UPDATE: Jeff Netto’s Thai Challenge

Jeff Netto's Thai Challenge

This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.

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Jeff Netto’s Thai Challenge…

Jeff is a serious language learner. If you remember, he started his Thai language challenge with ziltch Thai. Nada. In addition to the 6 week challenge Jeff set himself 19 months to learn as much Thai as he can. Reason? A friend is learning Thai too, only in Thailand.

I’ve seen other language challenges but I’ve never seen the likes of what Jeff got up to. During the challenge, Jeff studied four hours a day, six hours a day, ten hours a day even. Impressive.

Jeff Netto's Thai Challenge

And Jeff has real excuses to avoid studying (I have a handful of my own). I mean, he works ten hour days, has a young family, yet he still drove himself to study long hours.

Jeff Netto's Thai Challenge


Jeff didn’t stop at learning Thai either. Alongside Thai, Jeff concentrated on Serbian, Xhosa and Spanish. Again, impressive.

How did Jeff manage? During the day he grabbed opportunities where he could and after work he studied long after his household was asleep. Given the choice of sleeping or studying languages, Jeff chose languages.

This, my friends, is a man with a serious language passion.

Interview with inspirational polyglot Jeff Netto…

Understandably, Jeff is still busy concentrating on his Thai challenge so instead of my usual long list of questions I’ve kept the interview to the bare minimum.

Jeff, what is your mother tongue?

(Brazilian) Portuguese.

When did your passion for learning languages develop?

Well, it started when I was a kid learning martial arts, Japanese was the first language I ventured on at age 14. Almost at the same time I started to have English classes at school as part of the Brazilian Public School’s Curriculum. Later on came French (age 17) influenced by a couple friends who were engaged in a government project for foreign languages training.

But what REALLY took me for a loop was an exercise given by a college professor back in Brazil. The class was “Instrumental English” (aimed at preparing the student to do peer reviews and bibliographical research in the Biology field), and the exercise was basically to interpret texts in different languages by using visual or cognate material in the text itself, no dictionaries or any other aid material.

Each week she brought a different text: Spanish, Italian, Japanese… those three didn’t really offer many difficulties, but when she finally brought the text in German everything changed!

I remember it was a Mickey Mouse comics page, and I could only give the meaning of three words out of the whole story! I can’t express the frustration I felt…

I remember ditching the second block of classes and going straight to the university library. I pulled out a German dictionary and a German grammar book and started to translate the little story. Well, as you know, dictionaries don’t list conjugated or declined (case) words, so I decided to appeal to the Internet.

As soon as I typed “German Grammar” on Altavista (yeah, I know it is old…) I came across the website: “travlang.com/Languages” (that is actually still active) which offered the basics for about 70 different languages with links to support material. And then the rest you already know… chain reaction! German, Russian, Korean, Hebrew, Swahili, you name it!

This happened in 2000, and I haven’t stopped since.

You mentioned the importance of changing out activities, to not overdo. Could you please explain further?

When you decide to study a language you need to make sure that you have a balance between the main skills of a language: writing, reading, listening and speaking. Otherwise you may have a counterproductive effect, which actually happened to me after the last day of the challenge. I studied over 24 hours of Thai straight, so even with changing methods my brain got sick of it! I couldn’t touch a Thai book for nearly a month.

I have to admit that it was quite embarrassing, but it does serve as an example to others who are considering a similar challenge whereas they put an excessive amount of study hours in one single language!

Which Shadowing method are you using?

🙂 It is hard to define which type I followed, I definitely didn’t walk back-and-forth in a park reciting Thai out loud! I don’t think I would EVER do that. What I call shadowing, is in essence the very same thing others do: listen to audio files repeating out loud the expression while trying to get as close as possible from the native pronunciation (like the guy from Pimsleur always says…).

But beyond that I modify the sentences to fit my goals. It is quite effective when you are doing some sort of manual labor which requires mechanical movements, because you can let your mind run free while your arms and legs operate on “auto-pilot”.

Now that it’s over, what are your overall thoughts on your six week Thai challenge?

It was amazing, and I intend to participate in many others! Probably with different languages, but I’ll definitely keep going with Thai.

The Challenge gave a different taste to the tedious study process, which can be extremely motivating at times.

How will your 19 month Thai challenge be planned out?

Well, taking into consideration that I need to juggle 17 college credits and off-record language study at the same time, I’m still studying the possibilities. But I intend to find a steady study-buddy and keep on until life intervenes. 🙂

What are your suggestions for language learners aiming to emulate your studies?

There are a couple guidelines that I think would give learners some leverage:

  1. Find a concrete interest to support your language study. Be it to impress that one girl in French class or read the Old Testament in Hebrew, it doesn’t matter what the interest is, as long as it exists;
  2. Find out how you learn things (wikipedia: Learning Styles), your study time will be most effective if you know how information sticks to your brain!
  3. (in case you are not living in the country where the languages is spoken) Immerse yourself as much as you can. Music, TV, radio, any and everything you can find in that language;
  4. Be humble about it! If you can’t understand after reading three times, ask somebody with experience. At the end of the day you’ll need to interact anyway, right?!
  5. NEVER, EVER let obstacles or other people’s comments demotivate you! You can do it! No matter what it is, you can do it!

Jeff Netto,
twitter: JNatAlkhimia
YouTube: JNatAlkhimia
Blog: The Thai Challenge

Jeff Netto’s impressive Thai language learning timeline on twitter…

I followed Jeff’s tweets from the beginning. And from the start of the 6 week challenge Jeff stayed at the top of the pack.

But what really interested me was his pattern of study and how he switched out the focus. He’d write for a bit, watch a video on YouTube, study vocabulary, and then perhaps get back to writing.

And if Stu Jay Raj had a twitter challenge timeline I imagine it’d look similar. I’ll ask.

Because I was curious, I kept a rolling record of Jeff’s progress. I’ve tidied it up a bit so you can get some language learning inspiration too.

Pdf download: Jeff’s Twitter Thai Challenge

NOTE: As mentioned, in addition to Thai Jeff was studying other languages but I only kept the Thai tweets.

The Thai language learning community comes out in support…

Many in the Thai language community followed Jeff’s progress. I was chuffed to hear that the top three Thai language products were so generous in their support of his Thai challenge.

Learn Thai Podcast was on Jeff’s twitter timeline from the very beginning. And when LTP discovered Jeff’s passion for language learning, Jo and Jay gifted him with the entire LTP package. Fantastic.

Jeff started with Rosetta Stone but when he played around with a free version of L-lingo, Rosetta Stone was out and L-lingo was in. And also watching his progress were the good folks at L-lingo who graciously gave Jeff their software version.

Benjawan Becker from Paiboon Publishing was also curious about Jeff’s Thai challenge. Always one to support avid students of Thai, Benjawan sent her entire collection of learning Thai CD’s.

Jeff is plugging away at another language challenge so when he comes up for air I’ll ask for a brief review of Learn Thai Podcast, L-lingo, and the Thai language CD’s at Paiboon Publishing.

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