Question: Of the following three languages, which is the easiest to learn: Jamaican, French or Mandarin Chinese?
Most people would say Jamaican. With good reason. It’s in your native tongue: ENGLISH! You already know all the words! You just have to get past the accent and some minor alterations in word usage, like: “Dat mahn don’t hear a ting.”
Mandarin Chinese, on the other hand, is completely unfamiliar, except for Mandarin words in English usage like “fengshui.”
Mandarin Chinese is considered a “Level 4” language, on a scale of one to four, by the U.S. Defense Language Institute. Why? Because the words are totally unknown. There are no cognates between Mandarin and English. A Mandarin dictionary has as much meaning to a native English speaker… as the random numbers of a telephone directory.
French, as difficult as it may be for some, is merely a Level 1 language, due to those belligerent French Normans invading the Anglo lands in 1066. So, the English we speak today has its roots in both French and German, which is why both of those languages only earn a Level 1-2 rating. In other words, we know SOME of the words in French and German already.
Which leads me to the most brilliant theoretical conclusion ever concluded:
It is TOTALLY EASIER to learn a new language …when you ALREADY KNOW all the words!
Yet, every language learning system in the world teaches a foreign language as though it were… a “foreign” language.
Despite new and fairly significant advancements in language learning like Rosetta Stone, DuaLingo, Babel and LiveMocha, all foreign languages are still taught as though the words are something “foreign” to the learner. Based on this assumption, they are all forced to rely on a common methodology to acquire new, “foreign” words: FORCED MEMORIZATION.
All require that you force yourself to MEMORIZE a new word through repetition as the basis for learning it. Yes, they might embellish this with repetition of relevant pictures (Rosetta Stone) and other useful devices. But repetition of new words with no apparent conceptual relationship to the native learner’s existing language is still the lynchpin of imprinting them in all language instruction today.
But what if you didn’t rely on FORCED IMPRINTING? What if you already knew all the words in another language?
Hold on! Wait a minute! Slow down. I think that warrants repeating:
What if you ALREADY KNEW all the words in another language?
How is that even remotely possible?
What if… you examined the most alien (relative to English) language possible? Again, let’s use Mandarin Chinese. And what if… by embarking on an extensive, years-long research project, you discovered that EVERY word in Mandarin was in some way connected to a word of similar meaning in English.
In that case, you wouldn’t actually learn each new word by going from English to Mandarin. Instead, you would learn each new Mandarin word by going from English to English! Which is, conveniently, a language you already happen to speak!
I’m confused. If you don’t use Mandarin to learn Mandarin, how exactly do you learn it?
Let’s do a sample test: Here’s a list of ENGLISH words from A to C:
ass, ban, bang, bar, bay, beads, boo, bow, bun, buy, can, and choo-choo.
Now, you ALREADY KNOW these words. They’re not new! They’re in English!
But here’s the thing: All these words are also MANDARIN words!
These same words are also the SOUNDS of the root words of Mandarin. (We still have D to Z remaining, by the way).
So here are three examples from the root words above.
“BOO” means “NO” in Mandarin.
Like it does in English when people say: “Well, BOO to that.”
“BEADS” means “NOSE” in Mandarin.Just like in Southwest China, where it is common for women to wear BEADS in their NOSE.
And some people think that the trend of the male “BUN” on a guy looks SILLY. And in China they agree: “BUN” means “SILLY” or “STUPID” in Mandarin.
The easiest language to learn is the one you ALREADY know… even if it’s a foreign language.