Learning Japanese – what does Dōgen say?

Hmmm… before we get started I have a confession – I don’t know where the pitch accent is for Dōgen… Oh well – anyway, let’s plough ahead.

Firstly, who is Dōgen (道元)? Well it turns out that he is a 13th century monk who makes humorous Youtube videos in Japanese, mostly making fun of foreigners in Japan, including himself. It is very Zen.

Here are Dōgen’s top tips for learning Japanese

  1. Only ever watch the Japanese dubbed versions of Western films and TV shows.
    • 100% immersion is the only way.
  2. Switch your computer and phone OS to Japanese. You’ll see – there is no going back. And once you do know how to go back you won’t have to.
    • 100% immersion is the only way.
  3. Talk to everyone in Japanese – including other foreigners who are learning Japanese. Including your mother even if she is not learning Japanese.
    • 100% confusion is the only way.
  4. Mutter to yourself in Japanese.
    • 100% institutionalisation is the only way.
  5. Focus only on phonetics – especially pitch accent. Everything else is of secondary importance. You won’t be able to say anything but at least you will be spared the humiliation of putting the pitch on the wrong syllable of that nothing.
    • 101% precision is the only way.

Source : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aooW1HdV4k

How to learn Russian – Fiona Hill

Fiona Hill is a British-American expert on Russian affairs. She speaks Russian fluently. She was born and raised in a coal mining community in the North East of England and still retains her robust northern English accent.

How to learn Russian by Fiona Hill

She has no family connections to Russia but decided to learn Russian on the advice of an uncle who, at a time of rising tensions between the West and the Soviet Union, thought that promoting understanding between the two sides would be fruitful. As the daughter of a struggling coal miner, she was granted funding by a coal miner’s union to begin her studies of the Russian language and was then accepted into the Russian language program at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

She spent a year studying at the Maurice Thorez Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow and she earned a master’s in Soviet studies and a doctorate in history from Harvard University. She then went on to be appointed to the US National Security Council and to advise three presidents of the United States on Russian and European affairs. She has also worked in a number of foreign relations institutions and think-tanks. She authored several books about Russia including an autobiography entitled “There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the Twenty-First Century” published in 2021.

We have reached out to Fiona asking her what is her secret for language learning success and for her Five Top Language Learning Tips. We will get back to you when we hear back from her. Stay tuned.

How well does Johnny Depp speak French?

Johnny Depp does speak French. But not fluently. While his accent is great, he is clearly not confident speaking French in public. His fluency is seriously constrained by a lack of a broad working vocabulary hence his nervous halting manner.

Johnny Depp and French actress Vanessa Paradis

However there is no doubting that Depp adopted an excellent strategy for learning French – as the French themselves say: “La meilleure façon d’apprendre une langue étrangère est sur l’oreiller.” (‘The best way to learn a foreign language is on a pillow’). When Depp was 35, he started dating the French actress Vanessa Paradis. The relationship lasted 14 years, during which time they had two children – Jack and Lily-Rose. Both children are reportedly bilingual in French and English.

Despite the extended period of exposure to French, we most definitely can’t say that Johnny Depp is fluent. It is however interesting that he has a very good accent. This contrasts with his small French vocabulary which severely constrains his fluency. This is a classic sign of an adult who has been immersed in a foreign language but has not made an effort to actually learn it. Unlike children, most adults do not organically accumulate vocabulary purely through exposure, and must make a concerted effort to expand their working vocabulary.

It also should be mentioned that at 35 years of age – the age Depp started dating Vanessa Paradiss – the returns to immersion have waned considerably.

Depp’s good accent but limited fluency contrasts with Bradley Cooper who has a great vocabulary but just an OK accent. He studied French academically and only profited from a six-month stint with a French host family in Aix-en-Provence to acquire a French accent. And of course in terms of accent Johnny Depp also benefits from being musically inclined which most definitely helps in acquiring a foreign language accent.

This clip of a good example of his excellent accent but limited fluency – though the French crowd obviously greatly appreciate his efforts.

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How did Summer Rane learn Japanese?

Summer Rane (Summer Sensei) is a 32 year old American YouTuber and author (and TV personality in Japan) who does English language teaching videos for her large Japanese audience. She is very fluent in Japanese. Summer was born and raised in Seattle and did not have any family or other initial connections to Japan as a child. But she says that she was attracted to the Japanese language and culture from an early age.

In a recent video she offered tips on how to best learn a foreign language based on how she was so successful in learning the Japanese language.

Here are her five top tips:

1.) Don’t be shy to imitate

Immerse yourself in the language – surround yourself with the sounds of the language as much as possible.  And don’t be shy to imitate what you hear.

2.) Balance study of grammar textbooks and exposure to natural language

Summer talks about being obsessed with Japanese and seemingly spending every waking hour immersing herself in the language. She took Japanese class everyday at school and in the evening she studied books and watched Japanese dramas. She emphasises that exposing yourself to the sounds of the language as it is spoken colloquially is critical.

Further on this point, there is also a video of an interesting discussion between Summer and Dogen – another expat in Japan who is extremely proficient in Japanese and who learned it as a foreigner – that is, not within a family situation. In the discussion they talk about the most efficient language acquisition strategies for foreigners and Dogen (only half jokingly) says that watching the same movie over and over again is an idea that worked for him.

3. Seek out all opportunities to practice

Summer talks about her family hosting Japanese exchange students, participating in Japanese speaking competitions and going on Japanese (summer) camps.

4. After learning the basics, go and study and live in the country

Summer enrolled at university in Japan and ended up staying on in Japan for 10 years. She initially taught English there. Obviously living and working in Japan maximized her opportunities to interact with Japanese people and use her Japanese functionally as much as possible.

5. Never give up.

Small steps every day is progress.

Here is video where Summer gives this advice:

How did Bradley Cooper learn French?

Following on from the popularity of our blog post on how Bald and Bankrupt so successfully learned Russian, we are going to do a series of post on other (famous or otherwise) people have learned to speak a second language as adults. We kick off the series with the American actor and filmmaker Bradley Cooper.

Bradley Cooper is an excellent example of an adult who decided to learn a language and by investing the time and effort became pretty close to fluent according to reports.

Apparently he was motivated to learn French after watching the movie Chariots Of Fire. He said, “There’s a scene where a guy was speaking French and I thought, ‘Man, that sounds so cool.’”

While doing a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Georgetown University, Bradley took extra courses in French language. He also spent six months as an exchange student in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, living with a host family.

Here is video of him speaking French in an interview on French TV, answering fans’ questions:

It is clear that he isn’t exactly fluent – he does make lots of little mistakes and his accent, while very good, isn’t perfect – you can tell it’s an American speaking French. Indeed he once admitted that his grammar is débile (‘feeble’ or ‘weak’). But he is very good, especially his confidence, relaxed demeanour and his use of colloquial phrases. He doesn’t take it too seriously and you can see he is having a great time being able to engage his audience in their native language.

The key to his success seems to be that while he does make mistakes, it doesn’t phase him – he just ploughs ahead. This is a key strategy to language learning – not being afraid of making mistakes in front of other people – especially native speakers. Speaking to native speaker should be seen as an opportunity to learn. Native speakers don’t think you are stupid or that you are making a fool of yourself if you don’t quite get things perfect. And if you don’t understand something they ask, it is natural that they rephrase the question until you do understand.

Ready to learn French Grammar step-by-step?

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A 550-page book and accompanying mobile app.
🇫🇷 Step-by-step introduction to French grammar in 224 topics.
🇫🇷 Over 4,000 annotated examples.
🇫🇷 High-quality audio pronunciations via the app.