Book Review: “The Way of the Linguist”

“The Way of the Linguist: A Language Learning Odyssey”
By Steve Kaufmann

I think I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again, Steve Kaufmann is one of my language learning heroes. I’ve always wanted to learn a second language but never really knew how. A few years ago when I turned 50 I found Steve Kaufmann’s videos on YouTube. I found his fresh and supportive approach to language learning very helpful and encouraging and he is an excellent role model.

Steve knows someplace between 9 and 15 languages. (Depending on which Youtube videos you watch as he is always learning more.) He may be up to 16 or 17 by now. It’s hard to tell.

Anyway, I am currently reading his book, “The Way of the Linguist”. It is very well written. I guess if you are going to speak 15 plus languages you know how to get your point across with as few words as possible. The book is very tightly written with just the right amount of detail about his travels to different countries around the world to make it interesting. I’m sure he could have written a book about just his travels and another about the food he’s eaten and anther about doing business in foreign lands, but this book is focused on language.

After college, Kaufmann was work with the Canadian Foreign diplomatic Service.  His first government posting was in Paris where he learned to speak French properly, studying the language under a native speaker. Kaufmann studied in Paris for two years.

His next post was to Hong Kong and also mainland China where he learned Chinese. Next Kaufmann was posted to Japan where he undertook to teach himself Japanese, and so on.

Kaufmann ended up with enough contacts overseas that he was able to set up his own export business in the private sector in Canada. It wasn’t until I read Kaufmann’s book that I realized what a good investment it is for a government to train its diplomats in foreign languages. Even if the diplomats don’t continue to work for the government.

Steve Kaufmann’s language learning website; LingQ.com

Kaufmann took his language training and his overseas contacts and set up a successful export business in Canada. Thus improving Canada’s exports and GDP. Canada got it’s investment back from him.  Kaufmann, whom I believe is in the lumber business, says that he has done business with a number of clients from different countries around the world in the client’s own language. That has to be helpful to a private business owner.

America has a Foreign Service Institute (FSI) that trains Americans with overseas postings on foreign languages. I hope with all the budget cuts and the attacks against so-called “big government” the recently elected party realizes the long-term value of the FSI is to America.

Kaufmann learned his languages one at a time over a period of time, by a combination of;

  • Study of interesting written content
  • Talking to native speakers of his target language
  • and “living in the language”

Living in the Language

For me, Steve Kaufmann was really the first Linguist that I ever heard about that made language learning accessible. Prior to Kaufmann most polyglots I read about or saw interviewed seemed to have some sort of chip on their shoulder. They knew all these other languages and I didn’t blah blah blah. And they never encouraged anyone to emulate them. They were part of an elite group that didn’t seem to want any new members.

Kaufmann shares my frustration with how foreign languages are taught in school. Kaufmann being Canadian was required to take two years of French. He passed the test but. However, he quickly found that he was unable to speak French after he was finished with school.

Kaufmann points out that there are a number of reasons for this. He also talks about this in a few of his videos. Basically, in school, you are taught what you need to know to pass a standardized test. But that test has little to do with fluency or practical use of the language.

To really learn a language, Kaufmann points out, one has to “live in the language”. This doesn’t mean one has to go to France to speak French. But one needs to set aside time, each day (consistency is important) to read and study a language. He also said that it is important to meet and talk with native speakers of that language. This can be done by seeking out native speakers of your target language in your neighborhood, and or via Skype.

Kaufmann says that language is more about food and culture than it is about words and grammar.

In his early days of studying German on his own. Kaufmann went to the second-hand bookstore and bought about nine or ten German books. Many of these books were formally owned by other students of the language so they had helpful notes scribbled on the pages. Now days, we have it easy, with the internet and iPads and iPhone we have a world of books in all languages at our fingertips. Not to mention google translate and other such sites.

The Way of the Linguist: A Language Learning Odyssey

My Personal Journal of Language Learning – Part 1

A look at different language learning systems.

I’m looking at a number of different ways to Lean French and Improve what I already know.

The systems that are am currently using for language learning are;

youtubeYouTube: there were a number of Youtube videos that I looked at before I started serious language learning. https://www.youtube.com/user/lingosteve

Steve Kaufman creator of the LingQ.com website.
Steve Kaufmann creator of the LingQ.com website.

I found Steve Kaufmann’s approach to language learning very refreshing. He knows around 15 languages and he his always learning more. From time to time he has 90 day challenges. Where he focuses on one language for 90 days to see if he can crack it. He encourages other people to join him on his 90 challengers. My favorite part about Mr. Steve Kaufmann is how it does not like traditional academic language teaching techniques. He (like myself) found that he learned little in his high school language classes. Steven Kaufmann is very much for the idea that we should all design our own language learning program to fit our needs. He interviews other polyglots from time to time and they discuss their personal styles. Most importantly Steve Kaufmann taught me that it might be possible for me to learn French even though I was over 50. He also has a language learning page called https://www.lingq.com. There is a free version a subscription version to www.lingq.com. I am a member. It’s a very useful sight once you get to use it.

My daily dose of French.
My daily dose of French.

Living Language French (Calendar): I bought my first Living Language French (calendar) in 2014. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Each day it has a new French word and uses that word in a sentence. In the early days I found this difficult as the sentence often contained words that I did not understand. So I came up with a system. (I have written a lot more about my Living Language French calendar but this post is getting a bit long so I will post it separately.)

duolingo-owlDuolingo.com: There is no cost for using Duolingo. I started Duolingo 10 January 2016. I think it’s a very effective system. I have written a review of it a few days ago. I’m very glad Duolingo exists. I now have a vocabulary in French of roughly 2600+ words. Duolingo tells me I have about 56% fluency level. (Which would go up if I liked doing flashcards)

I have reached my limit on Duolingo French. And because Duolingo is so addictive as a daily dose of language I have started Italian* so I can maintain my score.

Habits are important

Duolingo is very good for helping one to develop the habit of daily language learning. Habits are important. If you get into a daily habit of language learning you will progress.

[*On a side note I was thinking that if I started to learn Italian as a French speaker, instead of as an English speaker, that I could get a dose of both languages every day. But I haven’t had time to look into this.]

Private Tutor: This is a good idea. I started taking lessons a few months ago. Duolingo and LingQ are very good ways of learning vocabulary but if you want to speak the language you will need lessons hopefully from a native speaker. LingQ does offer an exchange where you can find a tutor on line, and then arrange an time to practice with them.

italki_logo_2016_200pxiTalki: iTalki is a website where you can find a tutor. https://www.italki.com/. The tutor’s charge. Some a little and some a lot. It is a very simple system to use. I took several lessons on iTalki but as I wasn’t very good at using Skype, (which is very simple to use) I had a number of problems in the early days.

How iTalki works:

1. Create an account with iTalki.

2. Add money into iTalki system. You will be given a number of iTalki Credits (ITC). The reason of the ITC is you might be dealing with a person from another culture who has a different currency. The ITC takes into account the fluctuation of the different currencies. Make sure you make a note of the conversion rate with your local currency so that you know how much you will be paying for lessons.

2. Search for a Teacher on the iTalki website.Find a teacher who is available at a time that you are available. Different teachers charge different amounts for their time.

3. You can contact the teacher through iTalki. The teacher then has to accept you (sometimes they are busy with other clients). If and when the teacher accepts you they will email you through iTalki.

4. For those unfamiliar with Skype you will need to set it up on your computer. It is a simple system. You will need to send your Skype number to your teacher.
[You will most likely need headphones. My Dell computer doesn’t give me an option to plug in a microphone. (Thanks Dell). Dell has hidden a mic in my keyboard somewhere and hasn’t bothered to tell me where. It works, so don’t stress out if you have a computer created by the Dell.]
Video Camera. Skype uses a video camera so you can see your teacher and they can see you. Most computers these days have video cameras. [until the people at Dell decide not to put them on any more.]

5. Before the scheduled time of your call your teacher will send you their Skype number through Skype’s email, (yes Skype has it’s on texting email system) for you to accept. You need to accept their number in order to receive a call from them.

6. At your scheduled time your teacher will call you. Accept your Skype call.
You will be able to see teacher and they will be able to see you, unless you are shy. They can show you flash cards on the screen and they can text you the spelling of words as you talk.

7. When you are done you can save all the Texts and uses this as your learning notes.

8. iTalki will then ask you to settle your account by transfering some ITCs to your teachers account.

Tutor tips. You want to get your money’s worth from your tutor whether they be on Skype from LingQ or iTalki or in person, so study what they ask you to study so that you are ready on the day. Different tutors are going to have different styles. Me personally I didn’t want to know about grammar rules I wanted to have conversations. Practicing the alphabet with a tutor is useful as you are practicing the sounds that you need to make with your mouth. Later after you can hold a short conversation it is important to learn some grammar rules. But the rules should come after some understanding. If you learn a bunch of rules before you get a feell for the language you will just be confused.

pimsleur-french-levels-1-5-mp3-9781442381827Pimsleur French Method: Dr. Paul Pimsleur was a language teacher that came up with the theory that the best way to learn a language was to hear a new word or short sentence, as spoken by a native French speaker, and then learner is asked to repeat the word, or sentence shortly after it has been spoken. This process is repeated again and again.

The learn works their way through the course learning a few new words and sentences every day.

I was still a nervous new language learning when I bought the Pimsleur French lesson #1 on CD series. I played one lesson a day, but as I progressed I had deep insecurities about how well I was doing. The Pimsleur system is a good system but it’s not interactive like Duolingo where you are scoring points as you progress.

I gone back to using Pimsleur now that I am a little more secure in my knowledge of the French language.

For some people the Pimsleur method will work well. Others may not like it so much. If you can create a daily habit of listening to them they will work well. They are idea for someone who drives to work and has a CD player in their car. You can also get them at Audible.com. (I love Audible by the way. When I use to take public transport to work I used to read books all the time. But now that I have a car I don’t have as much reading time and I’ve started listening to audio-books.)

So a program like Duolingo or the Living Language calendar are good for starters to get you into the daily learning habit. Once you are in the habit and have built you vocabulary and confidence up I found it good to use CD systems like Pimsleur. This is also a good time to start thinking of getting a teacher either in real life or on LingQ.com or iTalki.com.

People are going to learn at different speeds so it’s hard to say how fast you should be progressing. Just make sure that at all times you are having fun. Make your learning system your own.

Pimsleur French

What is next.

I’m always looking for new systems to play with. I have the French for Dummies book but I didn’t find it all that useful so I only read a few pages. I have bought a few other courses and will look at those in a future post.

[Full disclosure: I’ve included links to the different
language learning systems mentioned on this post.
Many are free but a few of them pay commission
which will go towards paying for upkeep of this blog.]