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  • I speak seven languages.

  • As soon as people find out about that,

  • what I'm most often asked --

  • other than for my phone number --

  • is: "How did you do it?

  • How did you go about learning all these different languages?"

  • Well, today I'm going to share with you some answers.

  • So my phone number is 212...

  • (Laughter)

  • I'm just kidding.

  • See, I was raised as a polyglot.

  • And by the time I turned 18,

  • I could speak already four different languages.

  • And then for the subsequent three years,

  • I learned three additional languages.

  • It's about those 3 years that I want to talk about.

  • Because my language acquisition process

  • was very different from that of my peers,

  • in that it was never of these stressful,

  • strenuous, difficult, seemingly impossible tasks,

  • but rather something enjoyable, fun, exciting.

  • I loved it, every single moment of it.

  • And I want to share with you

  • why, what was it that made it so special.

  • See, I did have a head start,

  • in that I did have these four languages that I spoke ahead of time.

  • But there were also these 5 techniques,

  • 5 skills if you will, that I use

  • that made the language learning process so much easier.

  • And it's about those 5 techniques

  • that I want to talk about.

  • So let's dig right in.

  • And for the first one,

  • the first thing that we've got to do

  • is to take a very deep breath.

  • And relax.

  • And the reason for this is because our entire lives,

  • we're taught how to do things right.

  • From the moment we were born we're taught

  • what things we should do, things we shouldn't do,

  • and how to do things properly.

  • Well, when it comes to language learning,

  • the golden rule of language learning,

  • the most important thing,

  • is to get things wrong,

  • to make mistakes,

  • and that is the first rule.

  • Let me explain to you why.

  • See, when we've known languages,

  • we know a whole collection of sounds

  • and a whole collection of structures,

  • which combined make what I like to call

  • -- and for the purpose of this presentation --

  • our "'language database."

  • And our language database will contain

  • all the sounds and structures that we know.

  • However, there is a whole family of sounds and structures

  • that are beyond our database.

  • And for us to be able to embark on those and to be able to explore those,

  • there is nothing within our database,

  • nothing within our knowledge

  • that will tell us when we're getting the structures right,

  • nothing to tell us when that sound is precise.

  • Let's say we're going to explore this one specific sound.

  • There is nothing in our database.

  • When we say it, we could say it perfectly,

  • but in our minds, it will sound like a mistake.

  • So you know that queasy feeling, that we feel that insecure thing,

  • when we feel like we're making or doing something wrong?

  • That is the trigger that you need to look for.

  • Because that is the signal that tells you that you're going beyond your database

  • and that you're allowing yourself to explore the realm of the new language.

  • Let me show you how this works in practice.

  • So let's say, we're going to go and learn the word "door" in Spanish.

  • So, the word "door" in Spanish is "Puerta."

  • So, for "Puerta" we've got a few sounds that exist in English.

  • So, the "Pu," "e," and "ta."

  • However, when it comes to the "r,"

  • that sound is not in our database.

  • The "RR."

  • The rolled "r" does not exist in the English sound database.

  • And it's a little bit on the outside.

  • So, if we allowed ourselves

  • to bridge through our database, and to really break through

  • and to make the mistake,

  • we could make sounds like the "RR."

  • But instead, what sometimes happens

  • is that we get the closest relative of it that is within the database,

  • and that is the "ah-er" sound.

  • (Laughter)

  • And that "ah-er" sound

  • makes something that sounds like "pue-er-rta,"

  • which doesn't mean a thing in Spanish,

  • and actually doesn't sound too charming.

  • And it doesn't tell you too much.

  • So, for the first technique,

  • allow yourself to make that mistake,

  • so that sounds like "Puerta" can come out.

  • And now let's go to the second one.

  • For the second one,

  • I'm going to need some of your collaboration.

  • We're going to read these four beautiful words.

  • And on the count of three.

  • So let's start with the first one, on the count of three: one, two, three.

  • (Audience) Mao. (Sid) "Mao," perfect.

  • The second one: one, two, three. (Audience:) Coco.

  • (Sid) Perfect. Third one. One, two, three.

  • (Audience) Cocao. (Sid) Perfect.

  • And the fourth one. One, two, three.

  • (Silence)

  • Oh.

  • Let me show you what happened when we did this.

  • We get these four words

  • and we put them through a sort of American English filter.

  • And we get something looks kind of like this.

  • Which...And I'll tell you the results of that.

  • So for the first one "Mão,"

  • which means "hand" in Portuguese,

  • we put it through the filter, we get "Mao."

  • (Laughter)

  • For the second one we get "coco,"

  • which is "coconut" in Portuguese,

  • or "cocô," which means "poop."

  • We put it through the filter, we get a warm cup of cocoa.

  • (Laughter)

  • And for the fourth one,

  • we have "huo,"

  • which means "fire" in Chinese.

  • And we get --

  • if you're feeling really creative, maybe a dude doing karate...

  • (Laughter)

  • But anyway,

  • These are...They don't tell you much about how these things are pronounced.

  • And if you think it's only one way,

  • only if you're going from English to a different language,

  • think about non-native speakers.

  • And try to explain to someone

  • that this [though] is pronounced "though,"

  • and that this [thought] is pronounced "thought."

  • And even though they look almost identical,

  • they have nothing to do with one another.

  • Or try to explain to them that

  • this [enough] is "enough"

  • and this [enuf] is just simply wrong.

  • See, there is nothing useful about using that foreign alphabet,

  • when you're trying to learn a language.

  • Why? Because it will give you wrong signals.

  • So what is the second technique?

  • Scrap it.

  • Scrap the foreign alphabet.

  • Let me give you an alternative of how you can go about this.

  • This is a Brazilian currency,

  • and it spelled like this.

  • So on the count of three, can we all say the name of the currency. 1, 2, 3.

  • (Audience) Real.

  • (Sid) We have some people who know the spelling.

  • Yeah, "re-al," for the most part.

  • And as useful as this might seem, it doesn't tell you a single thing.

  • And when you're speaking Portuguese, "re-al" means nothing.

  • Let me give you an alternative.

  • See, in Portuguese, the way that you say "real" is "heou."

  • So let me teach you how to say it.

  • So on the count of three, let's say "he."

  • So it's "hey" without the "y" sound.

  • So, one, two, three -- "he."

  • (Audience) HE. (Sid) Perfect.

  • And now let's say "ou."

  • It's like "ouch", but without the "ch" sound,

  • so it's "ou." One, two, three,

  • (Audience) OU. (Sid) Perfect.

  • So, "HE."

  • (Audience) HE.

  • (Sid) "OU."

  • (Audience:) OU.

  • (Sid) "HE." (Audience:) HE.

  • (Sid) "OU." (Audience:) OU.

  • (Sid) "HE-OU," HEOU.

  • (Audience) HE-OU. (Sid) Perfect.

  • Now you all sound like passionate Brazilian capitalists.

  • (Laughter)

  • So why would we go and use something that looks like this,

  • that looks "real"

  • when instead you can use something

  • that looks like this and gives you so much more information

  • about how to say something in a foreign language.

  • And that puts us in a really good spot

  • because at this point we allowed ourselves

  • to break through our database and to make mistakes,

  • to go into that uncharted territory of a new language.

  • And then, we figured out how to take notations

  • in a way that the information is actually meaningful.

  • But then how can we test it?

  • And that's where technique number 3 comes in.

  • Technique number 3 is about finding a stickler.

  • So finding someone who's detail-oriented

  • and won't let you get away with the mistakes.

  • And more than finding someone who is really that person,

  • the guru for the language,

  • it's more about establishing the right sort of relationship.

  • Relationship with someone,

  • where they will correct you. They'll feel comfortable correcting you

  • and making sure that you're getting to that spot you wanted in a language.

  • But at the same time,

  • someone who will encourage you

  • to get things wrong and to make those mistakes in the first place.

  • And sticklers could be your teacher,

  • it could be your tutor, it could be your friend,

  • it could be someone on Skype or Craigslist; it doesn't matter.

  • You can find sticklers all over the place,

  • and with technology, it becomes a lot easier find them.

  • And then it's time to practice.

  • And for practicing, we've got the fourth technique.

  • See, I always thought I had this thing

  • that was a little bit of "Sid craziness" that I did,

  • and then I realized how useful it was.

  • I always did what I like to call "Shower Conversations."

  • And shower conversations are exactly what they sound like.

  • When I was learning a new language,

  • I would stay in the shower for a few minutes.

  • And I would remember having all these discussions;

  • I remember when I was learning Chinese,

  • and I would haggle and try to get two yuan more,

  • to get that wonderful dumpling, and getting the discount;

  • or I would go to Roma

  • and I'd ask for directions to the best "piazza."

  • It was amazing.

  • And the beautiful thing about the shower conversation

  • is that it allows you to find wherever you have a gap in your knowledge,

  • because you're having a conversation on both ends.

  • For example, it's easy to ask for directions, how about receiving them?

  • Or even better, giving directions.

  • Well, the shower conversation forces you to have both side of the conversation.

  • And you don't need to have them in the shower.

  • The wonderful thing about as well as is that you can have them anywhere.

  • So you can have them in the shower, in your apartment,

  • walking down in the streets, in the subway,

  • and seriously, if you're in the subway,

  • speaking to yourself in a foreign language in New York,

  • you'll fit right in.

  • You're fine.

  • And it's great,

  • because it doesn't... you don't depend on anything or anyone to get your practice,

  • and I did this for years.

  • And later on I found out that professional athletes do, too.

  • Michael Phelps is known to visualize every single one of his races,

  • several times over, before jumping in water.

  • Worked great for him,