Are You Willing To Do What It Takes to Learn a Language?
Two days ago I was giving a presentation entitled ‘Rebooting Your Mind to Learn [pick-a-language]’ to a group of 100 expats living in a particular SE Asian nation. I don’t want to mention the actual language as I believe that the story that I share and the techniques that I talk about here can equally apply to any person living in a country that speaks a language other than their mother tongue. In this article, we will be looking at English, Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Burmese.
“I Want to Learn ‘X’ Language … How Long do I have to spend on it?”
As usual, after the presentation, members of the audience approached me asking me to sign their copies of my book and asked questions about how they could best learn the local language. There is one question that gets asked over and over over again. That is:
“If I read ‘x’ book, how long will I have to spend learning until I can speak the language?”
I am always very careful how I answer this question. Actually, it is because of this question that I developed my ‘Cracking Fundamentals – A Language Operating System for the Mind’ programme for Thai and other languages. I suspect when people are asking the question “How long will it take?”, what they actually mean is** “What’s the least amount of time and effort that I can get away with if I want to speak the language?”**.
I believe that the reason why I have been successful in learning multiple languages is because rather than approaching learning the language with the attitude of “What is the least amount of time and effort …”, I am more of the mindset:
“How many ways can I ensure that I am using this language in my everyday life?”
The more I am able to use the language in my everyday life, the more I am exposed to it, and the more I am in situations where it is in my interest to develop proficiency in a given language.
The whole idea is to create an environment around you that teaches you the language. Note that this doesn’t just mean immersion in a language. You could live 20 years immersed in a foreign language speaking environment and still struggle to string more than a few words together in that language.
To be able to ‘learn’ from your environment, you also need to have the skills to be able to analyse, compare and reproduce what your environment teaches you.
Here’s something you can do straight away to build an everyday environment that not only ‘helps’ you to learn a new language, but actually ‘forces’ you to learn the language.
What Language Do You Select When Using An ATM?
If you seriously want to put your money where your mouth is, make a commitment that from now onwards you will always select the language that you are learning when performing transactions on an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM).
When I look at an ATM, I see hundreds of language lessons just waiting to be had. The wonderful thing about an ATM is:
- The language is familiar;
- The language is repetitive;
- Language appears in short phrases or ‘patterns’ of letters / characters;
- Useful language patterns occur;
- You are under the pressure of time;
- You are under the pressure of having your card eaten if you make a mistake
By putting yourself into a relatively high pressure environment (working to a time limit and under the threat of having your ATM card eaten if you make 3 mistakes), you can develop the skill of reacting quickly and naturally to the language as it is served to you.
How to Prepare to Speak ‘ATM’ in Your New Language
If you are learning a language with a vastly different script and you feel a little uneasy about the transition to choosing the foreign language as your ATM language display selection, you might want to follow the following seven easy steps.
- Find an ATM with the language options of the language that you are learning in a quiet place (otherwise you will annoy people as you do the following steps);
- Take shot of the screen;
- Select all the English options that you would like to learn the language for in the target language;
- Take a photo with your phone of each screen;
- Cancel the current transaction and re-insert your card;
- Now using the images you just took as a guide, select the new target language and choose the same screens that you did with the English;
- Take a photo of each screen.
Now you should have photos of each of the screens in English and in your target language.
Now is the fun bit. This is where you learn the language.
- Open a spreadsheet like Excel or Google Sheets and list all of the English terms down one column;
- Use your own computer keyboard to type each of the words in the new language. - Even if you are just new to the script, the exercise of painstakingly going through each letter of each word of each phrase will help you start recognising language patterns, start to learn to map your fingers to the keyboard of the new language and learn the vocab as you type.
- By the time that you have typed in all of the terms, you should start to become intimately familiar with many of the terms and word shapes.
- Remember – it’s important to start to see words and phrases in ‘shapes’ rather than dissecting them letter by letter, as when you are finally under pressure at a live ATM, time is not on your side. You need to recognise the terms and use them.
- You should start to both internally and externally voice the words and terms as you learn them, both while preparing the word lists and while you are actually using the ATM.
Here is a list of terms that I collected from just a couple of screens that I took photos of at the ATM across the road from my home. It has English (EN), Chinese (ZH), Japanese (JP), Thai (TH) and Burmese (MY).
I recommend opening up Google Translate for languages that are included in Google’s language set like Chinese, Japanese and Thai, and type in the terms into the text box provided. Google provides transliteration for Chinese in Hanyu Pinyin and Romaji for Japanese. The Thai transliteration is not the best – so in this case I opened up a great tool that I always have open in a browser tab – the full IPA Online Keyboard. There are no great tools I have found so far for Burmese. The tool that I used for the phonetic transcription below is called the ‘Burmese Phonetic to IPA Converter’. It is far from accurate in regard to the actual pronunciation of standard Burmese. If you have time, I would recommend transcribing it with the IPA keyboard again with the help of a native Burmese speaker recording the phrases for you.
If you are using a Mac (OSX), then you have a great terminal tool called ‘say’ where you can hear the pronunciation of the phrases from your computer’s own text to speech (TTS) engine.
I have written an article that teaches you how to use this and develop a great vocab building tool complete with flash cards here.
|Select Account Type||请选择账户类型Qǐng xuǎnzé zhànghù lèixíng||ご利用のお取引をお選びください。Go riyō no o torihiki o o erabi kudasai.||โปรดเลือกประเภทบัญชีprò:t lɯ̂:ak prà-pê:t ban-cʰi:||ငွေစာရင်း အပျိုးအစားကိုရွေးချယ်ပါŋwè-sàjí̃ ʔpjóʔsákò(x)étʃʰɛ̀pà|
|Savings||储蓄账户Chúxù zhànghù||普通預金口座からお引出しFutsū yokin kōza kara o hikidashi||เผื่อเรียก / ออมทรัพย์pʰɯ̀:a rî:ak / ɔ:m-sáp||ငွေစုစာရင်းŋwèsṵsàɹí̃|
|Checking||支票帐户Zhīpiào zhànghù||当座預金口座からお引出しTōza yokin kōza kara o hikidashi||กระแสรายวันkra-sæ̌: ra:i-wan||စာရင်းရှင်စာရင်းsàɹí̃(x)ì̃sàɹí̃|
|Credit Card||信用账户Xìnyòng zhànghù||クレジットカードからお引出しKurejittokādo kara o hikidashi||บัตรเครดิตbàt kʰre-dìt||ခရက်ဒစ်ကဒ်kʰɹeʔdiʔkad|
|Please Select Transaction||请选择交易服务种类||ご希望の取引を選択してくGo kibō no torihiki o sentaku shite ku||โปรดเลือกรายการprò:t lɯ̂:ak ra:i-ka:n||ကျေးဇူးပြ၍ စာရင်းကိုရွေးချက်ပါtʃézúpɹ၍ sàɹí̃kò(x)étʃʰeʔpà|
|Fast Cash 1,000||默认账户 1,000Mòrèn zhànghù yīqiān||1000バーシ引取しIchi sen Bātsu hikitori shi||ถอนด่วน 1,000tʰɔ̌:n dùan nɯ̀ŋ pʰan||အပျန်ထုတ်ယူမည် 1000ʔpjà̃tʰoʊʔjùme 1000|
|Fast Cash 2,000||默认账户 2,000Mòrèn zhànghù Èrqiān||2000 バーシ引取しNi sen Bātsu hikitori shi||ถอนด่วน 2,000tʰɔ̌:n dùan sɔ̌:ŋ pʰan||အပျန်ထုတ်ယူမည် 2000ʔpjà̃tʰoʊʔjùme 2000|
|Fast Cash 5,000||默认账户 5,000Mòrèn zhànghù Wǔqiān||5000 バーシ引取しGo sen Bātsu hikitori shi||ถอนด่วน 5,000tʰɔ̌:n dùan hâ: pʰan||အပျန်ထုတ်ယူမည် 5000ʔpjà̃tʰoʊʔjùme 5000|
|Fast Cash 10,000||默认账户 10,000Mòrèn zhànghù yī wàn||10，000 バーシ引取しIchiman Bātsu hikitori shi||ถอนด่วน 10,000tʰɔ̌:n dùan nɯ̀ŋ mɯ̀:n (mɯ̀:n nɯ̀ŋ)||အပျန်ထုတ်ယူမည် 10,000ʔpjà̃tʰoʊʔjùme 10,000|
|Withdrawal||取款Qǔkuǎn||引取しHikitori shi||ถอนระบุจำนวนเงินtʰɔ̌n ra-bù cam-nuan ŋən||ထုတ်ယူမည့်ငွေပမာဏကို နိပ်၍ဖောပြမည်tʰoʊʔjùme ŋwèpmà(x)kò nḭa? yue pʰɔ́pɹmɲ်|
|Inquiry||查询Cháxún||残高照会Zandaka shōkai||สอบถามsɔ̀:p tʰǎ:m||စုံစမ်းမေးမြန်းမည်sṵsan mémɹá̃me|
|Transfer / PSC Buying||转账Zhuǎnzhàng||お振込／PSC 購入O furikomi / PSC kōnyū||โอนเงิน / ซื้อสลากออมสินo:n ŋən||ငွေလွှဲခင် / ငွေစုထီလက်မှတ်ဝယ်ယူခြင်းŋwèɬwɛ́kʰì̃ / ŋwèsṵtʰìleʔm̥aʔwɛ̀jùkʰɹí̃|
|Payment / Other||金融支付 ／ 其他Jīnróng zhīfù / qítā||お支払 ／ その他O shiharai / sonohoka||ชำระค่าสินค้า / บริการอื่นๆcʰam-rá kʰâ: sǐn-kʰá: / bɔ-ri-ka:n ɯ̀:n-ɯ̀:n||ပစ္စည်းခ / တခြားဝန်ဆောင်ခငွေပေးချေခြင်းps(x)sɲ်းkʰ / tkʰɹáwà̃sʰaʊ̀̃kʰŋwèpétʃʰèkʰɹí̃|
So now the ball is in your court. Are you ready to put your money where your mouth is when you say that you are serious about learning ‘x’ language? Just by making a conscious effort to start to do daily chores like use an ATM in the target language that you’re learning, you will start to create an environment that teaches you the language rather than you having to set aside specific times to study.
Even if you’re not learning Thai, if you would like more examples of how to create an environment that teaches you language as well as other language learning techniques that will allow you to lay down a new language learning operating system for your mind, check out CTF – A Thai Operating System for your Mind here.
Let me know how you go!