The Linguist: A Personal Guide to Language Learning

How to learn a language

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Review: The Linguist – How to learn a language…

I know who Steve Kaufmann is. Sort of. A couple of times a year I stop by his blog, The Linguist, to see what he’s up to. But until lately I didn’t know the details of his method of choice.

How to learn a language The reason? Because LingQ is not offering Thai (waving at Steve). LingQ does have English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, German, Russian, Chinese, Portuguese and Swedish (perhaps Thai is in the wings).

If you don’t know who Steve Kaufmann is… in a nutshell, Steve is an accomplished linguist with (I believe) eight languages under his belt. He authors the blog, The Linguist on Languages, and is the driving power behind a popular language learning community: LingQ. And if you are into YouTube, he has a channel there too: Lingosteve.

When researching for a post on language learning styles (it’s more complicated than I thought), I purchased his book, The Linguist: A personal guide to language learning (no, I did not pay the quoted price). Busy as usual, I filed the book away.

On a weekend when struggling with a crappy internet connection – I wasn’t sure if the lack of internet meant my temperamental Belkin modem was playing up, or Thaksin losing half his money was a contributing factor (yeah, I’m paranoid), or both – I gave up trying to reconnect and read Steve’s book instead.


The first subject in his book is A Language Adventure, which describes Steve’s linguistic adventures. Next up is The Attitude of a Linguist (aptly named). But the real reason I purchased his book was this section: How to Learn Languages.

What I found was a pleasant surprise as his method suits me quite well. Odd, as I’d (wrongly) assumed that Steve was an all natural guy. And I don’t do all natural.

Steve’s method is similar (but not quite) to Luca’s. If you are unaware of Luca’s method, then please read through these posts:

Steve Kaufmann’s method of learning languages…

Steve says that before you try to communicate in your target language, you should spend time on listening, repeating out loud, learning words and phrases, reading, writing, and practicing proper pronunciation.

To express yourself in a new language you must first absorb the language by listening, reading and learning vocabulary… These activities will always account for about three quarters of your effort while you are working to achieve a basic level of fluency. But from the beginning you also have to work on your skills of expression: pronunciation, writing and conversation. Developing these skills requires a conscious commitment to regular and patient practice.

Some learners are hands on (they don’t want to waste time studying; they need to jump in and start talking). But I quite enjoy learning languages using the proposed methods of polyglots Luca and Steve. To get a word or phrase into my head I need the basics: Listen, read (Thai script), repeat out loud, and write or type from both reading and listing.

Curious, I compared the basics of Luca and Steve’s method’s side by side.

Steve Kaufmann’s method:

  1. Listen repeatedly to material within your basic range of comprehension, concentrating on pronunciation.
  2. Repeat individual words and phrases out loud, both during and after listening.
  3. Read sentences and paragraphs out loud, first very slowly and then more quickly, and always in a loud voice.
  4. Record your own pronunciation and compare it to a native speaker.
  5. Write using the phrases you have mastered.

Luca Lampariello’s method:

  1. Listen to audio files.
  2. Repeat audio files.
  3. Read the materials with and without the audio files.
  4. Translate the Thai dialogue into English.
  5. Translate your English translation into Thai (transliteration or script).

For me, the strength of Luca’s method is translating the dialogue into English, and then translating it back into Thai. I’ve noticed that by following Luca’s method, the dialogues are burned into my brain. Without a lot of work, it also improves my writing, grammar, and spelling. And except for translating back and forth, Steve’s method follows a similar path.

When it comes time to communicate, Steve states the obvious: Build your conversations around the phrases you have learned. Sometimes I really do forget that it’s that simple.

Another bit of advice Steve shares is to create intensity with language learning. And this is where Steve’s method differs from Luca’s. Luca suggests going for an hour a day to start. And then later, paring that hour down to a half hour. Steve wants us to go full force into language learning.

Learning a new language is most enjoyable when you are learning quickly, which requires intensity… You need to overwork the language processing capability of your brain by constant and frequent repetition during a period of intense learning. This period may vary from three months to twelve months depending on your starting point and your goals. During this period you must maintain a sustained commitment to your task.

Both Luca’s and Steve’s ideas work, so it’s up to personal learning preferences and available time. For this suggestion, I do believe I’ll take Steve’s advice and ramp up my study time.

The rest of his book touches on tools to use, and setting clear goals. The book finishes with a pep talk using Mike Weir (winner of the Masters Golf Tournament) as an example.

All in all, if Steve’s LingQ community included Thai, I would seriously consider using it as a viable tool.

To see for yourself, stop by The Linguist, and/or check out his language community at LingQ. Also, you can read two of Steve’s books for free. The Way of the Linguist: A Language Learning Odyssey is online. And you can download The Linguist on Languages via his sidebar.

8 thoughts on “The Linguist: A Personal Guide to Language Learning”

  1. Pingback: Falling in Love with a Foreign Language: The Risks of a Metaphor
  2. Cat, I have a passion for Thailand so I am passionate about learning Thai but that will probably end my career as a professional language learner.

    Sculpting really odd heads? Now this sounds very interesting and something that needs to be explored further…

  3. Jo, no tv? That sounds brutal. But I know that if I didn’t have tv, I’d spend more time on the computer or at the crafts I used to enjoy doing. I used to paint and draw portraits and caricatures. I used to sculpt really odd heads. Now I don’t do much of either. I still have my paints and my kiln, so I have not given up.

    Japanese is said to be a very difficult language to learn (brain intensive). I had kindergarten Japanese for awhile (I lived in Japan as a tyke), but it’s mostly gone.

    I believe Steve and Luca’s methods work because there is a logical process to follow. Also, you can use either with most any course out there.

  4. Sophie, I too want that pill or implant. I don’t have a huge passion for learning languages and I believe it’s because it hasn’t clicked for me like design and art did, where the excitement of the ‘ah hahs’ drew me on. I’m in Thailand so the reminder to get back to my studies is always here – and to make doubly sure, I have WLT. So I’m more of a language learning plodder than a language gobbler (no 8 language for me 🙂

    A lot of the expats I’ve met who do not speak Thai have tried to learn the language, but gave up. There are various reasons, obviously, but several stand out over all others. Many are coming to Thailand to retire so there is the age issue. On top of that, a lot have never been successful with learning languages, and with Thai being one of the most difficult to learn it’s a lot to take on. Another issue is that in many areas you don’t need Thai at all, so it’s not like you are going to starve or go without.

    On a side note: I’ve read about some who quit when they’ve studied hard, only to find out that they’ve been taught a version of Thai that Thais do not speak. And students can actually attend school for a year out here, yet cannot communicate at the end of it. And that has to be frustrating.

  5. Learning a language can be more of a hobby than a necessity. I live without TV since a couple of years now and have found this frees up a lot of my time to do more constructive things like learning new languages or other things like handcraft. I study Japanese and German at the moment.

    8 languages sounds like more of a professional athlete at work though 🙂

    I like both Steve’s and Luca’s approach. It is always a matter of preference and each person has their own taste on how to learn.
    .-= jo´s last blog ..Instant Thai Phrase Lesson: Football II PDFs (txt) =-.

  6. Talen, Indeed! “How do some people have a life?” I agree. Between learning a language…one at a time, thank you very much, and keeping up with even two great sites, such as yours and Cat’s, I do wonder where people find all that time to do other things. I agree with you. A pill, a brain scan to implant….works for me. Where do I go to have it done? Cat, I agree with you about you either have the passion for language learning or you don’t. I mean you really do need a passion for it otherwise it would certainly be too much effort. Just look at all the people who actually live in Thailand who aren’t interested in learning the language of the country they now inhabit! Interesting.

  7. Talen, I’ve read that once you get over the second language hurdle, the rest are a dawdle. Dunno for sure. The way I look at it, you either have it or you don’t – a passion for learning languages, that is.

    Steve’s program at LingQ is interesting as it pulls together some of the pieces we use to learn languages anyway. Ok, not your dictionary (not that I found, anyway).

  8. 8 languages? How do some people have a life…one is hard enough!

    I wish someone would invent a pill or a brain scan thing to implant the language.

    Personally I’m kinda glad Steve isn’t tackling the Thai language because I am almost at the point of overload.

    I still think the old way of doing things is best…sleeping dictionaries all the way 🙂


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