The post (below), first published in May 2014, was updated in July of that year to announce Chris Lonsdale (龙飞虎) had just finished writing a book in Chinese titled 《6个月学会任何一种外语》 ("Learn any Language in Six Months").
He says this is an exciting development for native Chinese speakers who need or want to learn English, or any other second language, and want to learn it quickly.
The links to check out the book are:
Hong Kong based entrepreneur, psychologist, corporate leadership coach and educator, Chris Lonsdale debunks the myth that second language acquisition for adults is, by necessity, a frustrating and time consuming endeavor.
He backs his assertion by offering his own experience as an example. After arriving in mainland China he was speaking Mandarin fluently, like a native, within a remarkably short time. When he moved to Hong Kong, he repeated the process with Cantonese.
Now his method is available to anybody wanting to learn a new language.
Recently it was the subject of a TEDX talk he delivered at Lingnan University, Hong Kong. Like anything controversial and challenging, the video on YouTube has attracted a full spectrum of comments. Some people love it and say they are racing off to use his ideas immediately, and others loathe it with varying degrees of intensity and reason. Like or dislike aside, the video has notched up well over one million views. Obviously there are a lot of people out there for whom learning a second language is important.
The Chris Lonsdale method in a nutshell
Instead of the endless tedium of rote learning grammar rules and vocabulary lists Chris uses a methodology which he's fully documented in a book called The Third Ear . The same system underpins his language learning app for native Mandarin speakers: Kungfu English. By faithfully applying the five fundamental principles, and the seven action points, he's identified, he says a second language learner can progress from zero knowledge to competency in six months.
The five principles
Lonsdale’s five principles of rapid language acquisition are:
- Be motivated. Have a compelling reason to learn and within the new language, focus on content relevant to you. For example, if you want to learn to speak Mandarin to communicate with your business partners in China focus on learning business words and phrases.
- Use the new language. Put yourself in situations which force you to use the language in order to communicate with others.
- When listening focus on the context and delivery of the message. Try to understand what a speaker is saying through their gestures, body language, and facial expressions as well as their words. Comprehension or meaning is not derived from words alone but from a whole interaction.
- Retrain your brain and your face. We have filters allowing familiar sounds in and blanking out sounds that are foreign to us. Therefore if you can’t hear the sounds of the new language, you can’t learn it. The remedy is to immerse ourselves in the sounds of the new language until we can recognize them.
Similarly, speech requires using the facial muscles. Every language exercises those muscles according to its own unique sound patterning. Learning a new language requires coordinating and using those muscles in new ways in order to make the sounds listeners can understand.
- Be anxiety free and tolerate ambiguity. If you’re anxious, you’re not going to learn the new language easily as you'll have created an additional hurdle to overcome. Your energy will be split – one part trying to reassure yourself and another trying to learn. In contrast if you're relaxed you'll have the whole of your energy focused on the task. You'll be open to learning and will absorb information more easily.
In addition, you need to be able to tolerate ambiguity, not-knowing, or being vulnerable. At first when people speak to you in the language that you’re trying to learn, you’ll understand very little. You need to be able to maintain a strong sense of self; to accept the state of not-knowing as part of the normal learning process.
The seven actions a learner needs to take
Arising out of the five principles Chris has isolated seven actions that will accelerate language learning.
- Listen a lot. Lonsdale calls this brain soaking. He says it doesn’t matter if at first you don’t understand what you’re listening to. You’re listening to recognize patterns, words that repeat, and things that stand out. In addition, you’re listening to the rhythm of the language.
- Focus on meaning before trying to comprehend individual words or phrases. Concentrate on the totality of the interaction: its context, the body language used, the facial expressions and the gestures.
- Start mixing. If you know ten verbs, ten nouns, and ten adjectives in the new language, you can say 1000 different things. Language is a creative process. Look for ways to get your meaning across by using the words that you know. Allow yourself to appear and speak as a small child does learning their mother tongue. They do not use complete grammatically correct sentences. They mix and match with what they have.
- Focus on the core vocabulary. In every language there’s high frequency content – words that reoccur over and over again. For example English has one thousand words covering approximately 85% of anything you’re going to say in daily life. Three thousand words give you 98% coverage. All the other words in the English language are refinements.
- Get a language parent. This person's task is to treat you as they would a child learning the language. Ideally they'll understand what you are trying to say even when others don't. They'll be patient and non-judgmental about your attempts to communicate. Instead of continually correcting you they will model the correct pronunciation, word, phrase or grammatical structure. In addition they will be freely expressive - communicating in gesture and body language as well as words. Essentially this person will make it safe for you to experiment without fear of ridicule. Safely cocooned your confidence to learn, and implement what you learn, will increase quickly.
The process will likely mirror the sequence any small child follows when learning their native tongue.
In the first week you will be continually asking “What is this?”, “How do you say . . .”, “Can you say that again?”, “Can you repeat that?” These are fundamental questions – the backbone of acquisition. They need to be asked again and again and again.
In the second and third week you will have progressed to using very simple nouns, verbs, and pronouns - “you”, “me”, “talk”, “run”, “computer”, and so on.
By the forth week you'll be beginning to use “glue” words that stick or tie bits of language together. These are the “and”, “but”, “if” “although”, and “because” words. By the time you are at this point you are talking the new language.
- Copy the face. Just as a child intently watches the faces of the significant adults around it to learn to communicate, so must you observe closely. How does the face move when the “parent” is speaking? It is your task to mimic those facial movements.
- “Direct Connect” to mental images. The conventional model for acquiring vocabulary is to learn word lists through rote memorizing. This is a sterile, inefficient exercise as potent, accessible, and usable memory is created through combining sensory inputs. We remember things more readily if the things, (in this instance, words), are anchored in, or directly connected to our five senses: smelling, feeling, seeing, hearing or tasting.
For example, the word “house”. What is the current image you have in your mind for “house”? Can you see it, feel it, taste, hear or smell it? The task is to create a new pathway ( a “direct connect”) in your brain between the word for “house” in the language you are trying to learn and your existing image.
For more information about the language program app please visit:
- Kungfu English – an overview of the program in English
- Hong Kong Trader – an interview with Chris Lonsdale tracing the history, development of the app and its reception in the market place
- TechinAsia - Interview and review entitled: "$899.99 Kongfu English App Has 3,000 Downloads, for $2.7 Million!
- Exicon – Vicki Easton interviews Chris Lonsdale about Kungfu English