Watch us Speak all Four Languages in Three Minutes

As a wrap-up to our Year Without English project, Vat and I had a quick conversation in all four languages we learned during the trip (Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese and Korean).

You can now watch all our videos on our YouTube channel, including all four mini-documentaries and the longer interviews we held in each language.

Edit: Apparently the embed for this video is sometimes cutting off the subtitles. I’ve found reloading the resolution fixes the problem, but if you can’t get the subtitles to work, they work on YouTube.

  • Harrison

    I’m traveling to China this summer to continue learning Mandarin, I have a little background with speaking and reading Mandarin but I’m wondering when you have trouble expressing yourself what steps do you go through to get your point across to the listener?

    Do you hash it out no matter how long it takes, draw pictures, make hand gestures, etc? I’d prefer not to use English as a crutch.

  • Martin

    Hi Scott,

    Glad to see you and Vat can still converse in all four languages! Do you have any advice for learning a language to the fluency you and Vat did without going “no English”?

    Watching TV is fun and entertaining but doesn’t seem active enough to help pick up new words/vocab. On the other end of the spectrum, doing sentences in anki helps out with verbs and vocab but is such a turn off because it is so boring. Just wondering if you have any advice on how to maximize fun/entertainment with active learning. All this in the goal of continuing progress toward becoming a better/fluent speaker.

    Thanks Scott

  • Ernesto

    Hey Scott, interesting video!

    I’m going to try to learn Chinese by following your advice.

    Basically, my plan is…

    – Early and then consistent focus on tones and pronunciation
    – Learn the radicals early
    – Anki flashcards (MCC + Memrise for HSK vocab)
    – Lessons (to practice talking)
    – Listening practice (through chinese pod dialogues)
    – Grammar (with textbooks)

    How does this plan look to you?

    And of the textbooks you used (New Practical Chinese Reader, Complete Mandarin Chinese, Basic Patterns of Chinese Grammar and Side by Side Chinese & English Grammar), which did you find the most helpful? Or do you recommend them all?

    Thank you!

  • Paulina

    Hey Scott!

    In June i’m leaving for my “3 month only Spanish challenge” (inspired by Benny’s “Fluent in 3 months” and your challenge) in Spain.
    In September i’ll start my Erasmus exchange in Madrid.
    Which city would you recommend to do my challenge and why did you choose Valencia?

    Thanks,

    Paulina

  • Dennis Nehrenheim

    Hey Scott,

    I really like your blog and your projects. I have a question about language learning: When using mnemonics or metaphors for learning new vocabulary I often struggle with coming up with a proper mnemonic. I know a metaphor optimally should create the connection between the sound of the new word and the meaning. With some words this is easy to do. But mostly its pretty hard to come up with a good metaphor. For example the English word “ample” – I’m German and I thought the easiest way to remember this word would a connection with the German word “Ampel” which means “traffic lights” since it’s written similarly and every time I read the English “ample” the traffic lights pop into my head. However, I couldn’t find a good mnemonic for this… Do you have any tips or literature recommendations for creating mnemonics. I know it works pretty well but it takes much time and sometimes is hard to do. What if you just can’t come up with something? Do you have like a fundus of images in your head so that you can come up with mnemonics more easily?

    Regards Dennis

  • Arliss

    Is it possible to learn a language when one has memory trouble
    (not alzheimers just a poor memory always and worse with middle age)

    (polite suggestion: some preference for videos that do not promote beer drinking since young people are impressionable and even people who handle it well when younger may get into trouble later. I realize you are likely well rounded enough not to have that issue, but wanted you to know that some of us who have watched smart people go down the tubes into being drunks may want to protect you from such a waste of time and money.)

  • Chokri

    Hello,
    I’m quite impressed by what you achieved. Congratulations. I think that you are inspiring language teachers. They can actually learn new ways to improve their teaching methods and make learning funnier.

  • Insiya

    I thought it was interesting that you both actually immersed yourself into the culture while learning the language. A lot of people forget that learning languages can be gateways to new and fascinating cultures.

    As for my question, did you learn to read and write/type completely in the languages you studied or did you just focus on conversational fluency?

  • dolev

    Can you make the language learning process simple to me, there is the part of educational learning with grammar and writing, and there is the part of talking and using the language in a more fun way.
    I am not sure if I right if this is the right divide.
    And how, what is the best way to start, or learn a new language? Should I start with the traditional way or the fun way?
    And how can I have the same knowing level without going to a trip to China,I am only 15 so I don’t have a lot of money. I have heard about a website called conversation live which give a service of talking to other people in other countries but I can’t find it.
    So if I am right I should start by talking and hearing
    The new language and then I should learn Grammer and writing and all of that stuff? It

  • dolev

    Will the talking part of Chinese will give me the ability to make business with Chines?
    What it will give me?

  • dolev

    How much time it will take?

  • Paul Solt

    Awesome work Scott and Vat!

    After doing the challenge, what are your thoughts on software like Rosetta Stone?

    I don’t remember if you talked about being immersed vs. using more traditional (cheaper) options.

    What were the economics of the trip? Is it possible for normal people to do something like this?

  • Madelyn Blair

    I’m curious about whether you actually achieved the level of dreaming in the new language. If so, which language succeeded in this first?

    Were there any physical exercises you did to assist in your learning?

    What preparation did you do for each language?

    Did you also learn to read the languages?

  • Joshua

    My question is about motivation to not speak English whilst trying to learn a new language. You mentioned a bit about this on “ramitsethi” YouTube channel. Is it strength that forced yourself to not go back to the habit of speaking English. I remember listening to the recorded talk with Maneesh Sethi and he alluded forming a new habit could be by taking it step by step. Did you force yourself to not speak English “step by step” or did you throw yourself right into the deep end hoping to swim and not sink.

    I would be really eager to hear your thoughts on how exactly you managed to not “break”. – Because I have never heard of this kind of thing being done, nor have I heard of accomplishing a computer science degree in 1 year without going to MIT.

    Having been an avid follower of your work I am both envious and eager to know HOW you form these habits. After all it is the habit forming that was the most purposeful and important factor that lead to the manifestation of your endeavour on both the MIT challenge and your year without English.

    I suspect at the end of the day everything boils down to will or strength – the mentality that is when things get tough and you feel the urge to break you say “c’mon man!! Don’t be a baby, just do the god damned thing!!”
    This is in the sense of literally just working through the slight resistance to work. Is this true, or partly true.

    I would look really forward to hearing from you.

    Best regards,

    Josh

  • Juan Antonio

    Hi!
    I want to know your opinion for learning vocabulary in a language that has a different writing system (In your case, Mandarin and Korean). I think that your purpose during this months was to improve your conversational level, which is also my case. So, did you use flashcards? Did you tackle the pronunciation only in the cards, or you learned both script and pronunciation? Maybe you use a completely different system for vocab? Thanks! Best regards from Japan!

  • amber

    Hi Scott,

    i watched your video and it is great. And I want to know what’s the step of learning a new language like English for example. And how can I learn by myself?

    Thanks

    Amber

  • Arjun R Nair

    Nice thing , Let me ask a question grammar in this languages are all okay? I am shit with this English grammar. I appreciate for your different challenges in the life keep up the spirit. …. prepare tips for those others…. like videos books etc. sorry about the grammar

  • Scott Young

    Harrison,

    Yeah, it can be a bit of a struggle at first. A lot of people in China aren’t used to foreigners speaking Chinese, and English speakers tend to have atrocious accents at the beginning because they haven’t mastered pinyin and tones yet. Do pinyin and tone drills with your tutors extensively at the beginning.

    Martin,

    Go no-English with a language partner, either in person or with Skype. The principle is the same, it’s just a little less intense.

    Ernesto,

    That sounds like a really good plan. I didn’t find textbooks terribly useful, but that was just because I felt Chinese grammar is dwarfed by the difficulty in pronunciation and vocabulary. Honestly I’d probably stick with ChinesePod rather than a textbook if I did it again.

    Paulina,

    Madrid would probably work great. Honestly, the city doesn’t matter too much. You’re going to have excuses not to speak in Spanish in any city and any city will give you plenty of opportunities. Pick whichever interests you most!

    Dennis,

    Ample roughly means “lots” so I would just imagine there being a ton of traffic lights! Honestly the only time I find the mnemonic trick to fail is when the phonetics of the language are so different you get stuck. English -> Chinese failed a lot because most Chinese words sound similar to other Chinese words, not other English words.

    Arliss,

    I think a lot of language learning comes from practice, so I think you can probably still learn it even when you’re older. It seems that pronunciation is the part of the language hardest to learn as you age.

    Insiya,

    Conversation came first. I did read in Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese (although learning to read Chinese is much harder, so my ability is more basic), but my Korean reading is rather poor.

    Dolev,

    Yes. Start by talking and listening. You need to build a foundation of speaking in the language first before memorizing a lot of rules will be useful.

    Paul,

    I don’t really have much experience with Rosetta, but from what I’ve learned I’d prefer Anki.

    Yes, travel can be expensive, but you can always do conversation exchange with natives on iTalki.com for free. Being in the country gives some motivation, but we could have done at least 70% of the learning at home just with iTalki tutors and speaking to each other in the language.

    Madelyn,

    I dreamed in all the languages. Although often my dreams would involve me being confused dealing with native speakers in the language, so I don’t know whether that counts.

    Can’t think of any physical activity. And in terms of reading, I’d say my reading ability is equal to my listening ability in Spanish and Portuguese, and weaker in Chinese and Korean (although they’re harder to learn to read).

    Joshua,

    We were really strict about it in the beginning. I think it comes down to motivation. We planned out this trip for almost a year before doing it, so you can bet we weren’t eager to give in when we started.

    I think for someone who isn’t as intense, you can start with a smaller habit. Like limiting the no-English to specific people or situations to start.

    Juan,

    I used flashcards. My Chinese flashcards were split three ways Listen/Reading/Translation but my Korean flashcards always presented the script with the audio. I think the three-way split is probably more helpful, but I didn’t have a deck for that in Korea.

    Amber,

    I’d start by getting a tutor/language partner on iTalki.com.

    Arjun,

    I find the best way to learn grammar is to have conversations with a tutor who will carefully record your errors and quiz you on them later. It can sometimes be hard to find that tutor, but you need someone who will correct the errors you make. I suggest iTalki.com for doing this with writing.

    -Scott

  • dolev

    Why you didn’t used your holistic learning skills for that mission?

  • Hein Hundal

    Hey Scott,

    I have an interests in learning more math (Category Theory) and Chinese (I know about 20 words and maybe 200 characters). I would like a summary of your ideas on how to learn these subjects. What are the best books, blog posts, and/or courses you would recommend? I could also benefit from any motivational advise you might have.

    I am guessing that you would recommend that I read the two books: “Learn more/study less” and “The little productivity Book”.

    Right now “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” is sitting unopened on my night stand along with 5 other books.

    Have a great day! – Hein

  • Scott Young

    Dolev,

    I would say I did. But the holistic learning comes more into play on the learning of specific words/phrasal patterns.

    Hein,

    For Chinese: http://www.hackingchinese.com/
    For math: http://calnewport.com/blog/201

    -Scott

  • lisa

    Hi Scott,

    Firstly, thank you for each of your emails, and your video is really inspiring.

    I would appreciate it if you could please give me some advice on my problem. As a Chinese lawyer I am working in a German law firm in Frankfurt. Currently I am planing to write the a bar exam to get the solicitor qualification which means a lot for my career as Chinese qualification is not well acknowledged as solicitor in German legal service market.

    According to the guidance to the exam, candidates at my level may need to take at least 4 hours each day to prepare the exam over the period of four months. The problem is I donot know how to keep my brain clear and concentrated after the whole day’s work. The workload is quite heavy currently and it is not practical for me to quit the job as I need the salary.

    Do you have any experience or advice in this regard? I mean how to arrange time and energy more reasonable, so that we can achieve our goal more efficiently.

    Kind regards,

    Lisa

  • Jay

    Great videos. You all show that it can be done with detailed planning, structured learning, and resiliency.

  • Scott Young

    Lisa,

    I recommend looking at my course here: http://www.scotthyoung.com/lms

    It’s a pretty comprehensive system for how you can organize your time and hopefully accelerate the process.

    -Scott

  • rakgadi

    hey Scott

    i have been learning Russian and French; i am currently looking at reading my first book in French.

    i have tried reading a book in FReanch/Russian but each time i stoped at the first sentence; because it felt like i did not have enough vocabulary to read the book.

    how would you suggest i go about making this a effective exercise?
    how important is grammar when learning a new lanuage?

    thanx
    rakgadi

  • Rich

    Hi Scott,

    I’ve followed the updates through the year, and I have to say this has been a major inspiration to my own feeble language learning attempts. Every time I think ‘im useless at this, it’s impossibe, it’ll take years at this rate’ i always look at these videos to get me back on track. ‘If I do what they did (as much as local immersion is possible) I can get results’. The Spanish one especially as it has a bangin’ soundtrack. You might think it has had a lot of views….it hasn’t, it’s just me rewatching 😉

    That’s the thing with these sorts of projects,not only are you getting out of it what you get out of it, but others can get something as well…the gift that keeps on giving….like beer…until the next morning.

    Perhaps you could peice these all together and make them into a documentary, for the Discovery Channel or something. After all, every week there are My Weight Loss journey type programmes, why not a Language Learning journey. Throw in an idiots guide/this is what we did, maybe an accompanying book….this time next year you could be challenging Benny as Language Learning Overlord and he would have to kneel before you!

    Keep up the good work….Rich.

  • Rich

    oh, i forgot my questions….

    1. Did you do all the language learning preperation before you left for Spain, or were you leaning in Portuguese in Spain, Chinese in Brazil etc.

    2. I don’t speak any foreign languages so what I struggle to understand is how to go from knowing a few basic words and phrases, which i only know when my italki teacher goes painfully slow, to being able to speak at a rate faster than is possible doing mental word-by-word translation. ie i could have someone speak to me knowing words i know, but i would need then to say a word, wait 5 minutes while i say ‘hold on, i know this, whats the mnemonic again….ah yes’ then move on to the next word.

    i imagine it’s like learning to drive, everything has to be consciously thought. At some point it becomes automatic. I don’t know if it’s the same though. Repeating ‘Can I buy a ticket please’ and ‘How much is the hat’ isn’t going to get me to fluency any time soon, what are the steps to turning the vocab and grammar into automatic comprehension and production of coherent setences?

  • Yining

    Your Chinese prononciation is much better than any foreigners I’ve talked to! Great work on language learning:D

  • Yining

    Scott, what’s your motivation on learning these language?
    In your previous post, I’ve noticed that you guys live in 昆明,I’ve been that place and I know really large amount people were not well educated. so Was it quickly communicate with local people is the motivation?
    People always talk about motivation, for me, I have motivation on what I wanna or should do but always not strong enough to get me through really hard times.

  • Dawid

    Hi! I remeber you mentioned before, you were modyfiying Anki Intervals and settings. I wonder if your actions were driven by some research. Has it changed much since you came back home. I would be also curious to know your retention rate for mature cards, whether it changed over time, give that method. I use Anki a lot every day myself, didn’t hack it much, but I am always open for new options.

  • Scott Young

    rakgadi,

    I don’t aim to understand everything perfectly when reading. That sets the bar too high and doesn’t give you practice when you already know a lot. Instead I aim for getting the “gist” of the story, even if I sometimes miss details. Eventually you get better.

    Rich,

    1. All before the trip started. Although we did a bit of refresher before each subsequent country.

    2. That only comes from overlearning–using a word/phrase well past the point of remembering it.

    Yining,

    Communication in Kunming could be difficult with the local accent, although that’s quite common in most places in China. In the end, I’m happy we picked Kunming because it’s a very beautiful city with a nice lifestyle, which helped motivation more than if we had been in an overly expensive/polluted city.

    Dawid,

    Just checked my Anki deck. Mature recall is 84.5%. However, some of that being lower is because I’ve been raising my standards of what I consider a “correct” note for the cards. In the beginning, I had a lot of difficulty with hearing tones correctly and lacked the vocabulary for a perfect understanding of the sentence each time, so I had somewhat lower standards for what was acceptable with each flashcard. However, becoming more stringent (not accepting any tone errors, must get exact translation) means that some earlier cards I haven’t memorized as deeply as newer ones, and I need to relearn them.

    Honestly the only thing I’d change in the settings is the starting intervals (3d, 10d) and the leech threshold (3x). That seems to be more profitable, particularly if you have decks like mine which are more prolific with cards.

    -Scott

  • Toni

    Hi Scott!

    It was a really interesting project to follow. I would like to hear how you went about finding a tutor. I understand that you found them on iTalki.com

    I’m wondering how do you find a tutor that suits you?
    What’s most important in a tutor in your opinion?
    Did you set up any rules before you started? What rules?

    And it would be interesting to know how you would go about improving your language skills beyond conversational to more professional for example in academia, business, science etc.

    How to talk about different subjects more deeply.

    Thanks for a great blog
    Toni

  • Eric

    Scott, I have followed your blog for several years and particularly enjoyed your Year Without English project. I will be spending time in Chengdu and was wondering whether you have any recommendations for finding local tutors. Thanks

  • Scott Young

    Toni,

    1. Try a few out, pick one you like!
    2. Honestly, at this stage it’s mostly their schedule and punctuality. I’ve had tutors who have wacky schedules and don’t show up to lessons occasionally. Beyond that, just being patient is important.
    3. Not really, although I usually discuss my learning approach with them before starting so they don’t try to push me to doing things I don’t like.

    As for going beyond conversational skills, that’s hard to say, because it’s mostly outside my experience with this project. I’m continuing to work on Chinese, but there’s nothing really different for building “professional” or “academic” Chinese, it’s just getting better at Chinese.

    Eric,

    Hard to say. Look for an expat website which might have ads for local tutors. Look for schools as well–there will be Chinese schools you can meet other locals with and search for tutors.

    Alternatively, you could go onto elance.com and hire someone Chinese to search for you for a local tutor.

    -Scott

  • Mike

    Scott,

    I enjoyed this very much. I’m learning Korean and not having a lot of success. I’m over 60, live in Korea, am married to a korean and still cannot understand hardly anything that is said in Korean. Have you published anything on how to understand a language better?

  • Absolutely Tara

    Super inspirational. I just read a post about a woman who has learned to speak 6 languages fluently and about how much it opened her eyes to the cultures of each individual place. I was also intrigued by the fact that you said you thought of China as a poor country, but when you were there you realized it had a very rich culture. I loved that. I think it’s because I view them that way, and I’ve always wondered.

    Great video. Glad you decided to do it on a whim. 🙂

    -Tara

  • Joe W.

    Hi Scott,
    I liked the video. I just had a quick question about a project like this. Let’s say you tried to do this on a smaller scale, and wanted to learn the language without traveling and all that. How would you be able to interact with the culture, and learn about it without books? what was one resource you learned that helped you learn the language(s) of the country? My take on this is, I am already learning French, I want to learn Japanese/ Madarin/ spanish, but I’m interested in learning through interaction.

  • radwa elbalqany

    i want to learn korean but all i managed to learn until now is just few sentences and words through korean dramas and some online courses i need to be fluent so what should i do
    note:i have to learn korean if i want to join a korean college so i need the fastest way

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