Steve on Radio in Kansas City

Study the transcript of this episode as a lesson on LingQ, saving the words and phrases you don’t know to your database. Here it is!

Steve is continuing his cross country US radio tour. Here he is interviewed by Ann Butenas of KCTE Kansas City.

Ann: Our guest today in an author, his name is Steve Kaufmann and is coming to us from Vancouver, British Columbia.

He has written a book The Way of the Linguist: A Language Learning Odyssey.

He is proponent of not only speaking English, but whatever other language you can to immerse yourself in the cultures of the world and to move yourself forward, both personally and professionally.

Steve Kaufmann is fluent in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Swedish and, of course, English and maybe texting, I don’t know.

Let’s get Steve Kaufmann on the line.

Hi Steve, welcome to Your Inner Champion!

Steve: Hello, thank you.

It’s nice to be here.

Ann: My co-host, Jeff Minor, who’s here in the studio, wants to ask you if sign language is considered a foreign language.

Steve: It’s a language, it’s not necessarily foreign, but it’s another language many people do learn for a variety of reasons.

Ann: I am just so impressed with your book The Way of the Linguist; that you speak that many languages.

To me it seems impossible, but, yet, you do it.

Steve: Oh, yeah, I do it and in the last two years now I’ve learned Russian, so you can add Russian to the list.

Ann: Oh, and you have Korean and Portuguese, too.

Steve: Yeah, but I haven’t really brought them up to a level of say fluency.

I have some knowledge of those languages, but I don’t really say that I speak them.

Ann: I was one of these individuals who assumed that unless you’re exposed to a foreign language at a very early age, like within the household other than English or whatever your dominant language is, it’s rather difficult to learn it, but that may not necessarily be the case.

Steve: No.

I think it’s a lot easier when you’re a little child; you have no inhibitions, you listen, pick up what you hear and you just use it.

Adults, very often, try to learn a language at school where I think the traditional language teaching methods are very ineffective and often discourage learners, because they focus on grammar rules and try to get people to produce the language correctly, which is the wrong way to learn, so I think a lot of adults are discouraged.

I lived in Japan and I saw people coming from all kinds of countries who would have the right attitude for learning and they would learn a difficult language, like Japanese, pretty quickly.

Jeff: Hey, Steve, I’ve got a question for you, this is Jeff.

Steve: Yeah?

Jeff: One of the big questions I’ve been thinking about, mulling over in my head, why?

Why do you know so many languages?

What does it do for you?

Steve: Well, initially, it was a matter of circumstance; I got interested.

I grew up in Montreal where a person could learn French, if they wanted to.

In the 50s, of course, there were sort of two cities there, an English-speaking and a French-speaking and I was unilingual English.

I went to university and I had a professor who turned me on to French culture and civilization, so I became interested.

Obviously, the key in learning languages is that you have to be motivated and you have to want to do it.

Once I wanted to do it, I read and listened to radio in French and then I ended up going to France where I did my university training.

Subsequently, I was in situations where I wanted to learn the language.

What happens is, as you learn more languages, you become confident that you can learn another language.

Someone who only speaks one language just can’t visualize themselves speaking another language.

Once you can learn another language – like the last couple of years I’ve learned Russian – it has given me so much.

I can understand so much more about how they think, I can listen to radio programs in Russian, I can listen to audio books, I can read literature in Russian.

It just gives you a lot, so it becomes something you know you can do after a while.

Ann: I know on your Website,, you offer people the opportunity to select the language they would like to learn, what is the average length of time it would take for someone to become proficient in another language?

Steve: First of all, let me say that the Website we are using now for language learning is called LingQ (

There is a Website called The Linguist, but that is not the place where you’d go to learn languages.

Ann: Okay.

Steve: LingQ ( is free; come and use it.

Jeff: Wow!

Steve: How long does it take?

It depends on how close the language is to your own language.

So, for me, Russian was difficult, Spanish is a lot easier, because in Spanish you have a lot of vocabulary that’s similar to English.

Ann: Right.

Steve: Obviously there are aspects of the grammar that you have to learn, but, in my experience, if you can accumulate the words, if you can do a lot of pleasant listening and reading, if you can build up your vocabulary, then the grammar, it doesn’t quite take care of itself, but it’s not the problem that it is if you start by trying to learn the grammar.

Jeff: Did I hear you say it’s free?

Steve: Let me qualify that, alright?

Most people use it free-of-charge.

Jeff: Okay.

Steve: Most of the resources, most of the audio and text content in our library in 10 languages, most of the functionality, which is rather unique and helps you to learn words and phrases, the ability to interact with our community of learners around the world, is essentially free.

If you want a tutor, if you want someone to talk to via the Internet on Skype, if you want to send in writing to be corrected, obviously, there you have to pay because we pay for the tutor.

Jeff: You bet.

Steve: There are some other elite services for which people pay, but I would say the overwhelming majority of people use it free; it’s this whole Web 2.0 experience.

A lot of our free members also contribute.

They may contribute content to our library, they help us build our sort of community dictionary in different languages and they help spread the word.

Ann: Now, in your opinion, which is the most difficult aspect of learning a language?

Is it the speaking aspect, the writing aspect or the reading aspect?

Steve: Well, I think you go through phases.

To me the language is a whole and in the initial phase you are mostly listening and reading and you’re listening and reading to content that’s easy and, as in the case of our Website, where the translation is available in your own language.

All you’re doing is getting used to the language which, at first, is just a lot of noise to you.

So, eventually, you start to separate the words and you start to learn more of these words, but you’re still just getting used to it.

As you become more and more familiar with the language then you start to want to speak, you want to start to use the words that you’ve acquired.

I don’t think there is any one particular aspect that is difficult; rather, I would say that the progression should be to begin by listening and reading and accumulating words.

If you spend six months without speaking it doesn’t matter, because when you start to speak you will pronounce better and you will speak better.

Karen: Steve, this is Karen Black, hi.

Steve: Hi.

Karen: I wanted to ask you, you made a point earlier about people needing to be motivated to learn a language, I’m wondering how you can encourage young people to really look at learning a different language.

Steve: When you say young, what age?

Karen: I’d say nine.

Steve: Well, in my experience, young children are quite interested in new things, so if someone is nine or eight then I think the way languages should be taught is that they should be given stories to listen to and read and a method like LingQ, our Website, where they can click on words and phrases that take these words and phrases to a database where they can review them in flashcards, where they have little statistics that show up, all of these things that are encouraging and stimulating, but mostly they listen on their iPod.

I mean the iPod is a wonderful development.

You can store, on this little iPod, more material and there’s a better quality of sound then used to be in the language labs that we went to.

What you need to do with young people is just not to discourage them and don’t force them to write something and correct them and tell them it’s wrong, all of that is quite unnecessary, the brain will learn it.

So my advice, if you’re talking about nine year old peoples, is find out what they’re interested in and let them simply listen and read.

Karen: Thank you.

Ann: You know I do have another question, but we have a caller on the line and I want to see what he has to ask.

His name’s Tom.

Steve: Okay.

Ann: Hi, Tom, welcome to Your Inner Champion.

Tom: Hi, how are you?

Ann: Do you have a question?

Tom: My daughter wants to quit Spanish in school; she’s finding it’s really hard.

She’s taken a lot of Spanish classes.

I’ve taken several Spanish classes and have gone down to Mexico and they wanted me to speak English.

So, I have two questions, how do you go to a foreign country and speak and how do you keep your child in class?

Steve: Well, I’ll answer them in the order you asked them.

It very often happens that you’re learning a language, you go to the country hoping to use it and people there want to speak English.

It’s happened to me when I was working on my Portuguese.

Don’t get discouraged, do what is easy for you to do, which is to listen and read and build up your vocabulary until you are more and more capable in the language and then, if you go to the country, yes, some people will want to speak to you in English, but there’ll be lots of other people who will be very happy to speak to you in the language you’re learning, in Spanish.

So, very often, it’s a matter of building up your capability to where you’re more confident.

You can’t control whether a person wants to speak to you, say in Spanish, but you can control the activities that you do, the listening and reading.

I mean in my case, at the age of 63, I learnt Russian, mostly by listening and reading and using LingQ, and I have no one here to speak to in Russian.

Yeah, now I do, I’ve found people and through our Website I talk to my Russian tutor in Russian; fine, but you can go a long way just building up your capability in the language.

This is proven by research on the brain, listening and reading.

Now insofar as your daughter is concerned, if she doesn’t like Spanish there’s not much you can do; however, if she likes it, but finds it difficult because of the way they teach it at school because and she can’t remember the subjunctive or the third person singular of the past tense, don’t worry about those things.

Now she may need it for her class work, but she’ll be better off if she likes to listen to songs in Spanish, if she likes to read about whatever it might be in Spanish or to listen in Spanish.

In other words, try to enjoy it in some way and don’t be discouraged by the way the language is taught.

Ann: So, Tom, “es esto bien?”

Tom: “Gracias.”

Ann: Well, you know what, we will get your information and you have won some treats from Dragonfly Boba Tea and Bakery, just for calling in.

We do have to go to break and we’ll be right back in just a few.

Thanks, Tom.

(STATION BREAK) Ann: We are back with Your Inner Champion and we are speaking with Steve Kaufmann, author of The Way of the Linguist.

He speaks more than nine languages and it’s just phenomenal what having that in your life can do for you.

I know, Steve, our other guest, Karen Black, has a question for you.

Karen: Steve, if you were going to sum up what you’ve said, what would be the top three to five things that would be critical for somebody learning a new language?

Steve: First of all, choose a language that you like, where you like someone or you like some aspect of the culture, because it’s very important to be emotionally involved to want to do it.

It helps your learning, so that’s number one; make sure you want to do it.

Number two, focus on things that you can control and that aren’t so difficult to do, like listening and reading and accumulating words.

Don’t worry about whether you can find someone to talk to or whether someone wants to talk to you; those things are outside your control.

Number three, let the language come in and don’t get hung up on theoretical explanations and rules.

The brain has a much tougher time dealing with these theoretical explanations than it has in naturally creating its own rules by doing a lot of listening and reading.

I guess the final one is when you do go to speak, don’t worry about how you sound, don’t worry about whether you make a good impression or not, just enjoy the fact that you can now communicate; however well you do it, that you can now communicate in another language.

That’s four.

Ann: Thank you.

Jeff: Great.

Karen: Great.

Jeff: Hey, Steve, does it happen to you, if you don’t use it you lose it?

Steve: No.

It’s another interesting thing, I find, in fact, that if you leave a language for a while, a language that you’ve been studying…our members at LingQ, again, tell us the same and I have a blog, as well, and I say this on my blog…there is a gestation of the language.

You learn it for a while and if you learn it the way we do it at LingQ, in other words, naturally, through a lot of listening and reading, we help the brain notice the language, identify words and phrases.

We don’t teach theoretical explanations, so if you learn this way, then you leave it for a few months, when you come back you are actually better.

Jeff: Oh, wow!

Steve: It’s like a big freight train, it just keeps moving, so if you learn it in a natural way these things take hold in your brain and, in fact, they continue to develop.

It’s amazing the number of people on my blog, when I mentioned this, who said they’ve had the exact same experience.

Ann: You know I want to ask — because I just enrolled my oldest son for high school and in looking at his options for foreign language requirements they offer three: German, Spanish and French — do you feel like the schools are being remiss in not offering more?

Steve: Well, you know the schools are in a bit of a bind.

Because they teach the traditional way, they can offer a language for which they have a teacher, a qualified teacher.

Ann: Right.

Steve: So, obviously, they’re limited.

I mean at the average school, how many people are they going to have on staff who are qualified to teach another language?

Now, in my view, in the day of the Internet, you could have a teacher who could learn the art of learning a language and then he or she, the teacher, could have a class and explain how you learn.

I would, of course, recommend that the way we do it at LingQ is the most effective way; it’s inline with how the brain learns.

Teach people how to learn and say here are these resources via the Internet.

You can find content at your level to listen to, you can save words and review the flashcards of the words that you’ve saved.

You can write and someone will correct it for you, you can speak with a native speaker, you can make friends in the language.

In other words, the teacher could direct the learner, the child, to learn whichever language they want to learn and they wouldn’t be limited, because there’s no way a school is going to have some one with the ability to teach Italian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese; it’s just not going to happen.

Ann: With a young person going into the world today and, obviously, our world is shrinking in terms of our communication abilities with people in other countries, is there any one, two or even three specific languages you think someone should know in order to, perhaps, increase their chances of success?

Steve: Not really.

I mean obviously in the United States Spanish is huge, in Canada, French and in terms of what’s happening in the world today, Chinese is important.

But I go back to that the main thing has to be the interest of the child.

The child may be interested in Japanese because of Japanese comics, that’s fine, go for Japanese.

Study the language that you are motivated to learn.

If you learn a language today you’ll be in a better position to learn another language later on.

So if the child at school is interested in Japanese, let the child learn Japanese and if for business reasons they have to learn Spanish later on they’ll learn it a lot more easily than if they had never learned another language.

Ann: Now what is your Website again where you offer these?

Steve: It’s called LingQ (


Steve: Registration is free, so come and poke around and send us an email if you have any questions.

Jeff: Hey, Steve, I’ve got a question.

It just happens to be Valentine’s Day today…

Steve: Right.

Jeff: …and I really would like to impress my wife and be able to tell her Happy Valentine’s in a different language; give me one that sounds really romantic.

Ann: You didn’t buy her anything, did you?

Jeff: No.

Karen: There’s going to be conflict at his house!

Steve: Well, you know St.

Valentine’s Day doesn’t necessarily translate that well.

Jeff: Oh.

Steve: You could say…well, if in French, if we’re talking romance we’re talking French, so you could say “félicitations”, which is congratulations.

“Le jour de St.Valentin” is St.

Valentine’s Day.

Jeff: Oh, okay.

Steve: Or “joyeux” is happy, “joyeux St. Valentin”

Jeff: Ooh, okay.

Steve: “Mon amour” and then you say, my love, okay?

Jeff: Spell that for me, will you?

Ann: What about Mandarin or Cantonese or one of those Asian languages?

Steve: Okay (in Chinese) St.

Valentine’s Day, well, I don’t know how you say that.

(In Chinese again) So today is the love day, so I wish you happiness.

Jeff: I love it.

Ann: That is so awesome and the way you segued in and out of those languages is amazing.

Jeff: It is and it almost sounded like you have dialect, actually.

Steve: No, again, the whole thing with language learning is you have to visualize yourself as a speaker of that language.

As I mention in my book, it’s your attitude and then to try and learn in a natural way and to have fun with it.

I think that’s what we miss in the language teaching that we do in schools.

Ann: So what do you do, Steve, if you’re cruising along, you’re learning a language you really enjoy, but you get really frustrated?

How do you get past that point of frustration to keep on learning?

Steve: You know people get burnout and then they should just leave it for a while.

The other thing and I shouldn’t really say this, but at the Website we often recommend that you tinker with another language, because at our Website you can open another language, so do Swedish, German or Portuguese.

Or if you just want to get away from language learning entirely and stop doing it, you won’t fall behind because what you are doing, as in the case of our Website, mostly you’re selecting an item of content and we have these huge libraries where our members are constantly contributing podcasts, talking with their husbands or wives; there’s all kinds of interesting stuff.

Ann: You know what? I hate to interrupt, but we’re out of time.

Steve: Oh, okay.

Ann: Just to make sure, listeners, go to

We’ve been speaking with Steve Kaufmann, author of The Way of the Linguist.

Steve: Okay, thank you.

Ann: We just appreciate you being on our show.

Jeff: Thank you, Steve.

Karen: Thank you.

Ann: We just appreciate you being on our show and welcome back next week to Hot Talk 1510 AM and Your Inner Champion with Jeff Minor of Nothing by Chance Coaching and me, Ann Butenas of having-to-find-a-new-Website name.

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