Interesting video about going a year without speaking English


Personal development blogger Scott Young and his friend Vat decided to immerse themselves in language learning by going a year without speaking English. Their plan is to live in 4 different countries and thus see how much of 4 different languages they can learn in a year’s time.

Lots of people do this sort of thing obviously – indeed it’s one of the best ways to learn a language. But few people take lots of video footage of themselves doing it and edit the footage in an interesting way quite like this:

Learning Spanish in 11 Weeks | 10-Min Documentary from The Year Without English on Vimeo.

I myself am learning Japanese right now, through a combination of an online class, Pimsleur audio courses, and watching アニメ (anime, aka Japanese animation). I would no doubt learn much more and faster if I took a year to live in Japan, but that wouldn’t fit with my other goals right now, so this will have to do!

One thing I’ve found interesting about learning a new language in my 30’s is just how much pure memorization is required in language learning…and how little memorization is required of adults in general. In NLP trainings for instance, we never require anyone to memorize anything, even short phrases or scripts. Why not though?

We expect high schoolers to memorize thousands of foreign language vocabulary words but expect nothing of the sort of adults. Perhaps we should set some higher standards for ourselves!

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  • Neil

    Nice video and discussion. One thing I noticed about memorization- I’m not very good remembering names, but always great remembering the context of the person- job, background, languages they speak, etc.
    So my teachers would give me lists of words to learn and I always asked them to give me 3+ examples of that word in a given context/s. …I went through a few teachers!
    The upside is, that words often then came with sentences (or vice versa). It seems my brain would just ‘fill in’ the gaps in sentences I was producing by borrowing from others without any conscious recall, or even learning lists of words alone. I also found that the accumulation of phrases was much more useful than words. Of course that was with Spanish. I did have some experience with Chinese though and it worked there too.
    Underlying all this, I think there’s something about syntax and context the brain craves when learning details, at least in language.

    • Duff McDuffee

      I forget who said this, possibly Scott Young, but I remember hearing that if you can’t remember something, perhaps you haven’t actually *learned* it in the first place. In other words, learning something is about making connections to other concepts (that context you mentioned). I’ve certainly found that to be the case when memorizing specific vocabulary or even characters in Japanese–some I easily memorized and don’t need to practice at all, whereas others I just can’t seem to get…until I make a strong association in my mind, and then they are easy.

      It also makes me think that “practice” might not such a good method for things that require pure memorization, except for discovering what things one has not created strong associations for yet. Because rote memorization without an association doesn’t seem to transfer that data from short-term to long-term memory without a good reason, at least in my experience, and I don’t really need to practice the things that have that association.

      I have a similar line of thinking with personal change methods. When I’m working with myself or a client and we do a method that really works, that’s it–no “practice” is really needed, because it creates a new association or changes unconscious processing to “just work.”

  • olimay

    The kind of memorization involved in learning language through everyday situations feels very different from turning vocab lists of isolated words into flash cards or repeating after canned prompts. How many words in English did you learn through dictionary definitions? But hopefully those vocab lists and flash cards can speed things up a bit by supplementing what you get through everyday interaction and native media.

    +The not speaking their native language: okay. Cool, I guess. I want to see more people document not *using* (not speaking, but also not hearing or reading) their native language for a very large proportion of their waking hours. *That* would be quite a bit more interesting.

    • Duff McDuffee

      That makes a lot of sense–probably due to the context of associations that Neil mentioned in his comment. When you actually need to go to the train station or order a coffee, you aren’t going to forget those words.

    • Duff McDuffee

      In terms of not speaking their native language, clearly the main idea is to just “immersion.” I’m not convinced either that there is any advantage to not speaking one’s native language *at all* above that of living in the culture, having lots of conversations with others in the foreign language, etc.

      A study would indeed be interesting!