How to learn ANY Language | Zero to Hero without a Textbook!


In the past I have learned Tagalog, Japanese to a fairly strong level after spending 20 years in the Philippines and dipping into my obsession with Japan over the last 7 years.  I also have been exposed to a great deal of Korean, Spanish, and of course have English as my Primary Language.  I would say that I can generally understand

I was once asked how to translate or Learn a language quickly and effectively.. I said.. Just keep English out of it. Go study the culture, envelop yourself in the language as if you were just dropped off there with no translator.  It’s amazing how much you will figure out and pick up on if you just focus and apply yourself.  And remember this principle…  DON’T connect it to English vocabulary or grammar!!—because often times it is drastically different and confusing when viewed through a Gai-jin Mindset (Japanese for foreigner). If you do connect it you aren’t learning the language, you are learning how to translate the language into English. This is very difficult when approaching a new language and dangerous to a language learner.  

Also, this perspective causes a lot of recession in memory of the Language seeing as you bypass it through your English brain.  That is like saying that blood can only enter the right side of your brain AFTER it has passed through the entire left side of your brain first.  It’s really not that hard to understand what someone is saying, though it may be said in a different Language. Just seems that way because your brain doesn’t immediately recognize what is right in front of your senses and you base new knowledge off the filter of what you already know(Which is good for learning and seeing connections) but only so long as you don’t think about it in an English filter.  

When approaching a new Language, you most likely think more along the lines of “What does that word/phrase mean in English?” not “What is this person saying, trying to say and why?”.  I thought that I was learning Japanese and living in a foreign environment that spoke Tagalog, but I realized that we are all actually the same, just have different ways of explaining it.  Learning a language is seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.  It’s partially psychology as well.  Think of the writing exercises you learned as a kid in school.  

EXERCISE 1: Proof that eve You can learn a language with simple observation!

Read the following sentences then answer the questions.

There was a 少 boy and a little 女 who lived down the road from me.  The 道路 was a mile long and I lived in a small red 家 with a white roof.  The two little 子供 whose names we know are Jack and Jill, played at the 公園.  Jack rode the SeeSaw, and Jill was on the Merry-go-Round.  There were lots of Animals at the park today.  One of the 動物 was a frog.  It was a 緑 color and slimy.  Jack and Jill had a fun 日 at the park and when night came お母さん tucked them in and Father read them a story.  Now it was late, and the two 子供 were so 眠いです that their eyes slowly close and it was time to say “お休み!”

How many of the Kanji did you understand based on what you know about the story?

What are the patterns in the story that you noticed?

Did you have any trouble recognizing what the Kanji meant even though you technically might not have even read Japanese before?

Now here is the twist.  Learning a language is like the process that you just went through with this little exercise, but in reverse.  Think about it if you only knew Japanese.  How much would you understand now?  Probably less than if you understood English, but you would still be able to get the gist of the sentences and the story.  If you wrote out all of the Kanji used, though grammatically it would be a mess, would you still understand the general plot of the kids having a fun day at the park?

When studying a language you have to be observant.  Everything is important.  What people do(For example: If a man says to the love of their life after a very romantic evening, “Aishiteru” what do you think that means? or earlier in a scene a man hides stolen money that he obtained and later a big man barges in, ties him to a chair and says “Koko de, watashi no okane desu ka?” what do you think that means?)

It is important to think, watch what people interact with, what people do routinely, what is consistent and inconsistent and what words seem to correlate with these acts, Watch for body language, hand signals, listen to the language–the pronunciations, variations in words that you hear, read into the culture of the people–why do they do certain things or speak a certain way with one person and not another, think in context(You go to a convention all in Korean for example that is about Theological Principles and understanding what God is doing in your life and what his calling is for you as leaders and you can pick up on a lot of connections).

You hear the word “Uta” mentioned a long when you watch a talk show in Japanese with a popular Music star in Japan talking about their latest hit song.  You can assume that “Uta” means “Song” based on the context.

At the market you see a fruit stand and a line up of boxes full of apples has a sign that reads 林檎 above it.  You hear the fruit stand owner calling out “Ringo!” he notices you and he says.  “Ringo? Anata wa Ringo o shitaidesu ka?” and you can assume that Ringo means Apple and that he is asking if you want some apples.  You now know how to write, read, and speak the word apple without ever learning it in a book.

Don’t think in the limiting logistics of English language or converting yourself from one language to another, analyse patterns in the speech(Hananim ui is spoken many times in a Korean Christian Conference, often in prayer–you figure out without the use of English that this is the word for “God”. You see 목사 written before names on the conference’s program and you know that most of the speakers are pastors, so this must be the word for “Pastor” and you hear people pronounce the names and say mogsa, so mogsa or 목사 means Pastor).

Take notes as best you can and really think about the pronunciation and expression used by the native speakers, but don’t research them–ask a native speaker to try and explain (Helps if they don’t explain it in English: use hand signals and illustrations, etc), use your brain and it will surprise you how much you can understand.. and if all else fails.. Just watch children’s programs in the Language you want to learn. It’s how you learned English as a child.. Why can’t it work multiple times in your life.

Observation is key!  Spend less time trying to compare it to English or figure out the specifics as told by English grammar and more time watching and understanding.  This is a technique that will not just help you learn one language, but open your mind to the ability and skill of adapting to any Language that you may come into contact with.  I would be surprised if you don’t pick up the basics within a few weeks or months of this.

Observe the world.  Like a child seeing everything for the first time.  Think, at one point you didn’t know ANY language at all and learned your native Language without a Language to translate from.  The principle is the same, just have to put it into perspective as an adult language learner.  Remember also that learning a language is a process and though with this technique you will not grasp the exact grammar of a language immediately, but you will find yourself able to understand what people are saying.  This will help you to communicated and then you can begin the real test of sharpening your Language skills Naturally.  And that is the goal!

I hope that this little insight into language learning has helped you to gain a new perspective and appreciation for language learning and helped you to understand the process a bit more clearly as well.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article!  :)