Posts Tagged ‘acquisition’

Make up Your Own Linguistic Rules

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2015 at 11:26 am

By Antonio Graceffo

I love when people make up their own little linguistic rules, not based on any sort of research or significant experience, such as: a detractor on the internet claimed that native speakers of Spanish learned Vietnamese faster than English natives “because of the similarities in the languages.” The ONLY similarity that he was referring to was putting adjectives after nouns. Apart from that, a Spanish speaker would have no advantages at all. And at this point in the world’s history, the bulk of loan words in almost any language are from English. So, English would be better than Spanish as a basis for any non-Latinate language. Another point is that when you start talking about Asian languages there isn’t a lot of data on non-native English speakers as learners. For Vietnamese, there is undoubtedly data on French speakers, but beyond the US and France, which western countries has Vietnam had a lot of involvement with? Apart from US soldiers of Latin extraction how many Spanish speakers have ever studied Vietnamese?
Another one I have heard repeatedly is that Koreans learn Chinese faster because of similarities in vocabulary and because of the Korean government’s Chinese character exam, which a significant percentage of young people have passed. In practice, I have found that Koreans and Vietnamese are the absolute least fluent students at the Sports University. Even students preparing for their graduation speak Chinese at an incredibly basic level. Much of the reason why Koreans fail to learn Chinese, but many Africans succeed, is probably cultural, rather than linguistic. But that is a central theme in my linguistics writing. I believe that with very few language combinations, the bulk of the difficulties or advantages people have in learning a foreign language are cultural, rather than linguistic. Another anecdotal proof would be that 60% of the vocabulary of the Vietnamese language could be traced to China. And yet, Vietnamese are among the worst Chinese learners at the university.
Today sitting in my hotel room, in Phnom Penh, hearing the Indians across the hall talking way too loudly, with their door open, I could catch about every tenth word, because of the shared origin of some of the Khmer, Thai, Bahasa, and Filipino vocabulary. And yet, these guys couldn’t speak Khmer. And when they tried to communicate with the hotel staff, they did so in absolutely atrocious English, rather than broken Khmer. My point, once again, is that people put too much emphasis on words, when it comes to language learning. Since Indians would already have 10-20% of the Khmer vocabulary, you would think they would find it easier to learn the language. And yet, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Language learning is much more about culture than linguistics.

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a lecturer at Shanghai University. He is also a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling. He is expected to graduate his China MBA, from Shanghai Jiaotong University, and his PhD in Spring, 2016. Antonio is also a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia, 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.
The Monk from Brooklyn, the book which gave Antonio his name, and all of his other books, the book available at His book, Warrior Odyssey, chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia, including stories about Khmer and Vietnamese martial arts as well as the war in Burma and the Shan State Army, is available at
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on
Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

Children Vs. Adults, Language Learning vs. Acquisition

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2015 at 3:15 am

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By Antonio Graceffo

I largely reject the notion that children learn languages more easily or that if they do, or that this somehow gives them an advantage when learning a foreign language. David Long, the director of AUA Bangkok and the world’s leading proponent of Automatic Language Growth Theory (ALG) said, “We don’t believe children learn physics faster. So, why do we believe they learn language faster?”

All over the world people begin learning English as a child. Across Asia and Europe, English is a core requirement of the school curriculum. And yet all of the professional translators, linguists and people who speak English at a level appropriate to their age and education learned THAT level of English as adults and through study.

My belief is that culturally, our society, all societies, are set up in such a fashion that you teach things to children. I watch a mother playing with her child and she holds up an object and says “ball, ball” a million times. then maybe she says “This is a red ball.” I wish I could pay someone to do that for me. But even with this constant input, it takes years for children to acquire their native tongue. And, acquiring a language is very different from learning a language. Acquiring language generally only happens for the first language is learned in this manner. Here, I am using a loose definition of “first language,” to include all languages widely spoken in the child’s home country. For example, a Swiss person who speaks high German, Swiss German, and French is simply speaking the languages he or she is exposed to and which he or she acquired. Statistically, Swiss are terrible language learners.

At the ALG school in Bangkok, we tracked people by nationality and evaluated who learned Thai the fastest. Swiss were among the lowest scorers. Acquiring language and learning language are very different concepts. I actually had a person who was a PhD in anthropology telling me that he believed Africans learned languages faster. He said, “Africans are such great linguists. I have been in villages where everyone spoke six languages.” First off, a linguist is one who studies language, not languages. Secondly, these people acquired these languages. The test on whether or not an African can learn a language faster than say a Singaporean would be to send them both to school in Latvia.

As an adult, you can use your intellect, discipline, self-control and knowledge of what a language is, to learn a second language faster than any child.

In both Taiwan and Thailand I had friends who were missionary families. The parents went to language classes, while the children attended the international school. A year later, the parents poke the local language, but the kids didn’t. To a thinking man, it should be a no brainer that the one who attended classes learned, but the ones who didn’t classes didn’t. But there is a magical belief that children simply acquire language out of the air. This is clearly untrue.

As for adult discipline, in Taiwan, back in 2002, Chinese textbooks are generally only available in English medium, or occasionally in Japanese. Two Italian priests, who spoke no English, were attending Chinese classes. So they could neither understand the explanations or translations in the book, nor could the teacher help them very much. Where I was able to complete a chapter per day, they could only do one page per day because it took them about 8 hours each evening, to go through the following day’s page, using a paper dictionary, translating each and every word into Italian. Most children couldn’t do that. Had you put 2 ten year-olds in that class, they would simply have failed.

I have had a standing offer, which no one has taken me up on, but I challenge anyone in the world to send me and a 10 year old to a country chosen at random, where neither of us speaks the language, and test which of us learns the language faster.

Welcome to Brooklyn Monk on Youtube

In Uncategorized on March 13, 2015 at 4:38 am


I’m Antonio Graceffo, the Brooklyn Monk, and welcome to my youtube channel. My two main areas of interest are second language acquisition theory and martial arts.

I am currently a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of Sport where I combine both my interests, taking them to a new level.

I am writing my dissertation, in Chinese, the topic of which is a comparison of Chinese traditional Shuai Jiao wrestling and modern, western wrestling.

As part of my field research, I train daily in several wrestling styles as well as san da and judo. Although I am nearly 50 years old, I still fight in competition from time to time.

Watch Welcome to Brooklyn Monk on Youtube

My channel Brooklyn Monk1 is largely about my own journey though Asia, exploring and documenting languages, martial arts, and ethnic minorities. Beginning in 2001 through the present. I have lived in about 7 countries, learned 5 languages and studied and documented countless martial arts. Along the way, I also fought professionally and amateur, I wrote six books, several hundred magazine articles, published academic papers, appeared in movies and TV shows, and produced hundreds of videos which are available here on my channel. I have play lists dedicated to the various phases of my research including: Martial Arts Odyssey, Linguistics and Language Learning, Interviews, and the War in Burma.

I hope you enjoy my channel and if you’re doing research and need some help. Please shoot me a message and let me know. Also, don’t forget to follow Brooklynmomk1 on Twitter.

I’m Antonio Graecffo from Brooklynmonk1 reminding you to get in the gym do your reps, do your sets, do your round work, keep training and fighting, and please get in the libery and read a book.

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Antonio and His Languages

In Uncategorized on May 4, 2014 at 11:28 am

By Antonio Graceffo, (The Brooklyn Monk)


A lot of people have asked about my languages, which ones I speak, which ones I speak well, and so forth. I have seen interviews or heard myself being introduced on radio shows and things where the claims were blown a bit out of proportion. So, to set the record straight, here is the truth, along with links for scrutiny.
Languages: English, Chinese, German, Spanish, Thai, Khmer, Italian, French, Vietnamese, and Korean
English: Speaks, reads and writes English at native speaker level
Link to video of Antonio Speaking English:
Chinese: Chinese at HSK level 4 level reading, HSK level 5 listening and speaking. Exam results available on request. Admitted to PhD program where all courses, papers, and research are in Chinese. Has distinguished himself as a presenter in Chinese and a diligent researcher (letters available upon request)
PhD presentation in Chinese at Shanghai University of Sport

German: Speaks German at high level of fluency, Attended School of Translation and Interpreting , the University of Mainz, GErmersheim, Germany, 1993-1996 conducted research on second language acquisition theory, under Dr. Kiraly, worked as a freelance and contract translator, and worked in the foreign language department of Deutsche Telekom
Antonio Speaking German, telling the story of his many year martial arts odyssey in Asia

Spanish: Speaks Spanish at advanced level, studied at Universidad Latina, Costa Rica, and Spanish/German translation school in Salamanca. Antonio has spoken Spanish since childhood.
Conducting martial arts interview in Spanish

Thai: Speaks Thai at upper intermediate level. Has conducted extended field research on Automatic Language Growth, using Thai for a base, under the direction of David Long of AUA Bangkok.
Conducting a martial arts interview in Thai

Khmer: Intermediate level. Antonio spoke Khmer better when he lived in Cambodia, but of all languages, Khmer is the one he uses the least outside of Cambodia, so his ability has regressed quite a bit. Recently, Antonio has been returning to Cambodia to train with the national wrestling team and he was forced to begin listening, if not speaking, Khmer again for communication.
Antonio conducting martial arts interviews in Khmer

Antonio Conducting martial arts interviews in Khmer

Italian: Speaks Italian at upper intermediate level of communication but with poor grammar. Antonio was raised non-strict bilingual, with Italian and English.
Conducting martial arts interview in Italian

French: Speaks French at upper intermediate level. Can communicate well, but with poor grammar and pronunciation.
Conducting martial arts interview in French

Vietnamese: Studied Vietnamese and passed upper intermediate exam, however, pronunciation is still extremely difficult, making communication difficult
Antonio Graceffo speaking Vietnamese

Korean: While living in Busan, Korea, Antonio took private Korean lessons at Dong A University. He passed the intermediate exam in Korean but cannot speak Korean, however, Antonio has used Korean to help him understand and explore Chinese as well as the relationship between Chinese and Korean and Vietnamese and Chinese.
Has also studied Russian, but only to lower intermediate level and now cannot speak Russian, but can still read Cyrillic alphabet which has proved useful for research in Mongolian wrestling.
Linguistic Publishing: Published approximately 200 articles in the field of second language acquisition as well as language specific articles. Antonio has done a lot of field research on ALG Automatic Language Growth theory. In the field of second language acquisition he focuses on the area of listening. His articles have appeared in Asian Geographic magazine and even the journal for UN interpreters.
Link to language articles:
Linguistics videos: Produced over 70 Youtube videos dealing with linguistics and language acquisition
CAM TESOL (2013): Antonio’s greatest achievement in the field of second language acquisition was presenting a on listening at CAM TESOL, the largest English language teaching conference in Asia.
Link to Antonio’s presentation video:


Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling. He is martial arts and adventure author living in Asia, 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.
Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on
Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

Of Course Translation is Difficult

In Uncategorized on October 30, 2013 at 11:51 pm

It’s in another language


By Antonio Graceffo

The material for our modern coaching class is in English. The teacher assigned about twenty pages of reading for homework, but when class started, he wanted to translate, NOT discuss, translate the pages. So in a three hour class, we got through about a page and a half of text. Chinese are just too tied to the original words and do the worst translations ever. Why can’t they accept that a translation is about meaning, not words?

Not relying on a single translation, the teacher asked each student to come to the front and explain some of the English text we had read for homework. There was so much specialized and colloquial language in texts that I just didn’t see how my Chinese classmates could understand it. The Chinese students at the sports university aren’t really the sharpest tools in the shed. If they were smarter, they would be at a big name university, studying an academic subject. The homework had been to read about twenty pages. So, I had jotted down some notes, a very short summary of each page. When I got to the front, I did what I normally do when I’m teaching. I put my notes at the podium and I walked around, talking to the audience, teaching. Just after I started talking, the teacher said, “only do the first two pages.” I looked and my notes for those two pages were only about three sentences. So, I went through, reading each paragraph and explaining it in Chinese. Obviously, I have problems translating into Chinese. Sometimes I had trouble explaining because I was missing the specific vocabulary, but I explained my way around it.

After a bit, the teacher told me to sit down. I thought I had done OK. It was far from perfect, but honestly, none of the other foreign students could have done that well. And I was funnier than the Chinese students. I had the whole class laughing. Later, the teacher caught me in the hall and in very tortured, slow, school English he said, “You—-have—-difficulty—translating into Chinese.” I was blown away. What a retarded thing to say. Obviously I have difficulty translating into Chinese, it’s a foreign language. Translators generally only translate into their mother tongue. Also, it’s the first month of a three-year program. It should be clear that I’m not perfect yet. Going into this program, you go from HSK 4 level reading straight into PHD level classes with very specialized sports and health vocabulary, words like: athletic peak, recovery, explosive power…

I looked at the teacher, and in English, I just said, “Of course.”

He jstared at me. I wasn’t sure if he didn’t know the word “of course” but his expression definitely conveyed that he didn’t feel I had answered his question. So, I repeated, “Of course.” And I walked away.

Thinking back on the incident, and similar snafus I have had at this university and during my 12 years in Asia, this is what I came up with:

  1. They seem incapable of evaluating our Chinese level. While my translation and presentation in the front of the room wasn’t perfect, it should be obvious that I had to be at a relatively high level to be able to do even that well. So, the sentence “you have difficulty translating into Chinese,” could have been delivered in Chinese.
  2. They are incapable of evaluating their own linguistic level: One reason I gave him the simple response “Of course”, was because it was obvious he would not have understood a thorough explanation in English.
  3. Because Chinese people would never admit their own failings, they seem to not get it when I say, “I can’t do it” or “Yeah, of course I can’t translate high level English into Chinese.” But it’s like this with everything, even sports training. On the wrestling team they told me to do a cartwheel, then a hand stand, then a forward roll, then a forward roll into a split. “I can’t do that last one.” I said. “No, I mean forward roll into a split.” The trainer explained. “Yes, I understand what you want, but I can’t do it.” He demonstrated. “Like that.” And waited for me to copy him. “I can’t do it.” I repeated. It went on and on with him simply restating and re-explaining. “I mean do a forward roll, but when you land, land in a split.” They don’t seem to be able to accept it when I say that I can’t do something. By the same token, maybe they don’t know when they can’t do something, like using that English text book in coaching science class. How the hell do they believe they are getting anything out of it?

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.

Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at

See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on




Brooklyn Monk fan page

Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE


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Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)