Language Learning Book Review - The Third Ear , You CAN Learn Any Language

by Chris Lonsdale

The Third Ear, You CAN Learn Any Language, is required reading for anyone that would like to learn a language, but feels that they cannot.

One of the great things about the business I am in, is that one gets to meet people that are passionate about language learning, language teaching and accelerated learning.

I was in Hong Kong recently and met Chris Lonsdale, the author of The Third Ear, a fascinating book which is all about language learning. Check out my review - then check out the 200 Words a Day! style Chinese Language Memory Triggers that I put together while reading his book.

My Chinese has gone from zero to thirty plus words and phrases in a day. If someone else had written the triggers, I could easily do 200 words a day.

His main thrust is that...

...language learning is not difficult

If you are reading this, chances are that you have already learnt and mastered at least one language. You did it as a kid...

...and what is more you can do it again.

The book's first chapter says, "It's as difficult as breathing."

Chris, a New Zealander is fluent in both Mandarin, and Cantonese languages, these of course, being two main forms of Chinese language.

It is impossible to put a label on the guy....

He's kind of like what they called an alchemist in the old days. Someone that specialises in dozens of discipliines, then combines them all to come up with great insights that spear off in all different directions. He's a psychologist, a polyglot, a teacher, a practitioner of NLP (nuero-linguistic programming), businessman, consultant, language buff and language teacher (of Mandarin and Cantonese)....

"So what do you actually do Chris?" I asked...

"I am an elephant spotter..." he explained.

He goes into organisations, companies, boardrooms and he spots the "elephants" that are standing in the rooms, but nobody else is talking about.

They can all perhaps see it, but nobody dares mention the elephant...

...and if you have ever encountered an elephant you will know that they are mildly obtrusive and slightly smelly things. And when they leave traces, it tends to be in somewhat voluminous portions.

So he goes in to the organization, and says, "Oooh look, there is an elephant!"

Of course everyone was aware of the elephant in the room, but nobody has ever dared mention it, because it is the great unspoken ... elephant...

...kind of like the ubiquitous dysfunctional families, in a sense...


...many people have an...

elephant blocking their path to effective language learning.

These are the blockages/hindrances/excuses/mental obstacles like...

  • I am not good at languages
  • I am tone deaf
  • It is just too hard
  • I was never any good at languages at school
  • Others have a natural talent for languages which I don't
The Third Ear tells you dispel these thoughts as a first step. Just as we say on our website.

First step is to believe you can do it.

You already have. You did it with the language/s you learned from your parents, siblings, guardians, friends.

And he says, if you can learn one language, you have the ability to learn another!

The Third Ear also challenges the concept of it being more difficult to learn as an adult. The thing is that youngsters, if sent to a new country, just get on and learn, and communicate, and pick it up as they go.

Accents, inflections, subtleties all get picked up by the kid, because they copy exactly what their peers are doing and saying, and are trying to be like their counterparts.

Because a kid is trying to fit in with his peers, he makes every effort to do the same as they do, say, act, dress, behave. S/he models himself to fit the group.

The adult already has a much stronger sense of identity, a set of more rigid rules from which s/he is reluctant to move (consciously or subconsciously).

While Chris says that kids actually learn slower than adults, their learning is more effective, because they learn on the job, and also they learn while involved in physical activities (ball throwing, playing etc) which involve the kinesthetic sense while learning.

He says that adults actually are shown to learn quicker - on an hour for hour basis, based on actual exposure time to the new language, but the adult is so preoccupied with a hundred other jobs that the language learning is more likely to get stifled....

...and when you think about it - that makes sense! Adults have the learning and conceptual skills and experience to make the connections. Trouble is, adults are also:

  • prone to putting elephants in their way ("I cannot learn a language because I just can't purse my lips the way they do...")
  • busy doing other things
  • liable to resort to the easy option of reverting the mother tongue
  • too embarrassed to speak
  • adults already have preconceived rules as to how one should sound, how language should be, and can have difficulty accepting another set of rules, and ways of looking at things. Does an American or Englishman really want to sound like a Chinaman? It requires quite a mental shift!
  • adults often spend a lot of time asking 'why' something is, rather than just accepting that the new language has different rules, and conventions. It is that way, because it is!
  • the child does not question why it is, s/he just accepts it that way and adapts, learning on the job while kicking the ball about...

Important points in The Third Ear - Language Learning Book Review

The Third Ear makes many other very good points about language learning.

One thing we agree strongly with is that vocabulary learning is so much more important than grammar initially, as it can give you so many tools to communicate.

With words, coupled with hand signals, and actions one can communicate a great deal of information.

This is my approach too, with the 200 Words a Day! techniques you can learn so many words, with which you have tools to communicate.

Language learning is a tool

Which is another important point Chris makes in The Third Ear. Which is that the most effective language learners treat language learning as a tool to communicate, rather than an academic exercise to get perfect every time.

Unfortunately too much of school and institutional study emphasises 'right and wrong', whereas language is all about communicating.

Some other good points that Chris makes.

If someone thinks language learning is difficult...

...they make a rod for their own back. An important early step in language learning is to make a mind shift and recognize that you can do it. You've done it at least once with your mother tongue.

Too many learners strive for immediate perfection...

... which torpedoes the main goal of language which is to communicate. In many a school environment we are taught that things are right and wrong. But if we talk to a person not fluent in our language, we can generally understand what s/he is saying, without correcting them as they speak.

Too much grammarating can get in the way...

...of your early attempts to communicate.

An emphasis on grammar, which is generally what is hammered in schools, universities, and other formal learning environments, can stifle communication.

Yes, grammar is the structure onto which the 'agreed conventions' of a language works, and it is important to learn, but trying to get grammar perfect, can mean you may never actually communicate. Language is about speaking, about talking. If you immerse yourself in a language, the grammar will come... via the third ear.

Can write beautifully, read complex foreign texts, but can barely speak a word...

In The Third Ear Chris documents cases of people that can write perfect prose in a foreign language, but can barely speak a word. Other cases of people with excellent grammatical skills but unable to verbally communicate for fear of making an error.

I've met many such people. Some of the French interns that have worked for us can write extremely good English, but will barely utter a sentence. Many people in the aviation industry have degrees in languages but will not do a public announcement in the foreign language in which they are qualified.

You will make mistakes in language learning

One thing about language learning is for certain.

If you are going to speak, and progress, you are going to make mistakes.

So get on and make them.... and use these as learning opportunities... because you will make many, many mistakes.

One has to overcome the fear of sounding stupid, or saying the wrong thing. Just accept it. You probably will...

...but it is unlikely you will die from a language blooper

Just set a goal to learn from the bloopers.

Grab some foreign words and phrases first...

So... words first, a dozen to twenty useful phrases then grammar later... communicate, don't grammarate...

Of course grammar is important, but don't let it kill the communication... which is a common problem.

Join a language community

To more speedily improve your language learning, you need to get into a situation - regularly, where you are conversing and interacting in the target language.

Watch foreign language films, TV, DVD, videos and listen to radio

An alternative to this is watching films, TV, listening to radio, tapes and audio downloads in your target language. The internet has literally hundreds, if not thousands, of appropriate radio sites, and there are thousands of DVD, videos etc available.

Regularly doing this lets the whole language just flow through you, in context, in real situations.

Your subconscious will be absorbing lots and lots more than you would believe. Just having the radio going in the background is useful for setting a background. The brain is busy quietly processing this stuff. The more time you expose yourself to this the more is absorbed.... much of it subconsciously.

First learn the words of the language - The Third Ear says

" succeed in a new language, first pay attention to learning the words of the language..." says The Third Ear . I agree wholeheartedly, because with words you can convey meaning, you can talk, you can communicate, you can understand the gist of what people are saying to you. You can 'crawl-read' a newspaper or brochure, map or book.

And of course the most effective way to learn vocabulary is using the 200 Words a Day! system, which gives you mental hooks and memory triggers for each and every word that you learn, allowing you to amass a huge base of foreign language vocabulary very quickly.

This is done using the techniques I evolved and developed from the teachings of the world's Memory Masters - people who can memorize several decks of playing cards in minutes!

Now check out the Memory Triggers I put together, using the Chinese words in The Third Ear

As I read The Third Ear I scribbled notes in the columns as I always do.

And I put the Chinese words and phrases taught in his book into some Chinese Language Memory Triggers from The Third Ear.

For me, it makes learning so, so much easier, morefun, and gives me immediate hooks. These have not been illustrated yet, and of course our philosophy is that illustrations, cartoons, pictures take this style of word association language learning to a higher level still.

Click here for my 200 Words a Day! style Chinese Language Memory Triggers

This was real fun to do... and I found the Chinese triggers quite easy and very rememberable.

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Language learning book - The THIRD EAR- You can learn any language you Want reviewed by Kevin Crocombe 2007. 

Book Review of a Language Learning book - The Third Ear - You CAN Learn Any Language by Chris Lonsdale

200 Words a Day! and Exceltra 
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The Third Ear - A Language Learning Book Review.

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