Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • (Chris Lonsdale) The people in the back, can you hear me clearly?

  • OK, good.

  • Have you ever held a question in mind

  • for so long that it becomes part of how you think?

  • Maybe even part of who you are as a person?

  • Well I've had a question in my mind for many, many years

  • and that is: How can you speed up learning?

  • Now, this is an interesting question

  • because if you speed up learning, you can spend less time at school.

  • And if you learn really fast, you probably wouldn't have to go to school at all.

  • Now, when I was young, school was sort of OK but...

  • I found quite often that school got in the way of learning

  • so I had this question in mind: How do you learn faster?

  • And this began when I was very, very young,

  • when I was 11 years old,

  • I wrote a letter to researchers in the Soviet Union, asking about hypnopaedia,

  • this is sleep-learning, where you get a tape recorder, you put it beside your bed

  • and it turns on in the middle of the night when you're sleeping,

  • and you're supposed to be learning from this.

  • A good idea, unfortunately it doesn't work.

  • But, hypnopaedia did open the doors to research in other areas

  • and we've had incredible discoveries about learning that began with that first question.

  • I went on from there to become passionate about psychology

  • and I have been involved in psychology in many different ways

  • for the rest of my life up until this point.

  • In 1981 I took myself to China

  • and I decided that I was going to be native level in Chinese inside two years.

  • Now, you need to understand that in 1991, everybody thought

  • Chinese was really, really difficult and that a westerner could study for 10 years or more

  • and never really get very good at it.

  • And I also went in with a different idea

  • which was: taking all of the conclusions from psychological research up to that point

  • and applying them to the learning process.

  • What was really cool was that in six months I was fluent in Mandarin Chinese

  • and took a little bit longer to get up to native.

  • But I looked around and I saw all of these people from different countries

  • struggling terribly with Chinese,

  • I saw Chinese people struggling terribly to learn English and other languages,

  • and so my question got refined down to:

  • How can you help a normal adult learn a new language quickly, easily and effectively?

  • Now this is a really, really important question in today's world.

  • We have massive challenges with environment,

  • we have massive challenges with social dislocation,

  • with wars, all sorts of things going on

  • and if we can't communicate, we're really going to have difficulty solving these problems.

  • So we need to be able to speak each other's languages,

  • this is really, really important.

  • The question it is: How do you do that?

  • Well, it's actually really easy. You look around for people who can already do it,

  • you look for situations where it's already working

  • and then you identify the principles and apply them.

  • It's called modelling and I've been looking at language learning

  • and modelling language learning for about 15 to 20 years now.

  • And my conclusion, my observation from this is

  • that any adult can learn a second language to fluency inside six months.

  • Now when I say this, most people think I'm crazy, this is not possible.

  • So let me remind everybody of the history of human progress,

  • it's all about expanding our limits.

  • In 1950 everybody believed that running one mile in four minutes was impossible

  • and then Roger Bannister did it in 1956 and from there it's got shorter and shorter.

  • 100 years ago everybody believed that heavy stuff doesn't fly.

  • Except it does and we all know this.

  • How does heavy stuff fly?

  • We reorganise the material using principles that we have learned

  • from observing nature, birds in this case.

  • And today we've gone even further...

  • We've gone even further, so you can fly a car.

  • You can buy one of these for a couple 100.000 US dollars.

  • We now have cars in the world that fly.

  • And there's a different way to fly which we've learned from squirrels.

  • So all you need to do is copy what a flying squirrel does,

  • build a suit called a wing suit and off you go, you can fly like a squirrel.

  • Now most people, a lot of people, I wouldn't say everybody

  • but a lot of people think they can't draw.

  • However there are some key principles, five principles that you can apply

  • to learning to draw and you can actually learn to draw in five days.

  • So, if you draw like this, you learn these principles for five days

  • and apply them and after five days you can draw something like this.

  • Now I know this is true because that was my first drawing

  • and after five days of applying these principles that was what I was able to do.

  • And I looked at this and I went:

  • "Wow, so that's how I look like when I'm concentrating so intensely

  • that my brain is exploding."

  • So, anybody can learn to draw in five days

  • and in the same way, with the same logic,

  • anybody can learn a second language in six months.

  • How? There are five principles and seven actions.

  • There may be a few more but these are absolutely core.

  • And before I get into those I just want to talk about two myths,

  • I want to dispel two myths.

  • The first is that you need talent.

  • Let me tell you about Zoe.

  • Zoe came from Australia, went to Holland, was trying to learn Dutch,

  • struggling extremely, extremely... a great deal

  • and finally people were saying: "You're completely useless,"

  • "you're not talented," "give up," "you're a waste of time"

  • and she was very, very depressed.

  • And then she came across these five principles,

  • she moved to Brazil and she applied them

  • and in six months she was fluent in Portuguese,

  • so talent doesn't matter.

  • People also think that immersion in a new country is the way to learn a language.

  • But look around Hong Kong, look at all the westerners

  • who've been here for 10 years, who don't speak a word of Chinese.

  • Look at all the Chinese living in America, Britain, Australia, Canada

  • have been there 10, 20 years and they don't speak any English.

  • Immersion per se does not work.

  • Why? Because a drowning man cannot learn to swim.

  • When you don't speak a language you're like a baby

  • and if you drop yourself into a context

  • which is all adults talking about stuff over your head, you won't learn.

  • So, what are the five principles that you need to pay attention to?

  • First: the four words,

  • attention, meaning, relevance and memory,

  • and these interconnect in very, very important ways.

  • Especially when you're talking about learning.

  • Come with me on a journey through a forest.

  • You go on a walk through a forest

  • and you see something like this... Little marks on a tree,

  • maybe you pay attention, maybe you don't.

  • You go another 50 metres and you see this...

  • [image of bear footprint] You should be paying attention.

  • Another 50 metres, if you haven't been paying attention, you see this...

  • [image of roaring bear] And at this point, you're paying attention.

  • And you've just learned that this [marks on tree] is important,

  • it's relevant because it means this [roaring bear],

  • and anything that is related, any information related to your survival

  • is stuff that you're going to pay attention to

  • and therefore you're going to remember it.

  • If it's related to your personal goals

  • then you're going to pay attention to it,

  • if it's relevant, you're going to remember it.

  • So, the first rule, first principle for learning a language

  • is focus on language content that is relevant to you.

  • Which brings us to tools.

  • We master tools by using tools and we learn tools the fastest

  • when they are relevant to us.

  • So let me share a story.

  • A keyboard is a tool.

  • Typing Chinese a certain way, there are methods for this. That's a tool.

  • I had a colleague many years ago

  • who went to night school; Tuesday night, Thursday night,

  • two hours each time, practising at home,

  • she spent nine months, and she did not learn to type Chinese.

  • And one night we had a crisis.

  • We had 48 hours to deliver a training manual in Chinese.

  • And she got the job, and I can guarantee you

  • in 48 hours, she learned to type Chinese

  • because it was relevant, it was meaningful, it was important,

  • she was using a tool to create value.

  • So the second principle for learning a language is to use your language

  • as a tool to communicate right from day one.

  • As a kid does.

  • When I first arrived in China, I didn't speak a word of Chinese,

  • and on my second week I got to take a train ride overnight.

  • I spent eight hours sitting in the dining car talking to one of the guards on the train,

  • he took an interest in me for some reason,

  • and we just chatted all night in Chinese

  • and he was drawing pictures and making movements with his hands

  • and facial expressions and

  • piece by piece by piece I understood more and more.

  • But what was really cool, was two weeks later,

  • when people were talking Chinese around me,

  • I was understanding some of this

  • and I hadn't even made any effort to learn that.

  • What had happened, I'd absorbed it that night on the train,

  • which brings us to the third principle.

  • When you first understand the message,

  • then you will acquire the language unconsciously.

  • And this is really, really well documented now,

  • it's something called comprehensible input.

  • There's 20 or 30 years of research on this,

  • Stephen Krashen, a leader in the field,

  • has published all sorts of these different studies

  • and this is just from one of them.

  • The purple bars show the scores on different tests for language.

  • The purple people were people who had learned by grammar and formal study,

  • the green ones are the ones who learned by comprehensible input.

  • So, comprehension works. Comprehension is key

  • and language learning is not about accumulating lots of knowledge.

  • In many, many ways it's about physiological training.

  • A woman I know from Taiwan did great in English at school,

  • she got A grades all the way through,

  • went through college, A grades, went to the US

  • and found she couldn't understand what people were saying.

  • And people started asking her: "Are you deaf?"

  • And she was. English deaf.

  • Because we have filters in our brain that filter in

  • the sounds that we are familiar with

  • and they filter out the sounds of languages that we're not.

  • And if you can't hear it, you won't understand it,

  • if you can't understand it, you're not going to learn it.

  • So you actually have to be able to hear these sounds.

  • And there are ways to do that but it's physiological training.

  • Speaking takes muscle.

  • You've got 43 muscles in your face,

  • you have to coordinate those in a way

  • that you make sounds that other people will understand.

  • If you've ever done a new sport for a couple of days,

  • and you know how your body feels? Hurts?

  • If your face is hurting, you're doing it right.

  • And the final principle is state. Psycho-physiological state.

  • If you're sad, angry, worried, upset, you're not going to learn. Period.

  • If you're happy, relaxed, in an Alpha brain state, curious,

  • you're going to learn really quickly,

  • and very specifically you need to be tolerant of ambiguity.

  • If you're one of those people who needs to understand 100 per cent

  • every word you're hearing, you will go nuts,

  • because you'll be incredibly upset all the time, because you're not perfect.

  • If you're comfortable with getting some, not getting some,

  • just paying attention to what you do understand,

  • you're going to be fine, you'll be relaxed and you'll be learning quickly.

  • So based on those five principles, what are the seven actions that you take?

  • Number one: Listen a lot.

  • I call it brain soaking.

  • You put yourself in a context where you're hearing tons and tons and tons of a language

  • and it doesn't matter if you understand it or not.

  • You're listening to the rhythms, you're listening to patterns that repeat,

  • you're listening to things that stand out.

  • (Speaking Chinese) 泡脑子 (pào nǎozi)

  • (Speaking English) So, just soak your brain in this.

  • The second action is that you get the meaning first, even before you get the words.

  • You go: "Well how do I do that? I don't know the words!"

  • Well, you understand what these different postures mean.

  • Human communication is body language in many, many ways, so much body language.

  • From body language you can understand a lot of communication,

  • therefore, you're understanding, you're acquiring through comprehensible input.

  • And you can also use patterns that you already know.

  • If you're a Chinese speaker of Mandarin and Cantonese and you go to Vietnam,

  • you will understand 60 per cent of what they say to you in daily conversation,

  • because Vietnamese is about 30 per cent Mandarin, 30 per cent Cantonese.

  • The third action: Start mixing.

  • You probably have never thought of this

  • but if you've got 10 verbs, 10 nouns and 10 adjectives,

  • you can say 1000 different things.

  • Language is a creative process.

  • What do babies do? OK, "me", "bath", "now".