A New Approach: Following Moses..

The online ployglot community seems to be a fairly small but well connected group.  Most of us tend to be educated professionals with a passion for languages, travel and culture.  The are, however a few “rock stars” in this arena who have taken this avocation to whole other level.  One such “rock star” is Moses McCormick.Moses (at last check) is “conversational plus” in over 50 languages.  This is clearly a pretty amazing feat considering that he is only in his 20’s and most of us can’t even name 20 languages.  Moses began his language studies at The Ohio State University where he majored in Chinese and became a highly sought after language tutor.  A tutor  not just in Chinese, but in several other languages, including some that he never studied.  Since then he continues to accumulate more languages.  He currently spends three months on each new language but approaches no more than four languages a year.  Clearly Moses has found a way to “hack” the system.   He has and he calls it the FLR method.FLR stands for “Foreign Language Roadrunning” and is designed to get students up to conversational ability quickly.  Through his own studies, he identified several common components and phrases which were necessary to speak at an elementary level. He also noticed these same sentences applied to whichever language he was studying.  No, it was not   “This is a pencil … This is a blackboard” … My house is big …This car is new…”  He found that learning key interrogatives and memorizing several predictable, stock sentences was much more useful and efficient.   For the interrogative “what” , for example,  he might learn:

Q: What’s your reason for learning Chinese? / Nǐ xuéxí zhōngwén de yuányīn shì shénme?

A: I want to learn Chinese because I want to go to China one day. / Wǒ xiǎng xué zhōngwén yīnwei wǒ yào dào zhōngguó qù

Q: What is your job? /Nǐ de gōngzu. shì shénme?

A: I’m a student / Wǒ shì yīge. xuéshēng

Q: What do you do? / Nǐ shì zuò shénme de?

A: I study at the university. I’m a teacher / Wǒ zài dàxué xuéxí. Wǒ shì yīg. lǎoshī

Q: What is your age/How old are you? / Nǐ duōda le

A: I’m 30 years old. / Wǒ 30 suì

Q: What do you do in your spare time? / Nǐ yǒu kòng de shíhou zuò shénme? etc…

Once all the stock questions and answers are familiarized for all the interrogatives, he introduces what he calls “key words”.  These are the connector words that give speech the fluidity expressed by advanced speakers.  He has about 40 of them. A few for example are :

as long as, continue, still, probably, maybe, usually, sometimes, ok, I see, once in a while, always, especially, like this, like that, must, simply, yet,  I feel that etc.  

He memorizes these 40 words and then uses them to recompose the sentences that he has previously learned.  The key words can then link several of the sentences together and give a sense of fluidity to them. He makes his own drills by writing and memorizing these recombined sentences.  Once he has done this he gets to work speaking with as many native speakers as he can find.  For some more obscure languages he has to do it online or in chat rooms.  For a language like Mandarin, however, it is usually not too difficult to find speakers in the community.

This is supplemented by using a textbook and recombining the textbook’s dialogues with the key words as above.  He then does the same process for comprehension difficulties: eg:   “I can’t understand you when you speak that fast, if you slow down I might be able to understand better…”.   This is followed by creating a stock paragraph introducing oneself that can be automatically reproduced from memory with a native speaker.

This method has been incredibly effective for Moses and his students.  I met with him over Skype yesterday to discuss the method  and how I could apply it to my Mandarin quest.  Moses greeted me with a huge smile.  He is incredibly friendly and clearly has a passion for languages and linguistics.  We went through his own current plan for learning German.  I was amazed!  50+ languages and he hadn’t tackled German yet.  We shared a laugh over that one.

The great thing about his FLR method is that the learner can self-tailor it to his/her own needs. We talked about the textbooks that I was using and he pointed out that I could use a free online course called “Book 2”.  Think about it.  Countless scores of people are throwing hundreds of dollars away on ineffective courses like “Rosetta Stone” and Moses is using a free online course called Book 2 (& getting much better results!)  http://www.goethe-verlag.com/book2/

We came up with a plan for me to efficiently tackle Mandarin Chinese.  This week I am going to familiarize myself with the key words and memorize a solid chunk of the key questions and answers.  The DLI course is on hold for right now and in its place I will start going through the Assimil Chinese With Ease course.  The Assimil course lends itself to this sort of method better than the DLI course does.  Oh yeah, and I am definitely going to check out the Book 2 course!

Moses has been kind enough to outline his method and link a few videos here:  http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=18808&PN=1&TPN=1


A few weeks ago I mentioned how Chinese characters are the same amongst the different Chinese dialects.  Well, I got a reality check from Ari on the how to learn any language forum about this subject.

Ari wrote:

No no no, don’t fall into this trap! This is a common misconception, even amongst Mandarin speakers. The reality is that all

speakers of non-Mandarin sintic languages are forced (in China by law and in Hong Kong by social pressure) to write in

Mandarin. Almost all books in Hong Kong are written in Mandarin and any literate Cantonese speaker can read Mandarin,

even if they can’t speak it. There are, however, texts written in Cantonese, and these texts are usually hard to understand for

a Mandarin speaker. There’s a reason why there’s one Wikipedia in Mandarin and another in Cantonese. Cantonese is

different from Mandarin in both grammar and vocabulary, and written Cantonese uses many characters unknown to

Mandarin speakers (and doesn’t use many characters that Mandarin uses).

Example Mandarin: 這樣寫才是國語,那樣是不對的 (Writing this way is Mandarin, that way of writing is wrong)

Example Cantonese: 噉樣寫先係粵語,嗰樣係唔啱嘅 (Writing this way is Cantonese, that way of writing is wrong)

As you can see, the difference is quite profound, and there are several characters in the Cantonese that would stump a

Mandarin speaker (噉, 嗰, 唔, 啱, 嘅), and some that are used in a different way (先, 係).

Written Cantonese has existed since the Ming dynasty and it’s today used in comic books, on web forums, in text messages,

in some gossipy news columns, in advertising and whenever something is means to be read aloud (such as movie scripts).

There is still a strong pressure, however, for written Cantonese to have to be “sanctioned” by either light content or close

ties to spoken language. Writing a college textbook in the native language of the students is unthinkable because of this

diglossia, just like you wouldn’t write it in dialect in an Arabic country.

For other sintic languages it’s even worse, as no written form has been commonly adapted, so in many cases speakers are

unable to write their native language. Needless to say, the Chinese government is not hurrying to develop and standardise a

writing system for non-Mandarin languages, meaning these people can either write in Mandarin or not at all. See

this article for a more in-depth view.

liddytime wrote:

Awwwww man!

Just when you think you are going to get a “freebie” in Chinese …    NUTS! 😦

Ari wrote:  Sorry, man, no free lunches. There are, however, a large amount of vocabulary overlap between the languages and the characters do make learning this a lot easier. The formal register of Cantonese is very close to Mandarin, since all books are written that way. So technical vocab is the same. The colloquial language spoken every day on the street, however, is vastly different.

So there you have it. Even in Chinese, there is no such thing as a free lunch!


4 thoughts on “A New Approach: Following Moses..

  1. Érdekes cikk. Újszerű megközelítés a nyelvtanulásban. A legnagyobb baj, hogy ez ma már egy nagyon elüzletiesedett “iparág”, ami a hagyományos tankönyvekre épít, amiknek elég kevés közük van a mindennapi párbeszédekhez. Paradigmaváltás van készülőben?

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