Interview: Scott H. Young's Year Without English Project
- Donovan NagelTeacher, translator, polyglot🎓 B.A., Theology, Australian College of Theology, NSW🎓 M.A., Applied Linguistics, University of New England, NSW
Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator. Founder of The Mezzofanti Guild and Talk In Arabic.
I’ve been a regular reader of Scott’s blog ever since I heard about him completing a 4 year MIT course in computer science in just 1 year.
He and a friend have just recently started a pretty inspiring project of spending a whole year travelling to 4 countries using only the local languages — no English for a whole year.
I thought I’d fire off a couple of a questions for Scott about this project and his motivation for starting it.
1. What inspired you both to do the Year Without English project and what do you hope to get out of it?
Originally the idea was just to travel for a year.
The idea of learning languages came after more discussions about how we wanted to travel.
Eventually we decided having four deeper experiences in four different countries with some kind of challenge element was more interesting than hopping between tourist destinations in a shallower way.
2. The four languages you’re going to be learning and speaking all year are Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese and Korean. Why these four specifically and have you studied them in the past?
It was a hard decision to make.
We wanted geographic diversity, usefulness of the languages when we returned to Vancouver and simply which countries/cultures interested us the most. There were definitely many heated discussions about which four to pick: Turkish, German and Japanese were others that had been seriously considered.
I did do some study before the trip, but it was scant compared to what most people wrongly assume you need before starting something like this.
Anyone caring to repeat my efforts with a single country would need only about an hour per day for less than two months to outpace my preparation for any of the languages.
3. Do you have a preferred method for learning languages? Can you give us a brief rundown on how you’ll tackle these languages each day? Any recommendations on resources?
I really subscribe to Benny Lewis‘s method for learning languages: immerse yourself completely, try to have conversations with people and don’t be afraid of mistakes.
I know that there’s other language learners who have very different methods that work for them, but I’ve found this one the most successful for myself.
In terms of studying, the resources we found most helpful were to do a first month of Pimsleur and to do a bit of conversational tutoring using iTalki.com. But realistically, the faster you can start actually using the language in ways you care about (movies, books, real conversations with friends) the better.
Too many people study insufficiently because studying is a bore for them.
4. With a project like this there are inevitably going to be tough days where motivation is low and frustration is high. How do you plan to overcome this?
Honestly, just deal with it.
When we explain the no-English rule to other people, they often try to overhear one of us speaking English to someone else, as a cheat.
But we don’t–that’s included situations where the other person doesn’t speak Spanish and we can’t even explain why we’re unable to speak in English.
Part of what interested me about this challenge is that it’s a mental test as well as a learning experiment.
5. Have you made a firm ‘strictly no English’ pact with your travel partner?
We don’t speak English to each other.
We don’t speak English with people we meet (even when they insist on speaking English to us).
We don’t even speak English with people who can’t speak Spanish, which has led to some interesting failures of communication.
6. Are you planning to move around a lot in all four countries or do you plan to situate yourself in one place?
Mostly one place.
I hope to travel a bit closer to the end of each stay, but I’ve always preferred living in a place and experiencing a life there than hopping around places.
7. How do you sustain yourself financially while abroad for such a huge immersion project?
I’m a writer online, so fortunately this wasn’t an issue.
Vat, however, had to save up for two years at his job to tackle this project.
Travel like this isn’t as excessive as most people think (and costs can often be offset if you do a working holiday which allows you to earn money while you travel).
8. You’re quite well-known now for ambitious learning goals. What drives you to keep doing what you’re doing?
I enjoy the challenges–I find learning under more extreme time constraints than are normally available forces me to rethink my learning process to weed out inefficiencies.
But I think these kinds of experiences only form one pillar of building an expertise on learning.
I also try to work with students and self-learners through my business to see what works for people other than myself.
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