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Mini Story Power With Steve Kaufman
Announcer: Welcome to The Effortless English Show with the world’s number one English teacher, AJ Hoge, where AJ’s more than 40 million students worldwide finally learn English once and for all without the boring textbooks, classrooms, and grammar drills.
Heres AJ with a quick piece to help you learn to speak fluent English effortlessly.
AJ Hoge: Hi. This is AJ. Welcome to The Effortless English podcast. Talking to Steve Kaufmann of LingQ and continuing our discussion from the video. So, Steve, hi again.
Steve Kaufmann: Hi AJ. Its great to talk to you, as always.
AJ Hoge: Yeah. Great talking to you. You’re a big favorite among Effortless English members, so I’ve gotten a lot of requests to talk to you again. I’m glad were finally doing It.
Steve Kaufmann: Well, I mean, the same here. I get nothing but positive comments about AJ and… I mean, I think what we both have is a degree of enthusiasm. And to the extent that we can spread that enthusiasm to other people, make them feel upbeat about their language learning, make them enjoy their language learning, they’re all gonna do better. That’s for sure.
AJ Hoge: Absolutely. Absolutely. We were talking in the video about the mini-stories and the power of these mini-stories. and we were talking about how now that on LingQ, you’re getting these mini-stories in many, many, many different languages, So If you could talk about more how you’re using the mini-stories of LingQ and maybe which languages … and how the whole thing’s gonna work.
Steve Kaufmann: Well, it started in my mind when I was learning Polish, and I came across these mini-stories that of real Polish PO had developed. He had 100 mini-stories, and I found them really powerful for learning Polish. So then I asked … I went on an outsourcing website and looked for a professional writer. And she, who’s actually an English teacher living in Japan, has been writing these stories in English.
And the objective, first of all, is to get them Into our English library for the people at LingQ who learn English. But then I said, ‘Wow.” I was learning Greek. I am learning Greek. So I said, “I wonder what they would be like In Greek.” So I found someone to translate them and record them. And they are super powerful. Oh, and then people talk … When I started doing this and I talked about It, people said, “Oh that’s AJ’s. Thats AJ’s system.” So then I think I tweeted you and I said, “AJ, we’re doing these stories. Is that your idea?” And you said, “Yeah, but maybe It comes from Blaine Ray of TPRS. It doesn’t matter. We’re all trying to do the same thing.”
But the instructions that I gave to the writer was, in the hundred stories, I want to use the hundred most common verbs as much as possible. Because I think if we can master the common verbs … Forget trying to get the most common words in the language, you can’t do that. And it won’t necessarily help you that much. But if you’re really on top of the most common verbs in the language, you’re gonna be … That’s gonna really strengthen you. So all these stories are written with 70% of the verbs … Are amongst the top 100 most common verbs.
Give, take, go, eat, sleep, think, put, whatever. So that’s one thing.
And then the second thing Is, we have sort of … I believe from having learned 17 languages that the basic concepts in any languages are quite similar. We express, we want, we wish, we doubt, we think because why? Because therefore in order to … All of these different concepts if, even though, you know they’re common across all languages. But different languages handle them differently. So I said, If we have five levels dealing with different concepts of the language, that’ll cover a lot of the grammar. And it’ll do it in a bit of a concentrated way. And so that’s how the English stories are being written, and they’re being put into our English library.
But having seen how effective they were In Greek … And because the stories are sort of culturally quite neutral … Like, “Joe got up and made himself a cup of coffee. He’s busy at work and blah, blah, blah.” And there’s funny stories about everyday life. It doesn’t matter whether you live in Brazil, Japan, or Saudi Arabia.
People drink coffee. They go to work. They go to the store to buy food.
So we are now translating these Into … I’d have to say we’re gonna be up to 30 languages. We have people volunteering to do them in Farsi. We have 22 languages at LingQ. But, in addition, people are doing them in Farsi, and somebody volunteered in Latvian and Hungarian, Georgian, not to mention Arabic, which we have at LingQ, and Turkish and Finnish and Dutch and German, Spanish, Portuguese … So that’s the project, and we’ve had very enthusiastic response.
And we are looking for more volunteers … And I’ll say for someone who studies these mini-stories, and then translates them into their own language, that’s quite a good learning opportunity too. And we are offering. for every five stories translated, two free months at LingQ. And for every five stories recorded, one free month at LingQ. So If people want to come forward … And we’re short of volunteers for Japanese, Chinese, and Korean right now . And so If people want to come forward and volunteer .. We got lots for Portuguese and Spanish. We got a real good response from our Latin American members. But, yeah. So that’s the project.
AJ Hoge: Talk a little more about how you’re using these stories with Greek now. You said your seventeenth language? Is that right?
Steve Kaufmann: Yeah. I mean I’ve learned … Gosh, I don’t even know . When I wrote my book about language learning. I spoke nine languages. I wrote my book in 1960. And today I’m up to 17. So, since the age of 60, I have learned eight Languages to varying degrees of fluency, all right? But not too bad In some of them.
And with the Greek, basically the stories … What I do Is I read them, I review the vocabulary … like I save words and phrases to my database at LingQ, I review them in flashcards, and I do the dictation, the multiple choice, all of this stuff, read It again, maybe stream It, listening while I’m reading. And then I go away, and I’m listening all the time on my iPod to these stories. And, as you know, these stories … like they’re In three parts. So the vocabulary repeats three times.
You know, John took his daughter to the zoo.” Okay. The Next story is John telling the story. “I took my daughter to the zoo.” And then the third one Is questions. “John took his daughter to the zoo. Did John take his daughter to the amusement park? No. He took his daughter to the zoo.” So the vocabulary repeats. And so you just keep listening and listening and listening, and it just drills this vocabulary into your brain. It’s just phenomenal. Phenomenal.
Now you’re probably quite familiar this, but for me, starting a language cold like Greek … And it’s a different writing system and there’s not that much common vocabulary. There’s the odd word you recognize. It’s powerful. That’s all I can say.
AJ Hoge: Yeah, and certainly from the teaching side, I found them to be very, very powerful. And as you mentioned, the art of it in making these stories .. From the teaching side of It is getting … It’s that massive repetition that’s interesting.
Steve Kaufmann: Yes.
AJ Hoge: For the student. For the learner.
Steve Kaufmann: Exactly. Exactly. And not forcing them. like we … The third part, the questions …
And did this for Polish. He said. “If you wanna answer the question, answer it aloud. Please do so. That’s probably a good thing to do, but if you don’t want to, just listen.” So this is what we do. And I’ve been listening to my Greek and there’s like five seconds where I could answer, but I haven’t done so yet. I don’t feel like it. And I very much believe that people should not be forced to speak. They should speak when they want to Some people wanna speak right away. They want that feedback. It makes them feel good. Fine. Other people would rather wait. I think that’s also fine. And I think too often in traditional language instruction, you sit people down in a classroom and you force them to speak. And maybe I’ll be happy to speak in Greek in a month from now But at this particular point, I’m just absorbing the language.
AJ Hoge: Could you talk a little bit about your typical day of language learning? What do you do during the day? And how much time do you spend? People always ask me this.
Steve Kaufmann: All right. So, okay. Today, for example … I mean, what’s a typical day? Every days a little different, but I’ll get up. Get up a little earlier than my wife, and I’ll go in and get breakfast ready. And so while I’m making … getting breakfast ready, I’ll be listening to these stories In Greek on my iPod … On my iPod Nano. So that’s a good 25 minutes of listening.
Then, of course, we have breakfast and stuff. After that, like this morning, I play old timers’ hockey. So after breakfast, I quickly cleaned up and then through all my gear In my car and took off. While I’m driving there It’s 20 minutes away I’m listening to my Greek stories again.
I finish playing hockey. I drive back. I’m listening to my stories again. Then I might say to myself, because I’ve got some work to do or whatever, before I get into my work, I’m gonna sit down for 20 minutes because there were parts of those stories, even though I’ve heard them 10 times and I’ve read them five times, that I still didn’t get. So I go in, and I read those stories again. I might even do the vocabulary review exercise, flashcards, multiple choice, etc. Because that’s also very reinforcing, So I go back and I do those stories
And then I might go off … If I have to drive to the office, that’s another 10, 15 minutes of listening. After dinner, I’m the one who cleans up, so that’s another 15, 20 minutes of clean up time. And then I might, before going to bed, I might lie there for half an hour and read on my IPad .. Most of my reading, linking activities on my iPad, not on the computer. And that’s another thing that’s so powerful. Because it’s so much more convenient. You’re sitting somewhere comfortable, doing It on the IPad.
The other thing that I find really powerful is text.to.speech. So every time I’m reading and I save a phrase that goes Into my database at lingQ.. I hear It. And when I’m reading, and of course I’ve got these yellow saved phrases all over my text, I touch any of them and I hear it. So I am almost listening to it in text-to-speech. So I’m going through all the phrases that I’ve saved, In the hope that when I then listen away from the computer, I’ll understand more and more. So that’s kind of typical.
The following day, if I don’t have to go charging off to hockey I might spend 20 minutes reading on my IPad before I get going with my busy day. And whenever I’m In the car, working around the house, like I have to go and get my garbage cans. That’s only … It’s just a little further away ‘cause the garbage truck couldn’t come all the way down our street ‘cause they’re doing work there, so we have to Anyway, long story short, it’s only 10 minutes. But for 10 minutes, I’m listening to these Greek stories.
AJ Hoge: Excellent. So you’re just finding those little chunks of time all through the day …
Steve Kaufmann: Absolutely. Yep.
AJ Hoge: So you’re not sitting normally for let’s say two straight hours.
Steve Kaufmann: Never. Never.
AJ Hoge: Hmm.
Steve Kaufmann: If I’m sitting in a restaurant, because it works on my iPhone .. So I don’t have 3G on my iPad. I use it with the Wifi at home, but with my phone if I’m waiting for my food to be brought … Like I go to this Chinese restaurant for lunch sometimes. 1,11 go through a lesson, read it and stuff. Every two, three, five, ten minutes and it all adds up. I think using what I would otherwise call “dead time gives mean hour of listening. So then I add Into that another half hour or so depending on the day, some days more, some days less, of reading and linking and sort of working these texts on my iPad. So that’s an hour and a half. That’s good. That’s what I’m doing with Greek.
AJ Hoge: Excellent. and low stress? Enjoyable?
Steve Kaufmann: Absolutely. Now, it is important … For example, the fellow that translated and then recorded the Greek, I like his voice. Very important. If you’ve got lousy audio with a lousy voice, that’s not doing you any good. And I’m sure one of your successes is the fact that you have a very enthusiastic voice and people like listening to you. If they didn’t like listening to you, if you hear someone with a very sort of almost like elevator type voice delivery, you know …
AJ Hoge: Yeah. For sure
Steve Kaufmann: That’s not going to do it. It has to be warm. There has to be some resonance.There is that emotional element. You have to link up to the person who’s telling the story. And link up to the people in the story so that there’s this emotional connection.
AJ Hoge: Right. Right. And, really, when you think of it, it’s the same as it would be in your own language, your own native language, that you don’t wanna listen to someone who sounds boring or unemotional or content that’s not interesting.
Steve Kaufmann: Sure. Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s where, some of the people who have come forward and volunteered, like the guy who’s doing our Italian, his recordings are so good.
AJ Hoge: Oh. You know, and I love the way that Italian sounds anyway. This is the… Italian, even though I have no use for it at all, practically, I just love the sound of that language.
Steve Kaufmann: Yeah. But its a very popular language. I was looking at Duolingo and which languages are the most popular there. And, of course, it’s Spanish and German and French and stuff. But Italian is very popular. It’s right up there.
AJ Hoge: Agh. Great. I understand. Yeah.
Steve Kaufmann: Yeah, yeah. So …
AJ Hoge: Could we talk about one other topic? Because you mentioned it just before we started talking about this. The fact that you’re 60 years oId … I think you said …
Steve Kaufmann: I’m 75.
AJ Hoge: You’re 75? So you said, since you were 60, you’ve learned how many languages?
Steve Kaufmann: Eight.
AJ Hoge: Eight lang? So let’s talk about that. Because actually in Effortless English, I was surprised to find that most of our … really like kind of long-term, like most dedicated members are, I would say, over 40. Between 40 and SO and up. And I occasionally get these comments on Twitter or whatever, but “I’m whatever age.
40, 50, 60, 70, 80. Can I still learn English? Can I still improve my English?” And let’s talk about that.
Steve Kaufmann: Well, as a general statement, like I’m not a good example because as I learn more and more languages, I get better at learning languages. And, In particular, if they’re related languages. So, Russian was a lot of work for me. But after that, Czech was a little bit less work. And then Ukrainian was even easier, and Polish even easier. Okay? Because they’re related languages.
AJ Hoge: I see.
Steve Kaufmann: And Korean to some extent, but not as much as I had hoped. The Japanese and the Chinese help, but not as much as I had hoped. Korean I’ve found difficult. But now with Greek, it’s just that I think the technology has Improved, it’s just now so convenient to sit there with my iPad. The text-to-speech is working. LingQ is working so much better than it did before, so much faster. I have never learned … and I’m 71 … I have never learned a language as quickly as I feel that I am learning Greek. I’ve been in it for a month. This guy tells these stories at absolute breakneck speed. And more or less I understand what he’s saying. And I don’t think I’ve ever done that.
So I don’t think … I think if … You have to commit. It’s like anything. If you are not sort of a language-learning fit, you gotta get going and do It. And the more you do it, the better you will get. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re 20 or 70. I don’t think it matters. Now, somebody may drag out some science experiment which says that I’ve lost a few neurons or something, but fundamentally…mean, we have seen 20 year olds that have a lot of trouble learning languages.
And they have trouble learning languages because they convince themselves that they can’t learn.
AJ Hoge: Mm-hmm…
Steve Kaufmann: And someone who Is 50 or 60 or 70 like I am, who is confident that they can learn, who wants to learn, who puts in the time … I squeeze In my an hour of listening every day by 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there. If a person that’s 70 is keen to do that and Is motivated to learn English or Portuguese or whatever, they’ll learn. Age has nothing to do with It.
AJ Hoge: Yeah. That’s been my experience as well. Some of my best members, have …they’re over 50.
Steve Kaufmann: Yeah.
AJ Hoge: And, and it’s exactly… In fact, in many ways I think sometimes they’re often better because they are farther removed from that whole school training mentality. You know, whereas a lot of times the younger students, it takes them a long time just to get over the idea that …
Steve Kaufmann: I agree.
AJ Hoge: That they don’t have to go to a class. They don’t have to study a text book. They don’t have to focus on a test. And there’s like … A lot of them go through this process of, “Oh, I don’t know. I mean, does it really work if I listen a lot and reading? And don’t I need to study the textbooks and…” But there’s this whole way of unlearning. Whereas, I find that a lot of times the older members are …
They’re far beyond that. They’re like I just wanna understand and speak and enjoy the language. And they’ll jump right into something. I wouldn’t say It’s new anymore but these new technologies, these new methods, and therefore they actually progress faster.
Steve Kaufrnann: But you know, you mentioned another thing there, which I think is very important. Very often the younger people, say in their 20s, they feel under pressure. “I need this for my job. I want to get a high score In TOEIC.” Whereas a 50-year-old, like he’s not in … like, I’m not gonna write TOEIC. Me, personally, I’m not gonna write … Like people ask me, “Well, what’s your level In the Chinese whatever exam?” I’m not gonna write an exam In Chinese. I’m happy to communicate In Chinese. I’m happy to read. I’m happy to understand when I watch movies. I’m happy. I’m not gonna write an exam. But the 20-year-old is much more concerned about these levels. You talked about levels. And the older people realize that It’s just a journey, It’s an adventure, it’s fun, It’s interesting.
We’re just happy to be doing It. And we don’t necessarily need to measure ourselves against anyone else.
AJ Hoge: Yeah. I fight … Now, this has sort of been … Personally, I find the education system to be very, very frustrating. And this Is one of the aspects. I find that …
Steve Kaufmann: For sure.
AJ Hoge: The goals and the … It all just gets kind of flip-flopped In people’s minds and they lose sight of what Is the actual purpose. Like why am I actually learning English?
Is it just to get a number on a test or is it so you can get out In the world and do something with the language? Whether that’s in business or travel or just personally. And I find that because they’re under such pressure and they’ve had these ideas beaten into their heads throughout the school systems that are Out there, throughout their education, that many of them have completely forgotten that you can actually use this In real life. That that’s ultimately the purpose of this, not I got X, a 343, on this test or whatever.
Steve Kaufmann: Yeah. I mean, that’s true. And to be fair to the school system, they’re measured all the time. They have to produce results, and so they want to do things that they can then measure and see and show. “See? We got X number of kids that got a B or an A or something.” And very often the net result at the end of it is, I mean, I don’t know about the United States, but In Canada, in the English language school system, people who study French, unless they’re In French Immersion, they really in most cases don’t end up speaking French. So, what does it matter that they got good marks? It doesn’t matter because they can’t speak French.
AJ Hoge: Right. There’s not a connection there. Exactly. I think that’s the problem. So then It’s like, okay, we’re doing it for … What are we doing it for? In the end, It’s sort of like all the … I see this … You know, I’m In Japan right now. And oh my god. It just …
Steve Kaufmann: Japan Is amazing. You go to a Japanese bookstore and you go to their English language section. It’s 50% TOEIC.
AJ Hoge: Yeah.
Steve Kaufmann: 50% of the books there are, “Here is your 5,000 words that you need for TOEIC.
AJ Hoge: Memorize them.
Steve Kaufmann: How to Ace TOEIC. And in reality, if they did these stories, and If they did things of interest to them and got themselves up to a level where they can consume content of Interest to them .. As Krashen says, meaningful Input, compelling Input, novels, history, politics, music, whatever they’re Interested in, they’ll do better on the TOEIC. And all those books, 50% of the books in the English language section, It’s just a waste of time.
AJ Hoge: Yeah. And it’s tragic because it’s … I think it amplifies the stress they’re already feeling about this test.
Steve Kaufmann: I know.
AJ Hoge: I remember, back when I went into graduate school and I was studying for the GRE, and oh it was the same thing. It was so boring, so stressful. You know, in hindsight, it wasn’t even very effective doing those practice tests and things and…
Steve Kaufmann: Right.
AJ Hoge: Exactly. And the poor Japanese, they start in middle school with English. So they’ve got three years of English in middle school. Then they do it in high school.
Then, If they go to university, they do it there too. And then they get out, and they’re still terrified most to speak English. And struggle …
Steve Kaufmann: It’s no worse than a French language education in Canada for English speakers. It’s no worse. We’re no worse. They have people here that the kids have French from grade 2, 3 on and at the end of the day, they can’t speak French. So, yeah. I mean, that’s just the way it is. I, personally, wouldn’t have tests in school. I would focus … I’m very much, as you know, input oriented. If you had these stories, you let them … And then graduate from stories to things of interest. And then go back to the stories and just listen and read. And if you want to speak, you speak.
And we’re not gonna test you. You would get more people at the end of the day Interested in a language and more people fluent in a language.
AJ Hoge: For sure. Absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, I guess the good thing about all of this, though, as you had mentioned before, is that now with the internet, with cell phones, with tablets … It’s just the opportunities now for independent learning in language and really though almost anything is just amazing now. You can go out and get world-class education in language, in anything else, for a very little amount of money and super convenient.
Steve Kaufmann: I mean, the resources … Like you can look up any aspect of English grammar. We don’t need AJ Hoge to teach the use of the gerund versus the infinitive. Google gerund. Google infinitive. You’ll find millions of pages teaching it.
AJ Hoge: Yeah.
Steve Kaufmann: You know so that the … And as you say, the iPad today has more resources in it than a $100,000 language lab at the best university, you know, Harvard, Yale, or whatever … It is just so much more available. What you need is someone like you to guide people, to help them, to encourage them,, to advise them, to stimulate them, and show them … And, of course, the resources that you have developed, the stories and stuff like that … But where you were inspired by others like I’m Inspired by Pilter who was inspired by you and you were Inspired by Blaine Ray. And that’s fine. That’s how It works. But In terms of the actual teaching of the specific grammar details, I mean, If people are at all independent and motivated, they can find all those details. I’ve downloaded Greek grammars. I can look at them whenever I’m motivated, but I find that I need to have some exposure to the language before I can go and look up the grammar otherwise I don’t know what the grammar’s talking about. So this kind of … But at any rate, today is the golden age of language learning, AJ.
AJ Hoge: Yes, indeed. It’s exciting. It’s very exciting. In fact, I don’t even call myself a teacher anymore. I just call myself a coach. I think it has more of the feel of what I’m trying to do.
Steve Kaufmann: Well, you’ve accepted a lot of people from what I can gather, so I think it’s wonderful.
AJ Hoge: Well, and thank you so much. I’m quite excited to go check out your different stories on LingQ in all the different languages. Amazing.
Steve Kaufmann: a while to get them all up. Right now, we’ve only got the English and the Greek up. ‘Cause the Greek’s what I’m …
AJ Hoge: Oh. So let me know then. Tell me on Twitter when you get some of the other languages … I’m personally interested in some Spanish, but I know my members, also ‘cause, you know … A lot of my members as they improve their English, then they start wanting to learn another language, and they ask me, and I only do English, so …
Steve Kaufmann: I will tweet to you from time to time as we progress on this project.
AJ Hoge: Fantastic. Yes. Please let me know.
Steve Kaufmann: Okay. Great, AJ. Great to talk to you. Thanks for doing the video, and look forward to seeing you one day. And if you’re ever around Vancouver, with all the traveling that you do, come and see us.
AJ Hoge: I would love to … Yeah. It’d be great to meet in person finally. Good talking to you.
Steve Kaufmann: Okay. Great. Thank you.
AJ Hoge: Okay. Talk to you again soon. See you.
Steve Kaufmann: Okay. Bye bye.