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Language Learning with ‘The Linguist’: Tianjin Plus Speaks to World Famous Polyglot Steve Kaufmann

 

 

 

史蒂夫•考夫曼,63岁,加拿大人,一个“语言家”。他在《牛津字典》里选择了第一种注释:会说一门以上语言的人。他会说10种语言,从17岁学习第一门外语——法语,他在40多年的时间里游历了许多国家,陆续学了西班牙语、汉语(包括广东方言)、日语、意大利语、德语、瑞典语、韩语、俄语。他说,学习一门新的外语,就像邂逅一个新的情人,你对她神魂颠倒,日夜牵挂,爱上有关她的一切——语音、节奏、单词、短语、文学、音乐、文化。1970年中加建交后,他成为首批派驻中国的外交官,又赴日本公干近九年,并娶得一位华裔妻子,拥有中国籍岳父和讲西班牙语的哥斯达黎加籍岳母。他本人绝对是成就非凡,备受关注。他曾经到世界各地的媒体抛头露面,并建立了备受瞩目的语言学习网站thelinguist.com和lingQ.com。

 

Steve Kaufmann may be just one of the many polyglots (people who speak several languages) who have gained worldwide recognition for their incredibly talents, but he is certainly one of the more accomplished and widely followed. He has appeared on social media platforms all around the world, authored books and is the founder of popular language learning sites thelinguist.com and lingQ.com. We had the pleasure of meeting to this extremely skilled language enthusiast to find out more about his extraordinary life and to share some of his methods and thoughts with our readers.

 

Tell us a little bit about your background? How did you start learning languages?

 

I didn’t start getting into languages properly until I went to college. In fact, at 17 years old I was pretty much unilingual. When I was at university I had a professor who really got me turned on to the French language and French culture. Early in my professional life I was sent by the Canadian government to work in Hong Kong. After that I went to live in Japan for a while and when I realised that learning languages isn’t actually too difficult it became easier to learn more.

What methods do you generally use to pick up new languages?

 

When you are learning a language you have to do it in ways that interest you. I like to do a lot of reading and listening. One thing I don’t like to do is focus intensely on grammar and conjugation tables etc. I think rather than doing that you need to focus on finding the ‘patterns’ of a language by exposing yourself to it and getting a natural feel for what is correct.

So at the moment you speak 12 languages. What are the most difficult ones?

 

In terms of difficulty, the first non native language you learn to a comfortable level will always be the hardest because you also have to realise for the first time that you can do it and that you can overcome the fear of failure etc. And in a general sense, it has to be said that languages are difficult for different reasons. Chinese is hard because of the tones and the writing system, the grammar in Slavic languages tends to be very complex and Japanese and Korean have all the honorific phrases.

 

What advice can you give to Tianjin Plus readers who are trying to learn Chinese?

 

Methodologically speaking, by far the most difficult aspect of Chinese is the characters. You need ask yourself “Am I going to bother to learn them?”. My advice is to do it!. It really isn’t as difficult as it looks and when you get past the basics it becomes much easier. There are so many methods and tools these days with all the technology and online resources that it is a great shame not to do it. Just recognise that it will take time to learn Chinese and don’t get frustrated. 

 

You are someone who has also utilised your skills as a polyglot in your professional life. How can other people use their language abilities to enhance their earning power?

 

It is important to remember that whilst speaking many languages is great, very rarely will it be enough of a skill in itself to get you a great job. Companies usually want someone who not only speaks a certain language but also excels in finance, sales and so on. Languages are probably more useful on the whole for networking and creating business opportunities. 

Whilst doing our research we noticed that you recently appeared in a music video. Can you tell us about that?

 

Yes I do make a very brief appearance in a spoof music video called Skype Me Maybe. It is a very clever project in which polyglots from around the globe sing a segment of the song in one of their respective languages. In total there are 32 languages used within the song. Give it a watch!

 

Finally, tell us a little bit about LingQ and how people can use it as a language learning tool.

 

LingQ is an online learning environment. We have members who submit their own lessons consisting of audio and text. It could be about anything whatsoever and the levels range from beginner to advanced. Every month we are receiving more and more content. There are also many other tools within LingQ that you can use to learn languages. There are some videos, flashcards and many other things that allow you to learn words and phrases within a short period of time. As you go along you save and recap what you have learnt, and we provide statistics which show your progress. You can also use the forums to interact and practice with other members from around the world.

 

 

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