By Frank Fradella
I wasn't the only kid in the summer of 1984 who saw The Karate Kid and spent hours trying to catch a fly with chopsticks, or who tried to balance on a wooden column and execute the perfect crane kick. There were millions of us. We were legion.
And aside from the ever-popular themes of the underdog triumphing in the face of overwhelming odds, or how being the new kid in town can really suck, there were some genuine pearls of wisdom being dropped in that movie. And they can be applied far beyond the California coast and into other pursuits.
For me, Mr. Miyagi would have been the greatest language teacher the world had ever seen. He knew exactly what you needed to know, and he knew how to get you to know it without even realizing you were being taught. Best of all, when push came to shove and it came time to use those skills, they were there at the ready.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about that movie (and that methodology), and I freely admit that I was one of those people who once spent eight weeks attending a night class in Italian and walked away with just one phrase: "Su velige arrivano con il prossimo volo." (Your luggage will arrive on the next flight.)
Where was Miyagi when I needed him?
Now, everybody's different and what works for me may not work for you. But in 2009, I spent six months living in China and I had an epiphany.
Prior to moving to Shanghai, I had been teaching myself Mandarin mainly through podcasts. Three years later, when I moved there, I arrived still feeling unprepared and a little afraid. Just two months later, my Chinese was vastly improved and I could do all the things I wanted and needed to do on a daily basis:
Now, your needs may differ from mine, but I'm betting not by much. Of course, it's easy to assume that immersion was the magic pill that made me more capable. But the truth is, there are a lot of expats in China who still don't speak the language, even after decades of being there. So pure exposure isn't the key.
Then what was it?
Simply put, I didn't add much to my vocabulary. I subtracted from it until what I had was nothing but high frequency words and phrases. All day, every day, all I did was use those same words and phrases — in different and sometimes dizzying combinations — to get my point across and my meaning understood.
In essence, I was learning to "sand the floor" and "paint the fence." To "wax on" and "wax off." I did them so often that they became nothing more than muscle memory. And, really, isn't that where you want your language ability to be? Natural, automatic, always at the ready?
I estimated that it was really only about 300 words that got me by — which represents about 65% of all the words you'll use on a regular basis. And that realization led me to create a new series that would help others quickly get up to speed in a language, too.
You see, my frustrations in past language learning endeavors went like this:
To fix these problems, I channeled my own inner Miyagi and created a new series called LINGO 300, which is based on those most frequently-used 300 words in any language. The program is guided, taking you by the hand from day one and showing you not just what to learn, but the best practices for retaining and applying those lessons. The program is done in video, so when we show you a lesson on asking for a cup of coffee, we shoot it on our restaurant set. Context is key!
Best of all, the series is designed to give you those 300 words in just 60 days.
Will you be fluent? No, of course not. True fluency can take months or years. But you will be able to go where your target language is spoken and do all the things I mentioned above.
I'm a firm believer that learning a second language is your passport to a better life. It opens up doors, creates new business opportunities, creates friendships, fosters understanding, and… let's face it… it's a better version of you. It's you, enhanced.
If you're one of those people who thought that you were the problem; that you simply didn't have a brain for learning languages… I'm afraid I've got to disagree. Anybody can learn any language, and you can get about 65% of the way there in just 60 days.
We're currently running a campaign on Kickstarter if you'd like more details.
In the meantime, I leave you a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry who said, "Perfection is achieved not when there Is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."
It's a reminder to stay focused, and be wary of programs that try to make you memorize the names of 20 fruits. How many times have you talked about fruit in the past week? Once or twice? How many fruit names did you need?
Later, when these 300 words have become second nature, you'll naturally pick up additional words and phrases the same way a child does… effortlessly, and as you need them.
Good luck and good learning!
Frank Fradella is the Executive Producer of LINGO Interactive. He speaks English pretty well and Mandarin not-so-well, but he knows a thing or two about video and languages and how they work together.