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  • Language Learners Grand Masters – Stu Jay Raj

    Posted on January 4th, 2009 Mairo Vergara 4 comments

    stujayrajAfter a short Christmas and End/New Year’s break we are back with our Language Learning Grand Master Articles. Today I bring you the communication consultant Stu Jay Raj from Thailand. Different from Stephen Krashen, Stu Jay is neither an academic researcher nor a linguistic. He’s, in my opinion, one of the guys farther away from the bulk of language researchers/teachers/linguistics out there. Farther away in the sense you can really learn a lot about language learning with him. As well as many great language learners out there, Stu Jay cares more about teaching how to learn languages than teaching the languages itself. It’s a tendency between polyglots and I believe it will grow up in the future, although it will for certain take time.

    Stu Jay approaches language from a rather communicative, social, and interactive perspective, seeing language as a kind of social and interative skill, in a very practical and useful way. But, at the same time, not in a mechanical way. This may seems complicated, but as soon as you watch some of his videos you’ll get what I’m trying to say.

    Stu Jay speaks more than 10 languages, and the interesting thing is that he speaks languages that I have never even heard about like Lao and Urdu. Maybe his different approach to language learning comes from the fact of he being from Thailand, living in a very different culture.

    You can learn a lot about him and his ideas on language learning at his blog Behind The Curtain, and also at his YouTube Channel. But before leaving this blog, take a time to watch this two video where he talks about some of his ideas and approaches to language learning.

  • Language Learning Grand Masters – Stephen Krashen

    Posted on December 23rd, 2008 Mairo Vergara 3 comments

    stephen-krashenToday we start our Language Learning Grand Masters series with Dr. Stephen Krashen. At the university I learned about Krashen, but it was in a very brief way, so that when I started reading Krashen by myself I suddenly realized “oh, some time ago some teacher in some class talked about this guy”. In fact, most language students at university don’t know about Krashen. But why should you know about him? First, because his ideas about language learning are, in my humble opinion, amazing! Second, because every serious language learner will greatly benefit from reading and knowing Krashen. Let’s take a quick look at what Wikipedia says about him:

    Stephen Krashen is professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, moving from the linguistics department to the faculty of the School of Education in 1994. He is a linguist, educational researcher, and activist. Dr. Krashen has published more than 350 papers and books, contributing to the fields of second language acquisition (SLA), bilingual education, and reading. He is credited with introducing various influential concepts and terms in the study of second language acquisition, including the Acquisition-learning hypothesis, the Input Hypothesis, Monitor Theory, the Affective Filter, and the Natural Order Hypothesis. Most recently, Krashen promotes the use of free voluntary reading during second language acquisition, of which he says “I believe that it is the most powerful tool we have in language education, first and second.” From Wikipedia.

    As you can see, Krashen has formulated a series of hypotheses on language learning: The Natural Order Hypothesis, The Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis, The Monitor Hypothesis, and The Affective Filter Hypothesis. Let’s take a look at each of them:

    The Natural Order Hypothesis
    “we acquire the rules of language in a predictable order”

    The Acquisition/ Learning Hypothesis
    “adults have two distinctive ways of developing competences in second languages […] acquisition, that is by using language for real communication […] learning, ‘knowing about’ language” (Krashen & Terrell 1983)

    The Monitor Hypothesis
    ‘conscious learning […] can only be used as a Monitor or an editor’ (Krashen & Terrell 1983)

    The Input Hypothesis

    “humans acquire language in only one way – by understanding messages or by receiving ‘comprehensible input'”

    The Affective Filter Hypothesis
    “a mental block, caused by affective factors […] that prevents input from reaching the language acquisition device”(Krashen, 1985, p.100)

    From Krashen’s Comprehension Hypothesis Model of L2 learning

    At first it may seem too complicated, but, in fact, the hypotheses are very simple. Acquisition and learning are different. We acquire language in natural contexts, reading, listening, talking to people. It’s using the language in the real world for real communication. On the other hand, learning is what usually takes place inside the classroom, it relates to every conscious study on and about the language. Nomenclatures, explicit grammar rules, drills, and so forth. We acquire language through input, i.e., listening and reading real content. We learn the language deliberately studying, be it in a classroom or by self-study. Although one can learn a foreign language through only input/natural learning or through only conscious learning, the best learner would be one able to balance natural acquisition and explicit learning. In other words, we need lots of input in order to acquire language, and by studying, we consciously learn the language in order to polish the few errors that the input by itself couldn’t correct.

    This article is just a short introduction to Krashen. His theories about language learning goes much further. You can read his papers for free at http://www.sdkrashen.com/. Great language learners like Stu Jay Raj, Steve Kaufmann and Khatzumoto were highly influenced by Krashen, so I strongly recommend reading Krashen papers and books.

  • Language Learning Grand Masters

    Posted on December 17th, 2008 Mairo Vergara 3 comments

    guru_nanaYou probably know Michael Jordan, Bruce Lee and Bill Gates, don’t you? Have you ever heard of Tiger Woods, Nadia Comaneci or The Beatles? All those people have something in common: they succeeded in their field/area. They not only succeeded, they succeeded extremely well, so that nowadays they are considered geniuses. What many language learners don’t know is that there are many language learning geniuses out there. Those guys have learned so many languages, they have done so well in theirs studies, they went so hardcore that ended up understand exactly how language and language learning works. It’s almost you duty as a serious language learner to know those guys, at the very least to have heard of them.

    At the university I had taken so many literature classes. In these classes we had to read classical literature, we have to read the works from the masters, the big guys (the unique problem is that there are so many big guys in literature…). In the same way, you have to read/know the big language learning guys. Hopefully they are in minor number than the literature folks. It’s weird why we don’t study those guys at the university. For instance, at least here in Brazil, language students usually have no clue about who is Stephen Krashen. Notice that Krashen should be known since he is in the academic field! But people like Steve Kaufmann or Stu Jay Raj are totally unknown between most of language students. University language teachers should start studying more languages and language learning (and less linguistics) and set up programs that make students aware of all those language masters.

    This is an introduction to a series of articles about the people I call language learning grand masters. We gonna start with Stephen Krashen, since he is quoted by all others grand masters I know. I hope you like it! Stay tuned!

  • Key principles in language learning

    Posted on December 15th, 2008 Mairo Vergara 1 comment

    language-keyOn a previous post I talked about how there isn’t a single method for language learning and how you have to find out your own method. Although the method varies depending on you, some key principles for language learning are universal. I can tell you these principles, or you can find them by yourself just by studying and trying different languages and methods.

    In this text I’m going to talk about some of the principles, but it’s very important that you study, notice, and understand these principles by yourself. Once you have understood how language learning works, you certainly will succeed in your studies. Also notice that there are many principles, so I’m going to talk just about some of them (actually three).

    Exposure is key!


    Principle number one is really simple: the more time you spend with the language, the more time you learn. Exposure is key. However, you need good exposure. Classrooms often offers bad exposure, because you have to read texts made for language learners and listen to your classmates bad accent and intonation. The unique good exposure is probably the teacher (although sometimes even the teacher has a bad accent). Good exposure means to listen to real content, read real texts, books, and magazines. Speaking can also be a good way of expose yourself to the language, but only if you can speak to a native or someone with very good skills. Remember you learn more when listening to the other guy than when speaking to him. Listen to music, play games, watch movies, chat on MSN, etc. All these things counts as exposure. Again, the more time you spend with the language the more you learn.

    Input over output!


    Input means listening and reading. Output means speaking and writing. Keep in mind that Input is much more important than Output. Don’t let teachers bother you with the “you need to practice what you’ve learned”. Listening and reading are real practice! I’ll give an example: I started writing on Lang-8, because I wanted to improve my writing skills (and I’m still doing it). After a while I notice my mistakes and writing patterns were always the same. I could polish my writing and correct some errors, but it was just a little improvement on my writing skills. So how I can really improve? Reading, my friend! I have to read more, to read books, to read well written English. If I read a lot, and after that write again, I will probably come up with something new, with new words and expressions. It’s the same for your native language. If you want to be good at writing, or want to became a writer, you have to read like a crazy. You have to devour books! Speaking works in the exactly same way. You can practice and improve your speaking skills. But in order to go further, to talk and impress other with your super cool accent, you have to listen a lot. You need thousands of hours of listening. You need to put that language inside your head so that you listen to the sounds and the rhythm of the language even when you’re not listening. You need to know by heart the books, the phrases and patterns. That’s input! It’s like a big box inside our head. If you need words or phrases, you go to the the box and get it. But you’re not going to get it if the box is empty! So fill up the box! Once you have enough input, output will just be a consequence, it will come naturally.

    Regularity: keep going, just keep going!


    Don’t study seven hours on weekends. Don’t go to the super intensive two weeks English course for only $3000. Instead, study one hour everyday. Regularity is what will make you succeed. You can go hardcore and study 8 hours everyday, but assure to to it every fricking day! And don’t compare yourself with others. Just do it every day and keep going! Katz said “I’m going to act Japanese and I’m going to keep acting Japanese until it’s not acting any more“.In other words; you do it until you don’t feel your actually doing it anymore. Until it becomes part of you. But do it right, OK? Combine good exposure, tons of input, a little bit (just a bit) of output, and keep going, keep doing it every day. If you do it, you will succeed.

  • Why it must be cool!

    Posted on December 15th, 2008 Mairo Vergara 5 comments

    language-baby-coolToday I want to talk about coolness in language learning. Language is much more than a bunch of words combined in sentences and paragraphs. Language is much more than be able to ask “What time is it now?” or “Where’s the toilet?”. It’s much more than capability to say “I love you” in 24 different languages. All these things are the boring part of language learning. Language is communication. Through language we communicate and interact with people, we tell stories, we share our knowledge. Can you image ourselves without language, without being able to communicate? Almost certainly you can’t, because language is something so inherent to us, that we can’t image ourselves without it.

    As you can see, language is really important and crucial in everyone’s lives, and even when people can’t talk, they find ways of communication. But language is not only important,  it’s also damn cool! Why do you talk to other people? Why do you read books? Why do you watch movies and listen to music? Because it’s boring? Of course not! You do all these things for these things are cool! Because it’s interesting, because it makes you laugh, it makes you smart, it pleases you. And if you want to do it in the coolest way, you can do it in different languages! More languages mean more access to the enormous quantity of cool stuff out there. That’s why every language learner should learn English. Because English is so widespread, because there are so many English books, movies, music, articles, blogs, games, etc. To know English means to have access to all this content, to be able to watch Lost without subtitles, to be able to read zillions of super cool blogs, listen to The Beatles, and play World of Warcraft. Not that you can’t do it in other languages, but if you are serious about language learning and want to do something cool with you language skills, I highly recommend you learning your target language and also English.

    All languages give access to cool stuff. If you learn Japanese, you can watch Dragon Ball Z, if you learn French you can read Sartre, if you learn Spanish you can talk to “caliente girls” from Argentina, and so forth. Language is all about fun and cool stuff. As I once said: Cool stuff is at the core of language learning.

    The problem is that our schools, universities and institutions apparently don’t care about it and seem to turn everything in a complete boringness. C’mon! Language classes are one of the most boring things ever! You have to pretend to talk to your classmates about stem cells using the present perfect! You have to read ridiculous texts about a Michal Jackson [I like Jackson’s music, but I have no interest at all in texts about his life or career]. You have to play stupid games in order to memorize the numbers… C’mon again! I ain’t no kid! I do not learn Japanese to play kid’s games inside a classroom with my classmates! I learn Japanese because I want to hang out with my Japanese friends, watch Miyazaky’s anime and listen to Koda Kumi [also watch her]. I want the cool stuff! Not the boring crap!

    Khatzumoto, grand master from AJATT already told us all about it. In order to learn a language you have to surround yourself with the language, and of course with cool stuff in the language. One of the reasons for why I’m writing this blog is that I know it will improve my English writing skills, and also because I like to write, I like to share my ideas through the Internet and see what other people think about it. I write this blog because it’s cool and because it will improve my English. If it wasn’t cool, I probably wouldn’t do it. Moreover, I don’t learn English to write this blog, I write this blog than I learn English.

    My final recommendation for this post is: look for the cool stuff! It varies: some people like music, some people like to read. The important is to find out what you find cool, what you’re are willing to do/read/listen/watch. Just remember the simple rule: if it’s cool, if you want it, and if it’s in your target language, then it’s for you. Now you just have to find tons of cool stuff. The more cool stuff you have, the more you are going to do/read/listen/watch it, therefore the more you are going to learn.

  • What’s the best method to learn a foreign language?

    Posted on December 15th, 2008 Mairo Vergara 1 comment

    languageDuring these last years I have been learning a lot about language learning. Although at the university they seem to care more about language teaching, if you check out the Internet or ask language learners out there you will find out that what really matters is learning. It’s all about learning and how to do it, how to learn a language. Once you know how, you just do it, without further questions. There are many methods, many ways in which one can learn a language. We are, naturally, always looking for the best method, the fastest way, the easiest path to mastering English, Japanese, Spanish, whateverish…

    In fact, there are good and bad methods. Take language schools for instance; Language schools, when combined with poor teachers, can be amazingly awful. I’m not saying all schools are bad, but you probably know that guy who spent years and years learning English (or any other language) at that school and ended up not being able to maintain a basic conversation or read the newspaper in English. On the other hand, good methods when used wrong can produce poor results. Some methods can be too hardcore for our simple minds, although we know the method itself really works, we just can’t follow/do it.

    In the end, what you should know, what you should (at least you should…) notice by yourself is that there isn’t A SINGLE METHOD for language learning. Each student has to find his own method, his own way of learning. Of course, this isn’t an easy thing to do. I have been studying languages on and off for about 7 years, and still don’t know what kind of study suits me better. I know some things work and some don’t, but to find out exactly what does work isn’t that easy.

    All methods have good and bad points, so what you have to do is notice the good points and use them in your own way. As I said, each one has his own method of learning, so maybe what works for you isn’t going to work for me, but you still have to check it out, try it out. Take a look at AJATT, learning about exposure, RSS and 10000 hours of hard-work. Check out Steve Kaufmann’s ideas on language learning, and try his system “LingQ“. Watch YouTubes from professor Arguelles and Stu Jay. Go to a language school near your house. Write something on Lang-8. Try out Pimsleur, Michel Thomas, Assimil, etc. There are many, MANY, methods for language learning. None of them will ever be THE METHOD. Lisa can learn 10 languages using only Assimil, Thania can learn the same using AJATT method, and Claudia can learn just going to classes. Of course I’m being a bit theatrical, but I just want to show that there isn’t one method that rules over all others. Your method will probably be a combination of many methods. That’s why you have to try out different approaches, and once you find out your way, stick to it and keep going!

    If you work hard on it, you probably will not only find out which learning methods and strategies suit you better, but you also will start to notice some universal principles about language learning. The average language learner, who usually follows just one methods (like many English teachers here in Brazil who have taught English using the same method for more than 20 years), will probably not learn these principles and, therefore, become kind of limited when it comes to how to learn a language. The union of knowing the principles of language learning and what study methods and strategies suit you better is certainly the best method (your best method!). You just have to find it out!