Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Intensive Language Course Blues

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm

By Antonio Graceffo



Having my fellow students ask me to leave the class was like being voted off the island.


In November 2010, I began an intensive Vietnamese course, at a university in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The course consisted of a series of eight-week courses. Each week we attended 20 hours of classes. Each eight weeks we sit an exam and decide whether or not to continue onto the next course.


Apart from wanting to learn Vietnamese both well and quickly, I chose the intensive course because I was hoping to be in a room full of like-minded people, serious about learning. I chose the university over a language school for two reasons. First, because I would have the option of transitioning into a Master’s Degree program in Vietnamese language and culture. The other reason was that I hoped to meet people who were serious linguists or polyglots who would enjoy intellectual discussion both theoretical and practical. I imagined we would talk about the history of the Vietnamese language, or do comparisons to Chinese, Korean or other Asian languages.


Group courses are not bad when you first start studying because it’s cheap and they tend to go step-by-step. If you are really serious about the language, however, you will eventually need to transition into private lessons at the university. In private lessons you get more talk time and of course you eliminate the hours spent listening to the faulty pronunciation and linguistic difficulties of your classmates. And you are saving them from picking up your bad habits as well.


Materials and methodologies


In the intensive course, our primary, and only the textbook is, “Giao trinh Tieng Viet, Cho Nguoi Nuoc Ngoai,” by Nguyen Van Hue. Parallel to the course I began working through a series of textbooks produced by the university in Hanoi: “Thuc Hanh Tieng Viet” from Dai Hoc Quoc Gia Ha Noi. There are five books in the series. I also picked up a series of books from Victoria University in Australia: “Tenh Viet: Vietnamese for beginners” by Buu Khai and Phan Van Giuong. There are four books in the series.


For listening and oral drilling, I use the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) Basic Vietnamese Course. I also hired a tutor and attend one-on-one tutorials several days per week.


All together, I spend between 50 and 60 hours per week on Vietnamese. When I first started the course, I had already had 150 hours of private tutorials, but I hadn’t learned to write Vietnamese or to pronounce it properly. Without being able to write or to pronounce Vietnamese, I obviously couldn’t pass a placement exam. So, I had to start with level one at the university.


While I probably needed to start in level one, I suspected that at some point during the course, I would make a major breakthrough in my pronunciation and writing and suddenly find myself way ahead of my classmates. While I was waiting for this leap ahead, I was putting in my fifty or sixty hours per week of learning. Long story short, by the second week of the second eight-week term, my level was so far ahead of my classmates that it was becoming impossible for us to remain in the same class. Where I was able to write essays and hold a conversation, most were happy if they could string a half sentence together.


I didn’t want to jump to level three without first completing level two. So, asking to be bumped up a level was not going to work. The only option open to me was to move into private, one-on-one lessons with a professor. At this rate, I should be able to jump up a level every 4 or 5 weeks, rather than every eight.


Getting back to my original assumptions about the intensive program; meeting people who were serious about Vietnamese and meeting people who were academics, polyglots or linguists. First, none of my classmates, nor anyone I met in the neighboring classes were academics. In my class, four of the twelve students speak Japanese as a second language, well enough to have normal conversations and talk all day. So, that was a plus. But none seemed to be academically interested in languages or linguistics. And none were doing research or publishing. None had a degree in linguistics or similar field.


They were all learning Vietnamese for the very practical purpose of working in Vietnam, but none of them were putting in any significant effort apart from attending class. Most of them, at one time or another, had asked my advice on what they could do to learn better and faster. When I suggested they should study more outside of class, many of them said they didn’t have time. Our class is only four hours per day. There are twenty-four hours in a day. Couldn’t they just go home after class, take a long rest, say two or three hours, then put in another two hours of self-study or tutor time?


When I was doing my BA I was in an honors comparative linguistics course, which was by invitation only. Every student in the course had a nearly perfect grade point average. The average age was 29 years old, as opposed to the average age of 20 or so in the university at large. The professor told us that adult students generally scored better than young kids did. He also said that adults, working full time jobs, never used their job as an excuse for not doing homework or studying. But young people, working part time always identified the 18 hours per week they slung pizzas as the reason they couldn’t study.


I felt that way in my class in Vietnam. I was the only one working full time, but I was also doing the most study.


One of my classmates was an American guy, call him Rico, who said his mission in life was to “pleasure women.” He had spent ten years in Japan, pleasuring women. Then, he tried China for a year, but hated it. Finally, he came to Vietnam. His next stops, several months from now will be Bali, followed by Brazil, each for a period of months. He said he has no plans of ever working again, only, following his primary mandate of pleasuring women. While I found him to be reprehensible, I include Rico in this report as part of a cautionary tale of how not to learn a language.


Rico spoke Japanese well, but didn’t do any studying or homework outside of class for Vietnamese. He talked about getting tutors, but all of his tutors were girls, who he was interested in for dating, and who he wasn’t paying. They would allegedly meet for language exchange, afterwards, he would complain that he wasn’t learning.


I have always been very much against language exchange. Even in the best of circumstances, language exchange simply doesn’t work. Rather than saying, “I’ll teach you English for an hour and you teach me Vietnamese for an hour,” instead, I just say, “I’ll pay you for two hours of Vietnamese lessons.” In that way, I progress and I learn. The tutors are always on time, and they teach me what I need or want to know. With language exchange, as Rico often complained, the partners generally wanted to practice English, but had no interest in teaching Vietnamese. They often turned up late or not at all. From a strictly dollars and cents perspective, an hour of English lessons is worth over $20 in Vietnam. An hour of Vietnamese is worth $2.50. So, it makes more sense to work as a paid English teacher, and use the money to pay for Vietnamese tutors. One hour of English teaching earns you about seven hours of Vietnamese lessons.


Rico complained that during the Vietnamese hour, the tutors would still speak English. “I try and force them to speak Vietnamese, but I just don’t have enough Vietnamese to hold a conversation. So my options were, send them away, or sit there and listen to them speak English.”


Rico’s point was valid. When you are first learning a language you can’t hold real conversations. That’s why it makes more sense to have a textbook as the focal point of your tutor sessions. Then, slowly, as the spirit takes you, veer away from the book, and engage in longer and longer asides, mini-conversations, at your level, but always returning to the book.


Rico told me that he was interviewing a prospective tutor and explained to her that she would need to talk to him for an hour in Vietnamese. She asked, “What would we talk about?” Rico answered, “You could ask me what’s this? What’s that? Do you like this or that?” Apparently the girl said, “That sounds boring.” And she refused to meet him.


Rico’s experience, minus the international, jet-set woman-pleasuring business, seems to support my theory that if your level is too low, conversation is beyond you. In the beginning, you could benefit from a more structured practice.


Along the same lines, David Long, the director of the ALG program in Thailand said: Rather than doing an hour of conversation that you don’t understand, it would make more sense to do fifteen minutes of something at your level.


Another of my classmates is Nu Sun, a Chinese native speaker, fluent in English, was having particular problems with the course. She must have asked me fifty times what it was I was doing that helped me learn so quickly. Each time, I outlined my program for her. I expected her to say that she would at least purchase one of the books I recommended or start working with the FSI course. Instead, she always concluded these discussions with, “Couldn’t I just sit in a café and try and have real conversations with Vietnamese people? That’s good too, isn’t it?”


“Is that what you are doing now?” I asked.


“Yes.” She answered.


“You see how well it’s working out for you.” I pointed out. But of course, when people ask advice, what they really want you to do is agree with what they are already doing.


Several of the students suggested practicing Vietnamese by talking to each other. I thought this strategy was doomed because then we would just be reinforcing each other’s bad habits. Nu Sun, in particular, insisted on talking to me in Vietnamese, although neither she nor I understood a word of what she was trying to say.


My attitude toward speaking to foreigners in Vietnamese did change a bit in the second semester, however. My best friend in class was CK a Chinese native speaker who didn’t know a word of English. We always spoke to each other in Chinese, but as the course went on, he made more of an effort to speak Vietnamese to me. He truly needed Vietnamese for communication. Without it, he couldn’t even talk to the other students, let alone the Vietnamese people who make up the majority of Vietnam. Little by little, I began answering him in Vietnamese, to help him progress. This made it more natural for him to transition into talking to the other students as well.


Around the same time, we received a new student in our course, a young Japanese guy who was like a breath of fresh air. Hiro was motivated about learning and extremely excited about his life in Vietnam. He didn’t have a tutor but he did have a Vietnamese girlfriend and spoke mostly Vietnamese to her. With CK now speaking Vietnamese and Hiro speaking Vietnamese, we all began using Vietnamese for communication. At times we would just break down laughing because, while we were trying to have deep and meaningful conversations with each other, Vietnamese people on the streets didn’t understand anything we said to them.


By the mid-point of the second semester CK was one of the better students in the class. Part of the reason, I have to believe, was because he was forced to do tons of homework. He couldn’t just ask the teacher for an explanation or translation in Chinese. He didn’t even recognize international words like “film or video.” Every word written on the board, in English or Vietnamese, he had to look up in a dictionary at night.


On a linguistic side note: when we first started, I had to point out all of the Chinese cognates to CK. He simply didn’t see them. By the middle of the second term, he was catching Chinese cognates at least two or three times better than me. I am curious to see how well he will be speaking a year from now.


One of the Korean guys, call him Il, would just say “pass” every time the teacher called on him. He more or less refused to speak Vietnamese or to participate in class activities. Needless to say, he was easily the worst in the class. Some students tried to defend Il, saying, “He just has a different learning style.” Perhaps, but it was clearly a style that was resulting in him not learning.


A point I would like to make here is I don’t subscribe to the theory that there are different learning styles. All human beings learn all things through repetition. Without repetition you simply don’t learn. And all things take time to learn. The more time you invest practicing, rehearsing, studying, learning, the more you will learn. When you are in class, you need to be engaged. Answer and ask questions, tune in. outside of class you need to do homework, revision, and preparation.


Some people think answering up in class is a way of showing off. But the student who answers up is usually the one who is learning and doing well. It is rare to find a student who doesn’t participate, but who is still learning and actually knows the answers.


An intensive course of any kind can be an emotional experience. But a language course is even more extreme. In a language course, chemical and perhaps even physical changes are occurring in your brain. You are cooped up in a classroom, twenty hours per week, not always understanding what is going on. And when you speak or write, you have to lower your intellect to the mind of a seven year old, to be able to express yourself with the limited language that you have.


When you started the course, you were intelligent. Now, you’re an idiot. It’s enough to discourage anyone from learning. All of my classmates, myself included, experienced minor episodes of break down. There are times when I get irritable or aggressive. There are times when otherwise good students suddenly can’t answer even the most basic question in their native tongue, let alone in the foreign language.


You run the gamut of emotions, and it is all normal. There are also moments, even whole weeks when you feel that you will never make it up that hill. Learning a new language is like climbing Mount Everest when the tide is coming in. Every time, your Sherpas get a few meters up the mountain, the waves come in and knock down your sand castle. Ok, maybe that’s a mixed-up metaphor, but you get the picture. Learning a new language is hard. And when students have trouble learning, they look for someone or something to blame.


People crazy enough to study in an intensive language program are still people. This often means that they look for anything or anyone to blame, rather than blame themselves for not putting in the hours.


I met an older, married couple who had dropped out of the program before I started. The wife told me. “We hired a tutor to help us find a better book, because the book for the intensive course is not very well organized.”


Yeah, it was the organization of the book that prevented them from learning. A book which teaches “What time is it?” before the chapter on “What’s your job” is clearly the answer to their problems. They had dropped out of the program almost a year earlier but hadn’t even started their private lessons yet, because they were waiting to find a book which was “A little better organized.”


The first person Rico blamed was one of our teachers. We had two female teachers who we all liked and two male teachers who we hated. Rico went to the office and found out that if we all signed a form, which he picked up, the teacher we hated would be removed. It was a coin toss as to which of the two male teachers we wanted removed. We didn’t realize at the time, but they were a set. When we got rid of one, we got rid of both. The two replacements were both excellent.


Rico felt like a hero. And on some level, he was. But, deep down I kept thinking, it is a little ballsy to get the teacher fired. While I agreed, it made me a little uneasy that he could be that calculating and devious.


Once we got the new teachers, and Rico found he still wasn’t learning, he decided that I was holding him back. “You dominate the class, answering 50% of the questions.” He said. I agree. I was dominating the class. I didn’t mean to. It just happened. BUT, if I was answering 50% that left the other 50% up for grabs and Rico was answering 0%. In fact, he even passed on writing the end of term exam.


I knew I had to leave the class soon anyway. So, when he confronted me, I decided God had spoken and was telling me, “Yes, it is time for you to move on and take private lessons.”


I keep having fantasies of confronting Rico a few months from now, saying, “I guess with me gone, your Vietnamese is spot-on now.” He would most likely respond, “It would be, but you held me back for so long, I couldn’t catch up.”



Have you ever dreamed of mastering a foreign language? Do you live in a foreign country but can’t speak the language as well as your native tongue? What’s holding you back? I feel at least partly responsible.


Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.


Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)







Brooklyn Monk fan page


Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE


Brooklyn Monk in 3D

Order the download at




What Makes a Polyglot? (Part 2)

In Uncategorized on January 28, 2011 at 10:48 am

And What do Polyglots think

By Antonio Graceffo

This is the second article in a series about polyglots on the internet. I sent email to polyglots I found on youtube, facebook, and elsewhere on the internet and interviewed them.

This entire article is an interview with a single polyglot, Félix Wang. Felix is ethnic Chinese, but was raised in Belgium. He speaks Mandarin, Teochew, French, Dutch, English, and a number of other languages.


Are most polyglots made or born?


Both cases exists but I still think that a person who knows more than 6

languages is not born with it ! Let me give you an example: I have an

Italian friend whose dad is Greek. And we speak French at school. So she speaks perfectly 3 languages.


2. Did most polyglots learn their languages as adults?


A British girl on youtube started to learn Japanese on her own at 13 and succeeded. But most of us start later. I think in general people start to love language around 17 or more.


3. Do children actually learn languages faster? And if so, where are these child-polyglots?


I don’t think children learn faster than us. I learnt more Japanese in two years time than a 4 year old baby. Adult brains can absorb faster. The problem is that adults always try to understand EVERYTHING ! Children don’t care about TOTAL comprehension.


Felix asks “Do you really think children understand grammar?” If they don’t, why do adults have to learn grammar first?


1. Were you born into a multilingual family? (Were you raised bi-lingual?)


I spoke Teochew to my mom, Mandarin and Taiwanese to my dad.


2. When did you start studying languages seriously?


Well I was forced to learn mandarin Chinese for tests every Saturday morning. So, when I was 10 I started to learn it, but not because I wanted, just because I was forced. I started on my own my first language at the age of 16 with Spanish.


3. Did you do any of your language study in a formal setting? If so, where and which languages?

I had Spanish class at my school. For Chinese I went to Taiwanese school during 8 years each Saturday morning. English, at school, but I learnt most of my English watching movies and communicating through Youtube ! Grammar rules never helped me…


4. How much of your knowledge is the result of self-study?

Well, most of my Spanish is the result of self-study but also practice with

my Colombian friends. All the Japanese I learnt: read, speak etc is the result of determination and self-study during a very long process 170h spread through out 1.5 years.


5. How many hours do you study per week?

Well, if it’s possible I study 30min per day = 3.5 h a week.


6. How many hours do you believe one needs to master a language?

You will NEVER master a language. Even in my native language I learn new

words everyday. It depends which language you choose, which languages you already know and how much time you put into your learning process. If you’re Portuguese and learn Spanish, I think you can learn it in 6 months. But if the same guy tries to learn Japanese or Korean, which are completely, it should take 3 to 4 years to really succeed and have a descent level.


7. Do you have any goal in learning languages? Are you training to be a

professor, teacher, translator…or do you just study for love?


It’s all about passion and culture. I learn it because I love languages and I wish I could speak to any non-English native speaker, in his own language and not in English. English always breaks the emotion, if you’re not talking to an English native speaker. If you go to Paris and speak English you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Knowing the local language changes your view of the society. It also allows you to know people you would never have met otherwise.


8. Do you learn more than one language at a time?

I tried to learn more than 2 languages at the same time, but for me it’s so disturbing. I get nowhere by doing that. I prefer to concentrate on 2 languages. Concentrating on one is actually the best and fastest.


9. Do you believe children learn languages faster than adults?

NO! There is this believe because most ADULTS focus on grammar and can’t even have a descent conversation. Children don’t pay attention to the grammar and just absorb naturally. But if we adapt our learning process and mimic children we get there faster

than them.


10. Do you, or most polyglots, have some type of mental disorder, such as autism or obsessive compulsive disorder?

I don’t really know for others, but I don’t have that, you don’t have to have a mental problem to be polyglot, actually being polyglot is a choice. If you choose to work hard to be conversational in a language you will be conversational.


11. Why do the vast majority of people who begin a language fail to learn it?


Several reasons: The biggest one being: they are not motivated enough. As a result they are hoping that classes will give them everything. Which is actually wrong. We

have to learn more outside classrooms. If I just learnt English when I had to, I wouldn’t be able to write you this email right now.


People don’t invest enough time. Language learning requires time, but they want to go fast. You can’t go fast it’s a slow input process. People think they have to speak a lot to be proficient. I don’t think that works. You have to read and listen for about 100h and

then speak to natives.


Most people who try to learn a language don’t invest 20min every day in it? Regular work is very important. People who learn Japanese or other exotic languages leave too early. After 3 months they give up. NEVER give up.


12. Any comments on language learning or polyglot life you would like to share with the world would be great.


Being a polyglot, I saw, learnt and know a whole bunch of things people would never discover because they don’t know the language. I’m learning Turkish and I spoke a lot with Erasmus students from Istanbul. I discover so many things about Turkish wedding, society and fooooooood. Man, that’s so interesting !!! Language learning also allows you to know more people. I made many friends I wouldn’t have made without knowing their

Language. This is the case for Japanese and Italian.


13. Do you have any dream languages, I mean, a language or languages you are dreaming of learning but haven’t started yet? And why?


I’m dreaming to learn many languages ! But I selected some and made a list: 1) Russian, 2) Polish, 3) Thai, 4) Vietnamese, 5) Hindi, 6) Hebrew, and 7) Tagalog. Mostly because I love languages from different geographical areas and which are very different so that I can broaden my vision of the world and make new friends all over the world.


Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.


Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)







Brooklyn Monk fan page


Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE


Brooklyn Monk in 3D

Order the download at









Education of a Polyglot

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2011 at 4:48 pm

By Antonio Graceffo


Currently, I am living in Saigon, Vietnam, studying Vietnamese 60 hours per week, with the goal of becoming a qualified translator for Vietnamese language. My commitment to Vietnamese comes after years of frustrated language studies in other Asian countries. This article, in three parts, will discuss the history of my language studies in Europe and Asia, my current Vietnamese study strategy, and finally, it will include a review of many of the learning materials available for Vietnamese study.


Education of a Polyglot

History of my language studies in Europe and Asia

By Antonio Graceffo

My family is Sicilian, but I was born in the USA. My mother died when I was young and I lived with my maternal grandmother, who was a polyglot. She had two master’s degrees and spoke Italian, Spanish, English, French, German, and Yiddish. I grew up exposed to all of these languages. The adults spoke Italian to each other, but normally spoke English to the children. My grandmother encouraged me to speak English, Italian and Spanish and for a long time, I stayed with a Spanish speaking babysitter when my grandmother was at work. My grandmother’s house was always full of Spanish speaking people and I had a lot of Puerto Rican play mates. My grandmother read me comic books and nursery stories in Spanish, Italian and French.


At school I studied two years of Spanish and two years of French. At university, I studied three years of French, a full four years of Spanish and German, as well as two semesters of Russian. I graduated with a BA in German with a minor in English. After graudation, I did additional studies, including writing two under-graduate thesis, one in German and one in Spanish.


When I had completed my first two semesters of the German program at Middle Tennessee State University I went to the University of Mainz, Germersheim, Germany, as an exchange student, to study translation of German, Spanish and English. I wound up spending four years at Germersheim, attending classes, working as a translator and teacher, and doing professional translation research under Dr. Kiraly, who was exploring various methodologies of second language acquisition with the goal of creating artificial intelligence computer programs for translation.


A lot of the research we worked on dealt with first language acquisition by children, which we then applied to the learning of second language by adults. During this time I explored a number of Silent Way or Natural Way of language acquisition. Of course I read Krashen, but I also stumbled on Dr. J. Marvin Brown’s Automatic Language Growth theory, which would play a huge role in my life, many years later.


In retrospect, the mistake that I made in Germersheim was that I broke off my formal studies too early, thinking that my work as a translator and as an academic researcher were adding to my knowledge sufficiently. In some ways, they were, and I was learning things that my former classmates might never learn. But, on the other hand, I wasn’t getting the boring classroom fundamentals. I really should have completed more formal language education because sometimes my professional translations were spot-on and sometimes they weren’t. The proof that I needed more academic training was when I failed the certification examination for the American Translators association. I was the head translator for Warner Bros. Germany at the time and also did freelance work for a number of large clients, including German government agencies. But what I realize now, and what I apply to my study of Vietnamese is: No matter what level you are functioning at, even if you are so high functioning that you can translate or interpret at international conferences, you MUST complete ALL of your academic training, including grammar and writing exercises.


At Germersheim I had private tutorials in Russian and Italian. I left the university for one semester to study at German translation school in Salamanca, Spain. When I left Germersheim permanently, it was to attend business school at Universidad Latina, San Jose, Costa Rica. I attended classes in economics, finance, and accounting, taught in Spanish. I also attended my first ever Italian classes at the Centro Dante Aligheri, San José.


In total, I spent a bit less than a year in Costa Rica, after which, I went to New York to work in the financial industry. I was given a large number of Italian and Spanish speaking clients and often spent entire days without speaking any English. I gave financial planning seminars in Spanish, Italian and occasionally German. Afterwards, I would field questions from investors in those languages. It was during this time that my Italian improved greatly, as it was the first time since I was small child that Italian was part of my everyday life.


After four years in New York, I came to Asia.


Since coming to Asia, more than ten years ago, one of my primary goals has been to learn an Asia language to 100% fluency, both academic and functional, reading, writing, speaking and listening at the level of a native speaker, college graduate, and to go back to work as a translator, researcher, and academic.


Sadly, I still haven’t achieved this goal. Along the way, I have attended classes in Mandarin, Thai, Korean, Khmer, Vietnamese, and Bahsa Malaysia. Of those, I have learned Mandarin to an academic level of intermediate, (in all four skills: reading, writing, speaking, and listening) but with a communication level which is advanced.


To learn Mandarin, I attended six months of private lessons, 15-20 hours per week, at Taipei Language Institute, Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Because I wanted to learn as much vocabulary, grammar and usage as quickly as possible, I didn’t learn any Chinese characters or pinyin. My teacher and I practiced only listening and speaking. I read texts written in Taiwanese phonetic script (Bopomofo / Zhùyīn fúhào). And I didn’t do any writing at all.

The advantage to not learning the writing straight away was that I could learn faster. The downside was that without writing, there was no way to practice at home or to do homework. Most foreigners believe that living in the country where the language is spoken you will be immersed, or that you could just go to the park and practice conversation with strangers. But it takes months for you to be able to speak beyond a silly inane level that would bore a native speaker to distraction.


I don’t see the benefit of asking fifty strangers in the park: what’s your name, what country are you from? And What’s your job?


Until you have a level conducive of real conversation, it is not very helpful to engage in conversations with strangers in lieu of spending more time reviewing your lessons.


After six months of classes I went to Mainland China and lived in the Shaolin Temple for three months. It was the first and almost the only time I was fully immersed in a language in Asia. As a foreigner, it is very hard to create a situation where everyone around you is speaking to you in the Asian language and where you don’t have access to TV, internet or foreign friends. Those three months were crucial in the development of my communicative abilities in Chinese, but I knew that there were still major deficiencies in my language.


I moved to Cambodia where I studied Khmer at the Khmer School for Expats, in Phnom Penh. I had fifteen hours of private classes each week for about three months. I concentrated primarily on speaking but also learned to read. While writing my book, “Re-Discovering the Khmers” I spent months in the field, interviewing people and write doing research. It was a good practical application of my Khmer knowledge.


I was looking for a language which I could take all the way, study to a higher degree than I had known German, and then pass the American Translator’s Association exam. With Khmer I doubted if it were even possible to reach such a level. In the whole world there are probably less than five Khmer textbooks, the best of which is a book produced by US State Department during the Vietnam war. Once you finish that book, there is nowhere to go. In talking to Khmers and visiting Khmer book shops and universities, I found a sever lack of printed material in Khmer language, even for native speakers.


Now, many years later, I have discovered a few more Khmer resources and there are even Khmer phonts for computers, as well as a growing google Khmer. But even today, if you wanted to reach a high level of Khmer reading and writing, you would be fighting an uphill battle. I have since heard that there is some type of an MA program, perhaps in translation or in Khmer language, offered in the Royal University, in conjunction with a French university. I haven’t been able to find out if the medium of instruction is English or French.


In Cambodia my French was often reactivated when I attended parties for expats or when I was out doing my work as a journalist. I often had to interview Khmer politicians, who spoke French, or French NGO workers who didn’t speak English. Additionally, I was asked on several occasions to interpret for visiting French dignitaries. French is not even a language that I claim to speak, but I was often the only one who could do it. So, I tried my best. My trick was that I would stand next to the Khmer interpreter. The French guy would speak, and I would understand 45%. Then the Khmer interpreter would speak, and I would understand 40%. Then I would spout an English translation which was 78% correct. (It’s the new math.)


Looking for a way to continue my Khmer studies, I went to the Alliance Francaise, thinking that by studying French, along side Khmers, I could improve my French and my Khmer at the same time. When I walked into class the first time, the students all thought I was the teacher. The Khmer teacher came late and was very angry, thinking she had been replaced by a French guy. I explained to her, in French, why I was there, and she seemed very surprised, thinking I was too advanced for the class. After she saw my placement exam results, however, she asked me if I had ever had any French classes before. Although I could sort-of function, speaking French, my spelling and grammar were horrendous.


I also attended Korean classes briefly in Cambodia and found that to be an excellent exercise. My Korean was far beyond the introductory level of Korean offered in the course, but we were constantly being asked to translate into Khmer, which was a great mental workout for me.


All over Asia, and particularly in Cambodia, I often lived and worked with the local Chinese community, so my Chinese speaking and listening became a normal part of my life. After several years, I returned to Taiwan, hired a private tutor and embarked on a program, reading and writing traditional Chinese characters. I dutifully practiced reading and writing characters five hours per day for five months.


Once I began writing, I could spend as many hours as I wanted on learning the language. And, since I didn’t need a teacher while practicing, I could study at two in the morning if I chose to. Adding Chinese reading and writing to my study schedule expanded my possible study hours to twenty four hours per day, seven days a week.


I would read and write at any time that was convenient for me and then just meet with my teacher to go over what I had written.


After six months of reading and writing I had improved tremendously in all four skills. You can’t say things if you haven’t heard them. You can’t hear things if you don’t already know them. By learning to read, I was increasing my vocabulary, grammar, usage, and general knowledge. This in tern helped my listening, because I could hear more words, grammar and structures which my brain had previously ignored. Finally, the structures and elements of language I was reading and hearing were creeping into my active vocabulary, and I found myself saying them when I spoke.


While in Taiwan, I was looking for a masters program which would allow me to study Chinese intensely and then earn a degree in Chinese language and possibly continue on, earning an MA in translation. Unfortunately, in Taiwan, they didn’t offer a degree in Chinese language. They offered a number of MA programs, taught in English. Or, you could study the language for four years, pass an exam and get a certificate, but you couldn’t get a degree. Some students would go on and pursue a master’s degree in Chinese literature, but the program was very challenging for native speakers and nearly impossible for foreigners. There were four MA programs offered on the island, two in English-Chinese translation and two in German-English translation. They recommended you first attend four to six years of formal study before entering the program.


With no good options for a degree in Chinese fluency I looked elsewhere.


During one of my absences from Taiwan I went to Thailand to live in a monastery, studying Muay Thai and Buddhism with a monk named Prah Kru Ba. For the second and last time in Asia, I was 100% immersed in an Asian language. But, because I had no prior knowledge of Thai language, my language acquisition was slow and spotty. By the end of three months I knew my numbers and could deal with everyday phrases and interactions Germaine to my life of study, training, and working in the monastery, but I couldn’t engage in real conversations. I was getting very lonely, with no one to talk to, and I knew that on an unlimited time line, I would never learn to speak Thai fluently without studying, So, I left.


Eventually, I made my way to Bangkok and studied Thai at AUA Rachedamri, where Thai is taught through the ALG, Automatic Language Growth method. In this method, students sit and listen to native speaker teachers interact with each other, for 800 hours. There are no exams, no homework, and no books. Students simply listen for 800 hours to get a perfect Thai accent, before they begin speaking. After speaking, students begin reading and writing. The whole program takes about 2,000 hours.


I listened for over 200 hours and found that my Thai improved tremendously. Because of my work, I had to leave Thailand frequently. While I was in other countries, I attended language classes and conducted ALG experiments, writing reports which I sent back to David Long, the ALG program director. After each of my trips, we would sit and discuss what I had learned and seen and what my feelings were on ALG and the transportability of the program. A number of my ALG related videos appear on my youtube channel



During this time I had to interrupt my studies several times to go do research work in Lao and Shanland, Burma, where Thai is used as a lingua franca. It was good practice and practical experience using Thai in the field, but I knew that I needed more formal study or there were certain holes in my language skills that would never mend.


As for a masters degree, AUA can’t issue a degree, but there are MA programs in Thailand where you could study the language and culture and eventually earn a degree. The problem for me to study in Thailand is that it is difficult, if not impossible to earn a living in Thailand and support a degree study. Also, with a master’s in Thai, I wasn’t sure what my future work options would look like. So, I continued my search.


I took a teaching position in Korea with the hopes of learning Korean language and attending university. University, which offered an MA in North East Asian studies. To get into the program I had to pass a board exam in Chinese, which was easy for me. The professors said I was more fluent in spoken Chinese than even their best graduates. Next, they gave me seven months to prepare for the Korean board exam. I hired a tutor and bought three series of Korean books, which I worked parallel to each other.


It is because of Korea that I eventually landed in Vietnam. One of the subjects I was exploring in Korea was the Chinese origin of Korean vocabulary. Taking a language, breaking it down, and separating out the pre-mandarin vocabulary became an obsession of mine and I began looking at other languages which had as much Chinese influence as Korean.


I met with my tutor four days a week, for two hours per session. At night I tried to write Korean for about three hours per day. At the end of seven months my vocabulary was about 2000 words but I couldn’t function in Korean language society because I hadn’t had enough speaking and listening practice.


At the university, I passed my Korean board, oral and reading exam and was offered admission into the MA program. The problem was, the program would be mostly taught in English and I wouldn’t be able to continue with Korean language studies. The other problem was that I didn’t like Busan. If I were to remain in Korea for three more years I wanted to be in Seoul and I wanted to master the Korean language.


So, I left and looked elsewhere for an opportunity.


My work took me to the villages where the descendents of the Kingdom of Champa still spoke the Cham language. I was interested in learning Cham, but there is a severe dearth of materials and programs. Cham is part of the Malay language group, as is Filipino. While I was in the Philippines I studied a bit of Filipino, hoping this would help me prepare to learn the Cham language. At that time, I didn’t have money to pay a tutor. I was studying to be a paramedic and didn’t have time or energy to continue with Filipino language while preparing for my license exams.


Later, I went to Malaysia where I began studying Bahasa Malaysia with a tutor. It was a good introduction to the Malay language family. Many people agreed that the real place to learn Bahasa is Indonesia. In Malaysia, a large percentage of the population speaks English and much of the commonly spoken Malay incorporates English vocabulary. As a Malay friend said to me, “Go study in Indonesia. They have words for everything.”


I spent four months in Hanoi, Vietnam, studying Northern Vietnamese dialect with a private tutor, ten hours per week, for twelve weeks. While studying, I began dissecting the language, finding the Chinese words, as well as the Mon-Khmer roots, which were similar to words used in Cambodia and sometimes across the whole region, Thailand and even Malaysia. I was trying to get into a university program but it just didn’t seem it would be possible. I left Hanoi for Ho Chi Minh City, where I took 36 hours of private lessons, learning southern dialect. Next, I entered the university, attending an intensive program of twenty hours per week of southern dialect, Vietnamese. The two dialects are so different, that I completed a total of 100 hours of school in Saigon before my listening and speaking of southern dialect reached the point where I was when I had left Hanoi.


Finally, after years of searching, I have found an MA program which will allow me to become fluent in Vietnamese, and to earn a degree. The university is also adding a translation course and of course, the American Translators Association and other American bodies offer a certification exam. So, I have a goal and a 3 year program to get me there. As for paying for the program, it is very cheap, $400 USD for each of the 8 week, 20 hour per week language courses, and a total of less than $2,000 USD for the masters program. The program is intense, but Vietnamese is a very difficult language. If you hope to succeed, you have to put in almost unlimited study time, outside of class. My study regime encompasses about 60 hours of listening, speaking, tutoring sessions, formal classes, reading, and writing every week.


(Part two coming soon: Polyglot study regime)


Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.


Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)







Brooklyn Monk fan page


Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE


Brooklyn Monk in 3D

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Kid’s Acquire Languages, They Don’t Learn Better Than Adults

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm

BY Antonio Graceffo


This is number four in a series on this topic of Children allegedly learning languages faster than adults.


If a child were adopted by a Vietnamese family and I were also adopted by a Vietnamese family. And the kid and I both lived with our respective Vietnamese families and attended primary school, in theory, the child would learn faster than me, in fact I could never match his accent. Because this is how we acquire language.


The reality, however, is that as an adult, I will most likely not be adopted into a Vietnamese family. And in the history of the world, very few foreign children were ever adopted by and raised in a Vietnamese family. Barring this eventuality, the only way to learn the language is to study. In which case, adults learn faster.


Nearly all experts agree that children acquire languages better than adults, but opportunities to acquire language are not very common. And certainly, an opportunity for a westerner to acquire an Asian language almost never comes up.


I actually knew a Swiss family in Taiwan who had studied Chinese together for at least a year. Afterwards, the whole family spoke brilliantly. The children the entered public school and the parents worked in some job where they had constant contact with the public, speaking in Chinese. The whole family was 100% fluent, but the children were completely accentless. One day, I saw the Swiss children playing with some Chinese children in front of my house. I had my back turned, because I was cleaning my motorcycle. I heard one of the children speaking perfect, native like Chinese and just assumed it was one of the Chinese children. When I turned around, however, I saw that it was one of the blond-haired, blue-eyed Swiss children.


A random sampling of one doesn’t prove or disprove a theory. But, this experience was in keeping with the theory supported my most experts which is that children can loose their accent and adults can’t.


A half-Spanish, half-Taiwanese girl who I knew in Taiwan represented yet another side of this coin. She was raised her entire life in Taiwan, and spoke accentless, native-like Chinese. Her mother didn’t speak a word of Chinese or English, so she had spoken Spanish with her mother her whole life. When I spoke to her in Spanish, while she had no accent, her Spanish sounded like that of a small child, although she was in her twenties at the time. I feel this supports my theory that only academic study can get you real, adult fluency in a foreign language. The girl had never attended school taught in the Spanish language and had never read a book in Spanish. Clearly, she couldn’t reach full fluency simply by speaking with her mother in the home? Once again, I must bring up the intensive language programs taught at Middlebury University or Monterey Institute, where adults are taught Spanish and in four years, starting with no prior knowledge, they can reach adult fluency.


Her accent was better than mine, in Spanish, but my academic fluency was much higher.


As for Chinese, she spoke without an accent and, from what I could tell, she spoke appropriately for her age, but she was not able to pass her academic exams to graduate high school and enter university. In spite of being raised in Taiwan, and having one Chinese parent, and in spite of having attended twelve years of Taiwanese public education, having a non-Chinese speaking mother prevented this girl from reaching academic fluency in Chinese.


Meanwhile, I have known a small handful of foreign adults who learned Chinese and graduated a BA or MA program from a Taiwanese university, taught in Chinese.


After more than twenty years in Taiwan the mother still hadn’t learned even a single word of the language. Does this suggest that adults can’t learn languages? I don’t think so. The mother had also made no attempt to learn Chinese. She never attended classes, never hired a tutor and she spent most of her time at home, receiving visits from a handful of other Spanish brides in Taiwan.


A university-level ESL teacher with an MA in ESL told me that he believes the most important element which determines a learner’s success of failure is motivation. Many theorists agree. In fact, David Long, the world’s leading expert on ALG method told me, “Motivation is also the aspect of learning that we know least about.” O one knows how to quantify it or to study it, but it is clearly significant in language learning.


I knew a missionary family in Taiwan where the whole family took Chinese lessons together, full time for six months. And the parents consistently scored higher than the kids. But at the end of the course, the parents went to work in Taiwan and the kids went to Taiwanese junior high school. I lost touch with the family, but wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the kids learned more Chinese than their parents, once they were in public school.



Do adults learn faster than children? Would an adult and a child reach the same level of fluency, given the same level of immersion and education? Unfortunately, we can’t do a double-blind test, because adults wouldn’t generally be admitted to a Taiwanese junior high school. And if you hung around a junior high long enough, someone would call the police.


In the instance, assuming that the kids spoke better than their parents at the end of the next year, would we attribute this simply to A. the fact that they are younger? Or, B to the fact that they were in school, being exposed to language, plus writing homework and studying for exams countless hours per day?


I believe they learn because of the constant exposure to and study of the language. The handful of foreign adults I know who made it through a four-year university program in Taiwan, taught exclusively Chinese, all spoke and read Chinese brilliantly at the end. And NONE of them had any prior knowledge of Chinese before coming to Taiwan. I would not find it hard to believe, however, that a teenager, attending junior high would be more fluent at the end of the same time period, but this would be because of interaction with friends and classmates, not just because of age.


In the case of refugees or immigrants: Example: A Vietnamese family moves to Germany. Younger brother enters German public school, studying in grade one. The older brother enters high school, grade nine. The younger brother succeeds at learning the language and eventually graduates high school. The older brother fails to learn the language well-enough and he drops out of high school.


Did younger brother succeed because he was younger?


Youth may play a role in this scenario but the intellectual demands of the varying school grades might be the most significant point. In grade one, native speaker children are still learning to read and write. So, it is easier for a foreign child to join and learn with them. Older brother entered grade nine, where students are already expected to be able to read a novel and do a research paper.


Does older brother’s failure to master grade nine mean he would have failed to learn grade one as well? I don’t think so. I think if older brother had been in grade one he would have passed. By grade two he would have been more advanced than his younger brother because of his greater knowledge and past experience.


I go through my grade one student’s textbooks all of the time and I think, in Chinese, if I were admitted to school grade one, I would be slower than the other students, but I would be able to keep up and would learn by the end of the year.


Another western family I know was living in Thailand. The whole family attended a handful of survival Thai lessons. The kids went to international school, taught in English. The father worked and the mother kept house. At the end of the year, the whole family spoke the same amount of Thai, which was about 50% of what they had learned in their survival Thai course a year earlier. They could deal with very simple questions, such as what time is it or how much is that? And that was it.


The fact that the children were younger didn’t mean that they magically learned a language they had little or no exposure to. One of my colleagues argued that children learn languages faster because “They are so immersed in the language.” Youth doesn’t create immersion. In the case above, the child was no more immersed than the parent and they learned equally.


In yet another family I studied with: The parents studied full-time, intensive Thai for one year. The kids didn’t. They just lived in the family home in Bangkok and had a home tutor teaching them their American school lessons. At the end of the year, the kids knew literally no Thai at all. The parents were fairly fluent (functional).


A family in Taiwan had almost the same situation. Mom and dad studied Taiwanese full time. The kids went to international school and had about four hours of Chinese per week. By the end of the year, the parents were nearly fluent and the kids weren’t even functional. The international school was taught in English. Nearly 70% of the students were Chinese but the medium of play was English. The foreign children didn’t magically become immersed in Chinese language.


Studying is (for all practical purposes and intents) the only way to learn a language. People disagree with this statement. But to create an immersion situation, an acquisition situation, for an adult or a child is nearly impossible. So, while it may be an interesting theory that children have a greater capacity to acquire knowledge, we are almost never in an acquisition situation. We are generally in a study situation, in which case adults learn faster.



Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.


Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)







Brooklyn Monk fan page


Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE


Brooklyn Monk in 3D

Order the download at




What Makes a Polyglot? (Part 1)

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2011 at 10:10 am

And What do Polyglots think

By Antonio Graceffo

Many people wish to learn a foreign language. Unfortunately, like weight loss, playing the guitar, and earning a black belt in martial arts, mastering a foreign language is one of those dreams that people spend a lot of money on, but somehow never achieve. While the average person struggles to master a single foreign language, polyglots are those insane people who seek to master three or more foreign languages.

Natural talent? Gifted with languages? Ask anyone who ever gave up on learning a foreign language and they will tell you, “I guess I don’t have any natural talent for it.” Most experts will agree that there are people who possess a special talent for languages, just as there are people who are musically gifted. But these people represent less than 1% of the population.

My personal belief is, Any person of average intelligence, who is literate in their native tongue, can learn a foreign language. And if you can learn one language, you can learn a hundred.

To find out what makes polyglots tick and learn more about their relationship to languages, I searched youtube and facebook for polyglots. I sent them a a questionnaire and received responses from 14 of them. This article is clearly not a scientific analysis of a large sampling of polyglots. But, in communicating with the youtube polyglots we are able to get a look inside the heads of polyglots who “put themselves out there.” These are people who are confident enough in themselves that they regularly publish or produce videos on language learning and other aspects of language acquisition.

Nearly all of the polyglots agreed that polyglots were made, not born. They also believed that one needed specialized training to be a translator, rather than a simple polyglot. Nearly all of them agreed that adults learn languages faster than children. Children have advantage in acquiring language and in loosing their native accent. But adults are better at learning. All though nearly all of the polyglots had attended some formal classes in their languages, nearly all of the polyglots earned the bulk of their languages through self-study. Many of them cited the ineffectiveness of modern language teaching techniques as both a reason why people often find it impossible to learn languages and a reason why they went off on their own to study.

Alexander says: I believe there is an important distinction between being multilingual (= knowing multiple languages as a result of growing up in their environments) and being a polyglot (= knowing multiple languages as a result of consciously studying them).   While adolescents can study languages consciously in the same fashion as adults, adolescence only lasts a few years, and while some polyglots may get their start in this time, particularly with languages that they are being taught well in school, I think most people lack the discipline and the know-how to study intensively and effectively on their own when they are this young.

Do children learn languages faster than adults?

Alexander: To be technical here, children don’t “learn,” languages at all, they acquire them.  They may do this to the childish level that is appropriate for them in a seemingly effortless and swift fashion, but, accent aside, an adult studying seriously and consciously could certainly “learn” more in the same time frame.

How much of your knowledge is the result of self-study?

Almost all of it.  Not only using, maintaining, and taking the languages I began learning in formal settings to a higher level by myself, but learning the majority of the others entirely on my own.

How many hours do you study per week?

The excel study sheet chart upon which I log my hours computes my current daily average at 9.77 hours per day, so that would be just under 70 hours per week.  These days, “studying” means using (mainly reading and listening) and maintaining

(transcribing and otherwise revising) rather than actually “learning” new information.  I am now essentially “retired,” or well past my prime. About 10-15 years ago, when “studying” meant actually learning new information and new languages, it was more like 12-16 hours a day, or 84-112 hours per week.

How many hours do you believe one needs to master a language?

Fundamentally, I see no reason to question the basic figures put out by the FSI, namely a range of a few thousand for a relatively easy language to 10,000+ for a really hard language.  Of course, this answer really depends not only upon what you mean by “master,” but also upon your skill and experience as a language learner.    If you memorize 25 words a day, within 100 days or just over 3 months you will have 2,500 words or the vocabulary adequate for “basic fluency” in any language, and if you do

concomitant grammatical study, speaking practice, etc., in an intensive fashion for, say, 5 hours a day or a total of 500 hours, anyone studying intelligently on his own or under knowledgeable tutelage should be able to attain this overall level.  If you are already a polyglot and you have already learned many or most of the other languages in a language family, you may even be able to attain this same level in something that is generally considered a different, non-intelligible language but which to you is only a variant-upon-a-theme-dialect, almost upon contact, in a matter of weeks or even mere days of intensive immersion, that is to say, in under 100 hours.  On the other hand, to go beyond “basic fluency” to true near-native mastery is another story altogether.  How long does it

take to become a highly educated native speaker?  I used primarily English until I earned my Ph.D. at the age of 30.  Is that 30 years x 365 days/year x 16 waking hours/day?  Then it took me 175,200 hours to develop my English abilities.

I have made language learning the focus of my life because I find language learning more interesting than anything else I know.

What is your occupation?

I am a career academic, a university professor, and in my current post-graduate institute incarnation my actual job title is “language specialist,” which I have to say I rather like.

Do you, or most polyglots, have some type of mental disorder, such as autism or obsessive compulsive disorder?

Unfortunately, I do have to say that I, as a relatively “prominent” polyglot, am contacted by an inordinate number of other self-identifying polyglots who do seem to be more-or-less “unbalanced.”  Objectively speaking, it is “normal” to be either monolingual or multilingual to the extent of perhaps quadri- or quinilingual at the most.  Thus, to aspire to know 10+ languages or so is, by definition, “eccentric,” although I do not understand why it makes so many people as strange as it does seem to make them.  That said, I do fundamentally object to the current pigeonholing of psychological types.

Most are simply enthusiastic if not actually scholarly language lovers.  It is just that the percentage of crazies among them does seem to be higher than it is in the general population.

Polyglot Arthur Moon

How many hours do you believe one needs to master a language? Ha, ha, probably 20 hours per week plus homework/immersion. Anything less is less than mastery.

Polyglot Christophe Clugston has studied countless languages on an academic level. He has studied at the Defense Language Institute and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in linguistics in Thailand. Christophe has an extensive background in professional fighting and often draws parallels between sports, fight-training, and language acquisition.

Christophe: As a linguist I have looked at about a hundred languages (their particular features) like Bru, Pwo Krin, Papua New Guinea languages, Crow, on and on I have found interference when doing 4 or 5 languages at a time (learning/studying).

I told Chirstophe that a lot of people on the internet had already lumped us together, as the two guys who had fought professionally and also learned languages. Some people didn’t realize that Christophe and I both train under the same Khmer boxing coach, Paddy Carson, in Phnom Penh. I also shot an episode of my web TV show, Martial Arts Odyssey with Christophe at the only Savat training gym in Bangkok. The episode is called “Martial Arts Odyssey: The Boxing Linguist” Watch it on youtube

In Chrisophe’s own words: “They lumped us together–probably because we get pissed off. And why not?”

Christophe: I’ve studied, acquired 32 languages (more as experts state some dialects

are different languages).

I can understand 6 languages at living. I understand 2 as whatever you want to talk about. And there are 2 or 3 others if I am back around them that I will be back up and functional.

I've dreamed in 5 languages even interpreting two or 3 back and forth that are not my L 1.>

What is your occupation?

Christophe: Linguist, language teacher, pro fighter, developed what has been called the Worlde’s strongest self defense. Accelerated learning, Neuro Linguistic Programming, Athletic enhancement (mental and physical)

Have you studied overseas? Where? How long?

This needs to be clarified. I was born in Europe. I’ve learned in Italy,    France, Spain, Canada, USA Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Thailand.

Do you believe children learn languages faster than adults?

Not for study (not Left Hemisphere)—through acquisition they do. Also they have better control over phonemic inventory.

Do you feel that polyglots are qualified to work as translators and interpreters or must one do formal studies first?

It takes far more than hackneyed learning and speech skills is needed, specific and technical lexicon. Text analysis is crucial. Ability to understand that Farsi, for example, is not English: not English using different words.

Any comments on language learning or polyglot life you would like to

Monolingualism is actually rare in the World (USA people just don’t grasp diglossia). There is a cure to monolingualism. The W.L.s should be learned.

I have wasted my time on non essential languages in the past instead of learning how to talk NASA, Kant and physics in W.L.s  (World Languages). For this reason, I only care about the W.L.s. Languages are equivalent to physical performance: You must work at it, practice it and maintain it. Geo Locked languages are like working out and doing wrist curls instead of dead lifts. Wrist curls won’t take you as far as dead lifts. Too many people use some sort of “I’ve got the rest of my life to learn this language” This is very untrue. In fact, those that have the opposite mind set will actually learn. To use a Joseph Campbell quote about the need for urgency: “You must seek it like a man whose hair is on fire seeks a bucket of water.”

“I only learn global languages, not geolocked languages.” Christophe Clugston

Polyglot Claude Cartaginese

Claude Cartaginese is the creator and editor of The Polyglot Project, a book written entirely by YouTube polyglots, hyper-polyglots, linguists, language learners and language lovers in their own words. The Polyglot Project is available as a free download on Claude’s YouTube channel (syzygycc), his blog (, or you may purchase a hard copy at

Claude Learned English in school after family moved from Italy to the United States.

My Parents never learned. I studied French in high school, but didn’t like it. It was entirely grammar-based, and I found that approach to be tedious. We spent most of our time conjugating verbs and memorizing vocabulary lists. It was a very inefficient way of learning a language. Interestingly, 30 years later my children, who attended the same schools, had similar experiences. Nothing at all has changed when it comes to teaching foreign languages in the school system. In college, it took a completely random event to get me really interested in learning foreign languages: I met a polyglot. Not only could this individual speak over 20 languages, but he was completely self-taught. I did not know such a thing was possible. And yet, it was still many more years before I began to study languages myself in earnest.

What are your language learning goals?

Claude: There is a story I like about Oliver Wendell Holmes, who needed to go to the hospital for a minor procedure when he was in his late 80s. A visitor found him lying in bed one day reading a book on  Ancient Greek. When asked why he was studying such a complicated subject, he is reported to have replied: “to improve my mind.” I think that’s primarily what motivates me as well. I don’t need to study languages, I just like to. It keeps my faculties sharp.

Do you believe children learn languages faster than adults?

Claude: No, not really. In the first place, a child has all the time in the world to focus on language learning. Even so, it takes years before that child can express itself using compound sentences and complex ideas. An adult could accomplish what a child accomplishes in much less time. As for learning multiple languages, adults retain their advantage. How many six-year-olds have you seen who can speak 10 languages or more? I haven’t seen any, and believe me, I’ve looked. The notion that children learn languages faster and easier than adults is, I believe, a myth.

Antonio: Do you, or most polyglots have some type of mental disorder, such as autism or excessive compulsive disorder?

Claude: I have come across some polyglots who have the types of disorders you’re asking about. Some of them are in my book. I know of some exceptional cases where a mental condition or disorder facilitates the language learning process. Daniel Tammet comes to mind. I think that these may be the exceptions, and the vast majority of language learners may not have any of those disorders; but obviously I can’t be certain.

Any comments on language learning or polyglot life you would like to share with the world?

Claude: Well, I guess this would be a good point to make a plug for my book, The Polyglot Project. The 43 authors contained within its over 500 pages explain the polyglot lifestyle much better than I can in a few sentences. I think it’s important to keep things fun and interesting, and to have a high level of motivation. If you can keep those three things in the forefront, everything else follows.

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)




Brooklyn Monk fan page

Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE

Brooklyn Monk in 3D

Order the download at