)

Below is the call for action posted at how-to-learn-any-language.com:

I want to put a book together, available to all for free which is written by you language lovers for all language lovers. How did you learn your languages? How has the study of foreign languages enriched your life? Who influenced you? I want to know. Send me a written piece, in English […] About 1-15 pages, covering any topic you wish relating to foreign languages. I’m looking forward to hearing from you guys!

It’s now Sunday the 22nd of August, so those aiming to be included in the project had better get a move on!

Polyglots, Hyperpolyglots, Linguists, Language Lovers and Learners…

As of the August 17th draft, there are 18 language aficionados involved in the project:

Yurithebest (Ukrainian), Shanna Tan (Singaporean), Philip Price (British), Peter E Browne (American), Moses McCormick (American), Amy Burr (American), Ivan Kupka (Slovakian), Oscar (Spanish), Dion Francavilla (Australian-Italian), Nelson Mendez (Venezuelan), Luka Skrbic (Serbian), Félix (Belgian), Graeme (Scottish), < Paul Barbato (American), Anthony Lauder (British), Stephen Eustace (Irish), Skrik (Taiwanese), Raashid Kola (British-Indian), Christopher Sarda (American), Vera (German), Steve Kaufmann (Canadian). Some language enthusiasts talk about their backgrounds, others share tips for learning languages. But I'll wait until the book is published before writing about the tips in any detail. I'm already jumping up and down over the contents, so whatever gets added later is soooooooooo gravy.

Missing YouTube Polyglots, Hyperpolyglots, and Linguists…

Reading through both drafts, I kept expecting to see the two inspiring polyglots in my life: Luca Lampariello and Stu Jay Raj.

I expected to see Steve Kaufman’s entry as well (otherwise known as lingosteve). But I imagine Claude came across Steve’s bits at the same time I did.

No matter. The countdown for final submissions is on… and I’ll be waiting.

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Polyglot Stu Jay Raj: Language Secrets From a Linguistic Junkie

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Stu’s impressive multilingual presentation…

In case you’ve missed it, this week on WLT has been back-to-back Stu Jay Raj:

And if you live in Thailand, then you’ll know that it’s been HOT HOT HOT this week. Trying to keep cool, I’ve been hiding out under the AC, spending a bit of my time poking around on the Internet. Along the way I rediscovered a couple of Stu’s YouTube videos (below).

And as videos are the next best thing to seeing Stu in person… well… you know…

Stu has fabulous videos on YouTube (I can watch for hours). So if you are unsure where to go next, head to his YouTube channel: stujaystujay

Side note: I was lucky to have the Stu Jay Raj experience early on. And in listening to his videos, I’m thinking that it was a mixture of Benjawan, David, and Stu who convinced me that learning to read Thai early is the way to go. It took me a bit to find a teacher who agreed, but I got there in the end. And for me, I agree too.

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Successful Thai Language Learner: Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj
Nationality: Fijian Indian / Australian
Age range: 30-40
Sex: Male
Location: Anywhere and Everywhere
Profession: TV Host / Cross Cultural Business Consultant
 
Web: Stu Jay Raj
stujaystujay’s YouTube Channel

Note: As this is the final post of a three part interview, some of the questions below have already been answered in more detail. If you haven’t had the pleasure, please take the time to read them too.

Stu Jay Raj interview…

 
What is your Thai level?
 

Fluent.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?
 

Professional when I’m working, street Thai on the street and Isaan when I’m in Isaan.

 
What were your reasons for learning Thai?
 

Live life.

Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?
 

Yes – arrived in 1999 permanently. I’m a permanent resident – though just set my family up in Australia. I travel back and forth.

How long have you been a student of the Thai language?
 

1999.

Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?
 

Right away.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?
 

It was my life.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?
 

Let the language consume me.

Did one method stand out over all others?
 

‘Method’ was living my life in Thai.

 
How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?
 

Straight away.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

No.

 
What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?
 

Realising that the sound / writing system and tone rules are based on the Indic Sound System / Map of the mouth.

How do you learn languages?
 

With passion.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?
 

  • Strengths – have passion about languages.
  • Weakness – when learning, get obsessed by whatever it is I’m learning and won’t let it go until I can conquer it.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?
 

Just because there are 40 odd consonants that it’s ‘hard to learn’. … oh, and that ‘tones are difficult’.

 
Can you make your way around any other languages?
 

Yes.

Were you learning another language at the same time as Thai?
 

Yes – always learning languages simultaneously.

You have both programming abilities and a passion for music. Do you see either as having a connection to learning languages?
 

They are all just using different tools to render a meaning.

What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?

Don’t compare apples with oranges. Thai is not English… However, just because it looks different, doesn’t mean that there aren’t similarities. Up to 60% of Modern Thai has roots in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is an Indo-European language as is English. There are some amazing similarities that are ‘masked’ through the ‘different look’ of the language. Once you start to scratch the surface a little you’ll realize that the things that you thought were difficult – writing, tones etc, aren’t that difficult at all. They’re just different.

Don’t be put off learning Thai just because you’ve had a bad experience with Thai teachers. Just like many native speakers of English, many Thais don’t have a deep understanding of their own language. 

When learners of Thai ask a question like:

‘Why are there 3 consonant classes?’
or
‘Why does the high tone actually rise?’

the response is normally something like:

‘There are 3 consonant classes – High, Middle and Low. The High class has ‘x’ number of letters, the middle class has ‘x’ number of letters etc etc.
Or,
‘you are a Farang, you don’t need to know that’.

The fact is that for most of them, they’ve never learned ‘why’ themselves.

One good formula is to have several different people that you learn from. Learn something ‘advanced’ from one of them. Something that a normal learner wouldn’t normally know. After that, go and try it out by just dropping it into a conversation with another Thai that you consult with. They will be impressed and think that your level is higher than what it really is. Then ask them to teach you something new. Keep rotating around your ‘Thai Consultants’ with new terms, new words and slang until your proficiency catches up with their perceived proficiency for you. It’s a great way to get past the ‘farang’ Thai that farang get taught and sound more native-like, not to mention keep motivated and positive about learning after each positive impression you make.

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj
Stu Jay Raj | stujaystujay’s YouTube Channel

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you are a successful Thai language learner and would like to share your experiences, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

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Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Interview Part Two

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Interview with polyglot Stu Jay Raj…

Heads-up everyone: This post is a continuation of Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Interview Part One.
 
Stu, with Cracking Thai Fundamentals and Mnidcraft, you’ve taught the Thai language to expats for some time. In your experience, which learning difficulties are the most common?
 

The writing system always stands as one of the biggest mental barriers for learners of Thai. Many people say ‘I just want to learn to speak Thai, I don’t need to learn to read or write’. I really believe that embarking on learning Thai with this attitude is shooting yourself in the foot before you’ve even started. The Thai writing system is based on a very logical system that’s actually a map of the human mouth. People shouldn’t count consonants and vowels and use that as a measuring stick for how hard a language is to learn.

The first thing you learn when you learn Mandarin is Hanyu Pinyin – the Romanized sound system. Luckily for Mandarin, Hanyu Pinyin was put together by linguists who knew what they were doing and can be used very accurately to produce the sounds in Mandarin. 

Unfortunately for Thai, although there are many transliteration systems, the best ones I have seen are based on the IPA phonetic symbols. I notice with other Roman systems, unless you’re a linguist, learners’ mother tongue’s interpretations of roman letters filter the sounds when they’re reading the Thai words. The result, confused looks on Thai people’s faces and frustration from the learner when they think they’re saying the right thing but aren’t understood.

Investing a little bit of time getting a solid foundation when it comes to pronunciation and the sound system – and the writing system as an extension of that, will help you avoid hitting that ‘glass ceiling’ that many learners of Thai hit when they realize that they need to ‘unlearn’ a whole lot of language that has now already been embedded into their muscle memory.

How do you address these learning difficulties?
 

I tried to develop a system that enabled learners to spend a short time in learning the sound system and writing system in a fun way and kept it in the long term memory. That’s where Cracking Thai Fundamentals came from. You can see some examples of how I’ve done this in my blog, or on my youtube channel. Here’s an example:

With these two clips, most people can learn most of the Thai vowels in around 20mins to half an hour.

If you could pick five books from your librarything to help learners of the Thai language, what would they be, and why?
 

That only has a small portion of my books.

I would recommend:

  • A Dictionary of English Thai Idioms – Ted Strehlow
  • From Ancient Languages to Modern Dialects – Marvin J Brown
  • Any one of Andrew Biggs’ books – written in Thai, are a great starting point to reading Thai. The stories he speaks about are normally easily understood by ‘farang’, so will carry you through language you don’t know. Start with a couple of lines. Move on to a paragraph. Within a couple of weeks, your reading speed will really start to pick up.
  • Teach Yourself Thai – David Smyth
  • ทะลึ่ง – ‘Thaleung’ – Series of books covering Thai risqué jokes and short stories. Most stories are only a paragraph or two and in most cases, the picture tells it all. Reading through it, you will start to appreciate Thai humour, see a lot of idioms and slang being used and get out of the normal ‘farang’ vocabulary that Thais think that farang have to use – as opposed to what’s really used.

What other books should beginner to intermediate learners of the Thai language read?

Everything and anything. There are some really great books and many extremely crappy ones. I’m yet to find a book that I can’t learn something from. 

More than just reading books, I highly recommend learning to type in Thai from the get-go and get into blogs, web boards, MSN, facebook and anything else online that lets you interact with Thais in ‘everyday’ Thai language. The best thing about Thai on the internet is that it’s phonetic and is written to represent the way it’s really pronounced. You can ‘read’ someone’s mood / accent by how they’ve written.

Your Cracking Thai Fundamentals course is hilarious fun. Could we please get an overview?
 

Here is the blurb taken from one of the brochures:

This course is suited to anyone who has just arrived in Thailand and wants to start off on the right foot or for anyone who has lived in Thailand for a long time but their knowledge of Thai sounds like a clumsy shoe falling down the stairs.

Stuart Jay Raj has built up a reputation in Thailand for teaching the Thai language and culture to the expatriate community since 2000. When it comes to languages, take our word for it…this guy knows what he is talking about in any of the 13 different languages he can fluently speak, listen, read and write!

Aside developing conversational skills in Thai, other topics the course covers include:

  • Memory techniques and building
  • Building cognitive fluency when speaking Thai – training ourselves to react in Thai without thinking
  • Motivating in the Thai workplace and eliciting the information we really need
  • Using language to build a cross cultural rapport in the workplace
  • Street Thai vs. Formal Thai / what to say, when to say it and who to say it with
  • Expressing yourself in Thai to get the right reaction
  • Understanding and Using Thai humor to reach to the heart.

Learning with Stuart Raj

Language is an exciting, living, changing and flexible creature that lets us get into the minds of the people who speak it. As expatriates, the value that learning to understand and communicate clearly with locals is priceless – especially in the workplace!

Over 4 x 3 hour sessions you will achieve the following objectives:

  • Develop instinctive natural responses when conversing in Thai without passing through another language
  • Overcome the psychological barrier of learning a tonal language
  • Mastered the entire Thai Consonant System (including tonal classes) – Ideal for People who have learned previously but still have problems remembering symbols and classes – (Using imagery, mnemonics, sign language and 3-D spatial recognition)
  • Learned the entire Thai Vowel System – (using unique hand signs that directly relate to the vowel shapes in the Thai script)
  • Learned the Thai Tonal Rule System – (Using mind-mapping, imagery and story telling)
  • Learned new language learning techniques, including how to recognize and analyze many Sanskrit and Chinese based elements in Thai.

 
What will attendees learn in your Mnidcraft seminars?
 

Mnidcraft empowers anyone with a will to succeed to develop the same aptitude for languages and communication as what Stuart Jay Raj possesses based on powerful NLP modeling principles. 

NLP Modeling

NLP modeling is the practice of isolating essential patterns that makes someone successful and duplicating them into others in a way that they are practiced unconsciously.

 Stuart has carefully designed activities where you will not only learn the secrets that have crafted his aptitude for language, but will also have these skills, habits and knowledge embedded within you, breathing new life into your relationship with language!


More than just the ability to learn languages

, developing an aptitude for language is actually just a side effect of the Mnidcraft series. You will also tap into new abilities:



  • Super Memory

  • Perfect Pitch

  • Touch-type in multiple languages including Thai, Sanskrit and Korean

  • Be ‘funny’ across cultures
  • Increase self-esteem in yourself and others
  • Mimic sounds, body language and mannerisms
  • Build instant rapport with people you’ve just met
  • Master tones in Tonal Languages including Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese

  • Solve the Rubik’s Cube
  • Use an Abacus

  • Circular Breathing
  • Morse Code / Sign Language alphabets
  • Speed Reading

  • Simultaneous Interpreting
  • XML and programming fundamentals

What are your tips for learning and retaining new vocabulary?
 

Think LOUD … full of colours, sounds, emotions. Make crazy associations and then link them with a system that you can recall.

Know what ‘pushes your buttons’ then wrap the language up in whatever that is.

Excitement is the best memory technique.

What other advice do you give to students of the Thai language?
  

Have FUN with the language – learn as much as you can about the language as you learn to speak the language. 

Listen and observe – don’t use Thai as a vehicle to ‘say what you want to say’ to Thai people. Learn the stuff that they want to talk about and use the language to learn about them.

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj
Stu Jay Raj | stujaystujay’s YouTube Channel

The final section of this three part interview is: Successful Thai Language Learners: Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj.

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Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Interview Part One

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj

Interview with polyglot Stu Jay Raj…

When I moved to Bangkok I was fortunate to discover Stu Jay Raj’s Cracking Thai Fundamentals course located at that time on Suk Soi 1. Once a week for ten weeks I’d jump on the MRT to travel into the bowels of Bangkok for an hour of hilarious fun. Fun, because Stu is not only a knowledgeable teacher of the Thai language, but a fabulous entertainer too. And ever since then, I’ve followed Stu’s climbing career.

Stu’s interview on WLT has been a long time coming. Due to his varied background, the interview will be in three installments (and I could have easily asked enough questions for a fourth or even a fifth).

Stu Jay Raj: Accredited Dale Carnegie consultant and trainer; regional advisor, trainer, and lecturer in cross cultural communication; IT developer; simultaneous interpreter, translator and editor; television and audio composer; TV presenter; and polyglot.

Stu, when I first met you, you were fluent in: Speaking, listening, reading and writing with over 13 modern languages; Chinese dialects, Spanish, Indonesian, Thai, Danish and Sign language; plus a working knowledge of more than 15 additionally languages, modern and ancient. Have you added any more languages to your repertoire?
 

I don’t really like counting languages.  Languages are songs.

It’s like being a musician and being asked “How many songs do you know?” 

There are some songs you ‘know’ – you’ve rehearsed them every day for the past 20 years, you’ve played them in front of packed houses, you can improvise, you know how to pick a dead crowd up with it, you know what parts of the song to listen out for especially when you’re playing with new musicians and you can interpret what other musicians are doing with it. Those kinds of songs become just like another extension of your body. 

Then there are the ones that you ‘know’, but you’d probably need to have the chord chart handy just in case. 

Then there are the songs you ‘know’ – like when you hear them, you know who the composer was, what key it’s in and you could probably get away sitting in on a gig with another band playing it if you had the charts and were watching for the cues.

The ones I like are the songs you ‘don’t know’ – BUT … you can predict what they’re going to sound like.  For example, most ballads you hear playing on the radio or a Karaoke bar deep in the Sois of Sukhumvit will probably fall into one of a handful of ‘formulas’ with some variations here and there. I don’t know how many sappy songs there are out there where the bridge uses the chords ‘IV  – V/IV – IIImin7 – Vimin7 – IImin7 – V7 – I’ or some variation of it.  

If I was sitting in on a gig and didn’t even know the song, as soon as I heard the first couple of chords starting to sound like that formula, I could probably follow through being pretty certain that what I play is going to be a decent fit.

So to make a short answer even longer, and carrying on the analogy of ‘language’ = ‘song’, I’m always learning new songs and even those songs that I’ve played for years and feel like they’re part of me – I always find ways of making them new for me. At home I have thousands of ‘song’ books and everyday am buzzed to go to my collection and learn something new, sometimes about songs that I already know, sometimes about songs by the same composer, sometimes about songs in the same genre and sometimes I try out genres I’ve never really touched before. 

Since doing my TV show last year, I have been traveling all over the place, so I’ve been getting into languages like Tagalog, Turkish, Burmese and Vietnamese.

Your grandfather must be an amazing man. Not only is he a linguist with an extensive passion for history, but he took the time to share his love for languages with his young grandson. Did he use any language learning methods with you?
 

I can remember when I was about 4 and had the mumps. My grandfather sat with me and would read a book each day with me ‘Italian through pictures’. The book was made up with stick figure pictures and slowly building up functional vocabulary and structures. That book became part of me. Later on, if we were ever out, he would stand and point up at the birds just like the pictures. I would say just like in the book – “Gli uccelli sono là” (The birds are over there).

He also had sets of Japanese Kanji cards that we used to go through. He taught me all the different components of characters – the radicals and the other meaningful particles and we would have compete to see who could find them in the Kanji dictionary first.

He taught me all different memory techniques and we would use them to remember wordlists in English and other languages, memorize lists of numbers, calculate what day of the week any given date was, convert decimal to binary to hex, send messages to each other in Morse-code, build electric circuits from schematics, listen to shortwave radio broadcasts, taught me to touch-type at the age of around four and many other things that stimulated and bridged the senses.

He would play with words with me and we would make new meanings up by making ‘nonsense words’ with roots and affixes that only we knew what they meant.

I believe that all of these things had an impact on my ability to learn languages.

The combination of multiple language skills and training with the Dale Carnegie method must pack a punch when it comes to cross cultural communication. What is your advice for anyone going the same route?
 

Falling into Dale Carnegie was one of those unintentional happenings of fate.  It was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. Many of the things learned in Dale Carnegie were similar to what my grandfather had taught me and there were many other things that NO-ONE had ever taught me … but I needed to learn. The great thing about Dale Carnegie is that it teaches you to focus and build on the positive.

It took years just to be accredited to train a single programme. Being in training rooms day in day out during that time and learning under some amazing master trainers was an amazing experience. 

The one main thing that my time with Dale Carnegie taught me was the value of ‘people’. You might have a slew of letters after your name, but if you’re not good with people, the benefit you bring to an organization is very limited and can even be a liability. If you’re not a people person, you better be pretty damn good at what you do. 

When I came out of Dale Carnegie and started my own consultancy, I realized a potency of the synergies that language, cultural understanding and people skills brought. Companies, governments, UN agencies and NGO’s have also realized the potency of this and over the past ten years, many of them have trained me up to a level of competency in their industries and send me out to work with their people and be a conduit between local team members in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, India and other countries in Asia and executive management.

Advice for people taking the same route? Language + Hard-skills + People Skills = Higher ROI than just Language + People Skills. 

After interviewing Miss Indonesia 2005 (Artika Sari Dewi), you landed the envious job of linguist for the yearly Miss Universe pageants. Has it changed the direction of your life in any way?

Being part of the official Miss Universe interpreting team since 2005 has been one of the most amazing and life changing experiences. Each year I have the pleasure to travel to some of the most amazing places on the planet (this last year we were at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas) and rub shoulders with some of the world’s most amazing, influential and gorgeous people. Most of all, I get to spend time with one of the most amazing, talented group of linguistically inclined people on the planet. Most of the interpreting team are polyglots and all have amazing life stories. Some are of royal stock, some have become extremely successful after escaping war and hardship in their home countries. In 2008 when we were in Nha Trang, the Vietnamese interpreter went back to her home village in Nha Trang for the first time since escaping from there almost 40 years ago.  

It was that Vietnam event that we first met Lady Gaga. Most of us were wondering who she was. When she performed though, it became apparent that she would be the next ‘big thing’. Within months, she was topping the charts all over the world.

Miss Universe is an amazing cosmos to learn from. People who think it’s just about looks and ‘world peace’ are missing the bigger picture. It’s business. It’s marketing. It’s people.

It’s taught me once again that the ability to understand and build a rapport with ‘people’ is one of the most valuable assets anyone can have. With each pageant comes a whole new set of friends each year – from production crew to event organizers and contestants. After all these years we’re still close and I have had the opportunity to meet up with them again on my travels.


When I saw your new TV show, Nuea Chan Phan Plaek’ เหนือชั้น1000 แปลก, I couldn’t think of any other theme that would be as tailor-made for your linguistic talents. How did it come about? Did you put forward a proposal, or did they come to you?

A couple of years back I was asked to be a guest on the Thai talk-show ‘เจาะใจ’ (Joh Jai) to speak about languages. I had a blast doing the show and when the clips hit youtube, they ended up getting 100’s of 1,000’s of hits. I started to receive emails everyday from people all over the world who said that it inspired them to learn languages and aspire to become a polyglot. 

In 2009 one of the producers from JSL called me in and asked me to do a short test-shoot for a new programme that they were looking at producing. 

Things went well and I landed one of the best jobs I’ve ever had in my life. I was paid to fly around the world and hunt down stories on the most amazing, extraordinary and bizarre people, places and things on the planet.

On a Thai language note, the title of the show is interesting.  It was originally going to be called เหนือชั้น ขั้นเทพ ‘Neua Chan Khan Thep’ – ขั้นเทพ is a popular idiom that’s been in my opinion overused over the past couple of years in Thailand especially by the younger generation meaning ‘ guru’ or ‘master’. I think they were worried that using that word set the expectations bar too high for the show, so changed it to a play on words – ‘เหนือชั้น 1000 แปลก’. Here’s a breakdown of what it means:

เหนือ – ‘above’
ชั้น – ‘standard’ ‘class’ ‘level’
เหนือชั้น – ‘Above par’ or ‘extraordinary’

1000 แปลก is a play on words in that the number ‘1000’ is pronounced พัน ‘phan’. This is the same pronunciation as the Sanskrit based word for ‘species’ – พันธ์.  So when you hear the words 1000 แปลก, it could be interpreted as ‘1000’s of weird / strange things’ OR ‘strange species’.

The season finished at the end of the year, but I’m looking forward to doing more production work in 2010 hopefully targeted at the English speaking world this time.

Are you still performing with the ROL Jazz Trio in Bangkok?
 

Sadly not anymore. Since our bassist Kenro Oshidari was posted to Sudan a couple of years back, the ROL trio had to go on hiatus. Kenro is back in Bangkok now and all of us are keen to play, but now I have just moved my family to Australia. I fly back and forth, but aren’t in town enough to commit to playing. 

Playing jazz is an amazing outlet to maintain one’s sanity. You really notice the difference not playing each week. One thing I loved about our trio was that we would rehearse every week at Kenro’s place and in the 8 or so years that we played together, never had one fight or serious disagreement. For musicians, this is an amazing feat! We would record most weeks we played and listen to what we did in each gig to try and work out what we could build on and what needed to improve. I think this is a great principle to take through life.

What are you up to these days?
 

Just a couple of weeks ago, I moved my family over to Australia so that my kids could learn English and have a chance at a ‘non-Thai’ education over there.

I still travel back and forth in the region, but at the moment I’m trying to give some time back to the kids after having traveled up to 20 days out of each month for most of last year.

I am looking at partnering with an outfit working in the region in a few months and continue to provide solutions to the Oil and Gas industry. I’m also working on several production projects that will be airing in Asia and beyond.

What can we expect from you in the future?
 

I want to be the person that helped make ‘language’ and ‘using your brain’ sexy. Doing what I do combining multiple languages and cross cultural communication / training is a terrible business model in that you can’t cookie cut it that easily.

Leveraging through being in the media is one solution that I want to invest more time in over the next year. I’ll continue to build on my brand and continue to affiliate myself with organizations and people that support the same vision.

Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj
Stu Jay Raj | stujaystujay’s YouTube Channel

Next up: Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj: Interview Part Two.

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