Polyglot Stuart Jay Raj “Language Secrets From a Linguistic Junkie" Multilingual Video Post Episode 1 (2 Parts)

Episode 1

Part 1

Part 2

About a week ago, I was fortunate to have been invited to attend a Second Language Acquisition seminar by Language Acquisition guru Dr. Stephen Krashen (http://www.sdkrashen.com) , hosted by the Concordian International School here in Bangkok. Stephen was a real inspiration and after speaking with him that day, I was inspired to do something new.

A couple of days later I went out and bought a new video camera and tried my hand at starting to put some video responses to emails that I’ve received over the past year or so. Last Friday I swung over to the home of http://RadioBangkok.Net Director Bill Hammerton’s place and we shot what will hopefully be the first in many video episodes on language learning, linguistics, culture, language and culture based business and anything else that viewers find interesting.

I’ve tried to answer some of the many questions that have been sent to me in emails and messages since I posted my first clip on Youtube in 2007. I thought to make it interesting, I’ve tried to choose several different languages to respond to (subtitled in English).

Questions include:

“What separates languages – politic or linguistic differences?”

“What’s the history behind some of your languages?”

“What’s the most difficult language?”

“What are some secrets to learning new languages?”

“How do I get motivated to learn languages?”

One thing that I wanted to get across in the videos is that I am just a human being like everyone else, and my brain faces the same challenges as everyone else. The thing that lets me take the languages that I have been able to take to an advanced level is motivation / attitude. I’ve chosen languages that I’m at different competency levels in. They range from:

‘very fluent’ – Mandarin, Indonesian, Thai


‘let’s dust the cobwebs off’ – Italian, Spanish, Danish, Swedish, Hindi, Javanese


‘shockingly elementary’ – Japanese, Vietnamese, Norwegian

Just putting this clip together was great to get the linguistic juices flowing again in some of my dormant languages.

You might remember a post from last year about Vietnamese. I hadn’t really used Vietnamese much after that post. It wasn’t until I travelled to Nha Trang for Miss Universe that I had a real environment to incubate my Vietnamese. I was able for the first time to start interacting in Vietnamese with native speakers. I used the taping of this episode as a personal challenge to air for the record my current (low) level of Vietnamese. This post has set a bar for myself – so hopefully in a few months time, my Vietnamese will be much more fluent than what you see in this clip. I’ll keep you updated on my progress!

Just for fun in the end, I’ve also thrown in a little sign-language finger-spelling (American and Autralian) as well as some very low-tech Morse-code.

If you have any suggestions for topics for future episodes, email me at the email you see in the clip, or you can post a comment on this blog – or on the Youtube clip if you like.

Stuart Jay Raj is a polyglot who specializes in the languages and dialects spoken in South East Asia and China. His talents have allowed him to earn a professional living as a simultaneous interpreter in Thai, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Indonesian, among others, providing language and cultural training for multinational companies in the region and hosting his own TV programme on Thailand's Channel 5. He holds a degree in Cognitive and Applied Linguistics from Griffith University and has become an expert in the field of language acquisition with a strong track record of success. Stuart's background knowledge of Sanskrit, Khmer, Lao and various Chinese dialects and minority languages enables him to present a fascinating and unique perspective on the Thai language which makes everything fall logically into place.
  • Keith

    Awesome video, Stuart. Just amazing!

  • Micah Neely

    非常非常好说得 stujay, pero,…parlez vous français? ¿no pienso que frances es muy importante en el mundo? 可能是因为你是在亚洲,是不是?
    Anyway, loving the sugoi material on your website, the stuff on tones is quite helpful.
    从 美国 yes, quite 美

  • luke cassady-dorion

    just finished the first video, really cool to watch it jay … would be interesting to see you change your body language to go along with changing the spoken languages. things like using your hands when speaking spanish, keeping really still in thai, probably keeping your hands at your sides while speaking japanese, stuff like that …. would be even more interesting if you just made subtle changes and then didn’t address them until the end, see if viewers picked up on it.

  • Ryan

    Another fantastic post with some great food for thought. Here’s something to possibly cover in the future: What are your thoughts on studying multiple new languages at a time?

  • The Language Guy

    Keith – Thanks! You have a great blog there yourself. I’ll add it into my links on the sidebar.

    Micah – 謝謝! 对不起,我不会说法语 – pero intiendo mucho. Si! .. en este parte del mundo los idiomas asiáticos son más usado.

    Luke – I hear ya! I was cringing looking back at the video clips when I edited them down seeing how much I moved about. Body language is a really important element of communicating in the languages. I’ll be sure to take that into consideration for future clips.

    Ryan – Simultaneous language acquisition. Great topic! I’ll see what I can put together.

  • David

    Dear Stu

    I really enjoyed watching your latest video. Swedish, English, Cantonese and Thai are languages I switch between almost daily (but I’m only fluent in Swedish) and
    I was quite happy to see you finally speak Swedish! May I suggest that you try to be more smooth and “fluid” when you speak Swedish and Norwegian. Those two languages, while similar to Danish, are a lot less “harsh” sounding. When you spoke Swedish, it almost sounded like you had a Finnish accent (another language that I consider quite harsh sounding).

    Anyway, I hope you can squeeze in some Cantonese next time and maybe talk about relationships/similarities between the SE Asian languages. I’m currently learning Thai and therefore interested in what benefits I’ll have when I travel to the neighboring countries 🙂

  • Helena

    Hello Stuart.
    The videos are really great, congratulations on this idea.
    I would also like to pose a question, which I have also posted on my blog
    (it’s mostly writen in Portuguese).
    So, my question is: if each language bears a certain ethnicity and a certain view of the world with it, this should imply that there are certain notions we are unable to convey in any language apart from our native one.Considering this idea, do you think one can say that when speaking a foreign language (regardless of the proficiency level), one is always “acting” and in a certain way preseting themselves with a personality that is slightly different from their “original” one?
    In a way what I mean to ask is: do you think speaking different language is also a form of “acting”?
    I am a recently graduated linguist,I work as translator and I am now about to start my interpreting studies, but I have never been able to ask anyone about this more “psychological” side of language learning, so I am very curious to know your opinion on this.
    I also have other questions, but I’ll leave them for future comments.

  • The Language Guy

    David – Thanks for your comments. I agree with you. I feel much more comfortable with my Danish. I actually started off with Norwegian for a fleeting moment, but then all my exposure for the ensuing years became Danish. I went back afterwards and did studied up on the transition of many of these languages – from Old Norse, Swedish dialects from North to South and also looked into a lot of Jysk. I would really love to polish them up to a high level now.

    As for the relationship between Cantonese, Thai and different languages – another topic that I have a special soft spot for. Once again, I’ll see what I can throw together!

  • The Language Guy

    Helena – I loved your message. I mentioned in one video a while back – I think in the one that I did with CNN’s Tom Mintier that I suggest to students of Thai that when they think they’ve ‘got it’, then SHUT UP. I’ve often been in situations where a group of Thais have all been in a conversation full of emotion and excitement and along comes a Thai speaking ‘Farang’ (westerner)and BANG. They totally kill the mood. It’s not that their Thai isn’t ‘correct’ or ‘sounds bad’. It’s the fact that they don’t use the languages for talking about the same topics that Thais like to talk about, they learn the language to express what ‘they want’ to say.

    When I learn a language to a high level, I will try and learn to render who I am as best I can in the manner that natives of the language do so. I’ll observe and find a way to work it into ‘me’.

    For example – a very persuasive person in the USA might have a very different set of behaviours, body language, word selection, topic selection, use of silence etc compared to to the same person in Thai or Chinese.

    I think that even in our native tongues we are actors – God forbid if we didn’t filter what was really going on in our minds before it reaches the outside, I think we’d all be put away! 🙂

  • Helena

    Yes, I’ve seen the video with Tom Mintier and it was also interesting.
    Your answers to my question was really funny, but I guess you are absolutely right in saying that we do need to act even in our native languages.
    Thanks for the reply!

  • THT

    That was an amazing video. But in the midst of learning so many languages, how do you avoid getting confused?

    Have you been faced with a situation whereby you can’t quite remember whether a certain word belongs to one language or another?
    E.g: Confusing a Cantonese word with the Mandarin version of it.

    I’m currently learning Japanese, had a brief “fling” with Korean and I’m already confusing certain aspects of both languages due to their similarity.


  • The Language Guy

    THT – I often find myself where words carry across languages. Especially if I start using a language that I haven't used for a while. I can remember once I was in a boot simultaneously interpreting English -> Indonesian. Instead of the word nose – 'hidung' for indonesian though, I was using the word จมูก – 'Jamuk' from Thai. I guess subconsciously the rhythm of it resembled 'hidung' and it just came out. The particular story I was interpreting had 'nose' pop up a lot. After a few minutes i had a knock on the booth door "We understand everything fine… only one thing – what the heck is a 'jamuk'!? 🙂 …

    I know what I'm talking about … it's just that sometimes there might be a bit of lag before someone else does! It's a bit of a trade of, but in the scheme of things, it's not that much of a problem.


  • ciccio

    Hi…Thx for your latest videos!
    Are brilliant really
    I’m learning japanese for now and I know maybe 1000 kanji but the problem isn’t this
    How I can start to speak real japanese?
    Leaving kanji what you did for strarting speaking and understand this language?
    I’m a italian 17

  • The Language Guy

    ciccio – One of the most common questions I receive is ‘What’s the best way to go about learning Kanji’. ‘Keith’ who posted the first comment in this thread has a great blog all about learning Kanji. I think in the next episodes, I’ll dedicate one or two to possible plans of attack for people learning Kanji in Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

  • ciccio

    I know that kanjo are a problem for everyone that study asian language bit for now I’m with heisig’s book and I’m ok
    but for learn vocabulary and to start speak japanese whats the best way second you?
    Thx for all

  • Klong of Consciousness

    After also listening to your old Fundamentals of Thai Language podcasts, these videos are very inspiring! Thanks. Hope there are more to come 🙂

  • Ramses

    I’m impressed Stu! It’s great to see you feeling comfortable with so many languages. Especially you speaking Indonesian was a joy, you can clearly see you feel great when speaking it.

    All I can say: keep them coming, for sure!

  • The Language Guy

    I’m in the middle of putting a the next one together. I was hoping to have had it out this week, but I’m on the road again, so it might have to wait another week.

    The next one is on developing fluency through techniques used in simultaneous interpreting practice – e.g. shadowing etc. I’ll show how to use these techniques and others to decouple different processes that go on while using language – e.g. de-coupling your ‘inner-voice’ from vision, decoupling vision from perception, decoupling what’s heard in L1 to what’s understood in L1 and decoupling L1 from L2. I’ve found when you can control these in a modular fashion, you get get a faster rein on them.

  • Tim

    That is very entertaining! Sometimes I also like the opportunity to switch between languages but I do it best and the juices get flowing in interaction with native speakers present. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to be in the presence of 20 more different native speakers of languages I speak. The most so far has been interaction in 10 or so languages at one time at university party for foreign students in Japan.
    Some people say being a polyglot is a gift, I could not disagree more! There may be a threshold intelligence level but it also requires (1) great passion for language and culture, (2) dedication and hard work, (3) allowing oneself to be spontaneous, (4) ability to cultivate and integrate numerous cultural constructs and worldviews, among others. What do you think?

  • Tim

    Concerning learning Japanese here is my 2 cents in relation to Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. What is the connection between these 4 languages? At one time in the history of these four countries Chinese was the written language (obviously still is in China). In Japanese people say 漢字圏 (kanjiken – area where Chinese characters where or still are used). This historical phenomenon greatly influenced the vocabulary of Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. While studying these four languages I found this to be a great help in guessing the meaning of words and sentences and actually inferring vocabulary as I become more aware of the patterns of the way the original Chinese is mutated in each language.

    Japanese and Korean are also almost structurally identical in syntax and share many of similarities in the way they respond to a give situation such as what to say when someone finishes work and leaves (“you are tied” or “you worked so hard”). The 漢字 (kanji, hanzi, hanja … or Chinese character verbs) in Japanese and Korean basically function the same way. You say the kanji such as 約束 (promise) and then add the verb to do in the desired conjugation, tense and politeness level (suru in Japanese, hada in Korean).

    My personal experience is: I studied Chinese literature in graduate school in Japan (both languages were new to me since I am originally from the U.S.). Then I studied Korean and Vietnamese later. I think there is a benefit to studying all four at the same time if you speak at least three or four foreign languages already and have developed the habit of creating boundaries between languages in your head. (that is an intriguing concept itself and I am not exactly sure how I do it … I just do it fairly well.