How Learning A New Language Will Change Your Life w/ Olly Richards

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“Language learning is something that brings such incredible joy and fulfillment into your life in ways that you probably can't imagine if you haven't tried doing it yet.”
— Olly Richards

Greetings, SuperFriends!

This week, we’re joined by Olly Richards, the world-renowned language learning expert behind IWillTeachYouALanguage.com. Olly speaks no less than 8 languages, and has taught tens of thousands of people all over the world how to learn languages quickly, easily, and without all the headaches. Also a successful entrepreneur and author, having written numerous books and online courses, and he even hosts his own top-rated podcast.

In this episode, I wanted to connect with Olly and hear what he has to say about language learning. Does he agree with past experts we’ve had on the show? Disagree? How and why? How do his own strategies for accelerated language learning mesh with my own framework?

In this interview, Olly and I really hit it off, and we jammed about everything from language learning, to memory techniques, to why all of this is so important. Olly shares some interesting and often surprising thoughts on how best to learn a language, and even tells us about some cool resources that I’d never heard of. It’s a great episode, packed with actionable takeaways, and whether or not you’ve ever been intrigued by language learning, I think you’re going to really enjoy it.

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This episode is brought to you by SuperLearner Academy – home of my exclusive masterclasses. Check out a free trial using the link above today!

This episode is brought to you by SuperLearner Academy – home of my exclusive masterclasses. Check out a free trial using the link above today!

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Who is Olly Richards, what does he do, and how did he come to speak 8 languages?!
  • Why is language learning so important, even in today's day and age?
  • The surprising financial, health, and social benefits of learning an extra language
  • How does learning a language compare to learning music? How do the skills transfer?
  • When and how did Olly Richards realize that the “normal” way to learn languages was broken?
  • What is the fastest that Olly Richards has ever learned a language?
  • How does Olly Richards teach people to learn a language in about 3 months?
  • What languages does Olly speak, and at what level? Which were the most challenging?
  • A surprising step-by-step walkthrough of how Olly Richards tackles a new language
  • A description of how to choose the materials you learn from
  • Why do people screw up when they try to learn a new language?
  • How does Olly tackle learning grammar?
  • How much of our communication is actually grammar-dependent? (Interesting!)
  • Have Olly's language learning skills transferred into how he learns everything else?
  • How does Olly Richards learn, and how does it compare to what we teach in our courses?
  • What products and services does Olly depend on?
  • What books have most impacted Olly's life?
  • What's the biggest takeaway from this episode?

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Favorite Quotes from Olly Richards:

“As anybody who has fallen in love with a language will tell you, it's not about the translating .”
“Conversation is the art of adapting what you say to communicate it to someone else.”
“It's not that the so-called ‘school' system of learning languages is bad, it's just one very small piece of a big puzzle.”
“You can get to a point very quickly where you can really use the language…and from that point onwards, it's one long journey of iteration.”
“Unless you have an exam to learn next week, just chill out! Enjoy the process.”
“What I do well is I don't mess up. I don't stop!”
“Most people aren't systems thinkers.”
“There comes a point where the rules just give you a headache, because there are too many exceptions.”
“Any knowledge that you want, anything that's missing in your mind, any disconnect… somebody out there knows it..”

Transcript:

Introduction: Welcome to the Becoming SuperHuman Podcast, where we interview extraordinary people to bring you the skills and strategies to overcome the impossible. And now here's your host, Jonathan Levi.

Jonathan Levi: Greetings, SuperFriends and welcome to today's show. You guys this week we are joined by Olly Richard, the world-renowned language-learning expert behind iwillteachyoualanguage.com. You guys get this, Olly speaks no less than eight languages. And he's actually taught tens of thousands of people all over the world,

how to learn languages quickly and easily without all the headaches. He's also a successful entrepreneur and an author having written numerous books and online courses, and he even hosts his own top-rated podcast. Now, in this episode, I really wanted to connect with Olly in here, just what he has to say about language learning.

I wanted to know, you know, does he agree with the past experts that we've had on the show? Does he disagree? And if so, why? I also wanted to compare his strategies for accelerated learning with my own framework. So throughout the episode, you guys will see that Olly and I really, really hit it off. And we jammed about everything from language learning to memory techniques, to why all of this is so important.

Why should you care? All he shares with us, some really interesting and actually pretty surprising thoughts on how best to learn a language. And he even tells us about some amazing resources and tools that I had never heard of. It's a really great episode and it's packed with actionable takeaways. So whether or not you're interested in language learning, I think number one, you will be pretty soon.

And number two, I think you're going to take away quite a bit of new information. By the way, if you do enjoy this episode and you want to learn more about how you can accelerate your learning on anything from language learning to new skills, to programming languages, to new sports, I want to let you guys know about an opportunity to take a free trial of my best selling masterclass, the Become a SuperLearner Masterclass. You can sign up for that free trial, check it out, test your reading speed, test your comprehension and see where it is you stand there's absolutely no obligations, no credit card required. So to check that out, please visit jle.vi/learn and go ahead and get started today. Now, without any further ado, let me present to you guys my new super friend, Mr. Olly Richards.

Mr. Olly Richards welcome to the show, my friend. It is so good to speak again.How have you been?

Olly Richards: Up in really well, thank you for the invitation. It's great to be talking to you and everybody else out there., 

Jonathan Levi: Yeah pleasure. I'm bummed that the invitation wasn't what we originally planned, which was for you and Anthony to come here to Tel Aviv and hang out for a week.

But that just means that we get to talk one more time and next time we'll be even more well acquainted and I'll know even more about what you're doing so I'm stoked that we postponed it in the end. 

Olly Richards: Good things come to those who wait. 

Jonathan Levi: Indeed, indeed. So Olly, for those who haven't had the pleasure of being connected to you and we should give a big shout-out to our mutual friend, Dr. Anthony Metivier for connecting us but tell us a bit about your background and ultimately how and why you decided to learn eight, eight languages. 

Olly Richards: Yeah, what a question. I mean, it's all been a very organic thing for me, you know, like often there's my thing is languages, right? That's what I do, that's what I teach. And so often like I get this question, like, why did you learn eight languages?

I've actually studied 10 languages, but I wouldn't say I speak that many like, some of them I've studied and then forgotten over time. And, but it's been very gradual. I never kind of woke up one morning and said to myself, right I want to learn a bunch of languages. It started off very naturally. I was 19.

I didn't speak any languages that's when I was a late starter. My girlfriend at the time of two years, decided to break up with me, which when you're 19 really hurts, really badly. Yep. I kind of went a bit AWOL and I decided to get out of town for a bit. So I, I bought a one-way ticket on the Eurostar, under the channel tunnel to Paris. 

And I, uh, basically hung out in Paris for six months and, uh, tried hard to learn French and did it eventually through a lot of trial and error. But then, by the time I had actually learned to get by in French and speak fairly well, I kind of, I caught the bug and I thought, hey, you know, if I can do it in French, then why stop here?

Why not go on and learn something else? And so I left Paris and I spent a bit of time in Italy, picked up Italian and then moved back to London. And over the course of the next sort of 15 years, I went to spend some time in South America. And then I lived in Japan, in the Middle East, in Egypt. And, uh, you know, just basically picking up or focusing on languages as they kind of became important, in my life at that time. So very, very gradual, very natural process. I just kind of kept at it really. 

Jonathan Levi: That's beautiful. That's beautiful. And I sense, I was going to say there must have been a girl involved at some point in this journey, right? And I know your wife is, you speak with her in Chinese if I'm not mistaken. 

Olly Richards: No. Well actually we speak in English. She's from Hong Kong. Uh, okay. But she grew up in the UK. So we actually, we just speak English.

Jonathan Levi: Fair enough, but I think it's not a coincidence that you went to the romance languages and I'm sure there were plenty of lovely French and Italian women to motivate your language learning in the early days.

Olly Richards: Let's just say, uh, it would be a long conversation. 

Jonathan Levi: I love it. So here's my question. And I ask it because I think you probably have a very big, good answer to it. Why language learning? I mean, you've decided to devote your life to helping people learn languages, especially people who maybe think that they can't do it.

So I want to ask you why in the era of Google translate, do you feel it's still so important for people to learn additional languages? 

Olly Richards: I think the whole Google translate question really misses the point of why people actually learn languages in the first place. And there are many people, never get the language book, they are just simply not interested in it. 

But, as anybody who has fallen in love with the language will tell you, it's not about the translating. It's not about getting that email translated or that funny Facebook status translated into a, in doing it. It's not about that. It's about the way it enhances and changes your life when you learn to speak another language and they can then communicate with people from other countries. You know, it's such a human thing. We're all communicators, right? We all live by communicating with other people. And for those of us who have, you know, at some point had the realization that there is something else out there.

You know, for me, I grew up on an Island in the UK where we're all pretty close-minded people, you know, and, um, to come from that kind of background to discover the kind of the romance of Italy or the excitement of Brazil or the culture Japan, you know, every time you come across a new culture, you realize that there's so much stuff out there.

And there are so many other ways of thinking and ways of living your life and to speak a language and to communicate with others is a window to the world. And it's, I don't know anymore, really how that sounds to someone that's never had the interest to do it, but for anyone who's listening, who's ever had the language book will know exactly what I mean.

And that's why that's that's really well. Of course, there are other reasons like, you know, there are plenty of career advantages. There are studies that show how much I sort of study, uh, from the economist that showed if you learn a second language, you stand to make an extra $70,000 over the course of your career.

Wow. There's also studies that show it staves off the onset of dementia by up to five years. Kids who grew up multi-lingual they are more intelligent across the board, they're better problem solvers. The list goes on. Um, so there are all kinds of benefits, but above all, it's the humanity of the whole thing, really.

Jonathan Levi:  I couldn't agree with you more. And, you know, I would even tack on, I was hoping you would mention the cognitive benefits. You know, I'm always telling my father, my father is learning both Farsi or relearning Farsi and improving his Spanish. And he's still sharp as a tack. And despite the fact that we do have Alzheimer's in the family, And I'm always telling people language learning.

I mean, either a language or a musical instrument, one of these huge, very deep subjects, which in a way you could say that learning a musical instrument is very much like learning a language in the sense that it has grammar and it has kind of modularity about it, but it's one of the best ways to improve your mental fitness.

And beyond that, I do think, you know, the more languages I learn, the more effectively I learn across the board, but also the more easy it is to learn other languages because they just have so much more to connect to so many more neurons to connect to. And it's kind of just like increasing the surface area of my brain in a way that allows me to learn anything more effectively.

I would add also one other thing, which is, it's really interesting. And I I'd be interested to hear what you have to say about it, but I have a different personality in every language I speak. And it's interesting to get to know the Hebrew side of my personality and the way my humor is different in Hebrew or in Spanish versus English.

I don't yet have good enough Russian to have a sense of humor in Russian, but, uh, It's just like you said that the human aspect of it discovering not only other people's cultures but discovering a depth within yourself is just such a huge benefit that I think a lot of people don't cite. 

Olly Richards: Yeah. I mean, there's so many things that we could draw out of what you just said.

I mean, I think in terms of metacognitive stuff, the parallel with music and my background is in music actually, I went to music college and did four years of, uh, intense study, uh, in London. And I often think about the parallels between language learning and learning music. And I think the real thing that you train when you study music or languages is you've got to deal with the metacognitive side of the learning process, because if you simply like to use a musical analogy, if you simply practice your scales over and over again, and don't think about why they're not sounding great or think about how you can improve them or how you can make them smoother and improve your technique,

they're never going to improve. You're going to get these horrible fossilized habits. So you've got to think at every stage and how can I learn this better? How can I get better and live with languages? You know? And it's how I spend my own time really with my work is, is helping people understand the language learning process, why things happen the way they do.

Why there are certain difficulties and struggles that you have such that you can become a better learner and a bit of a thinker. And I think the music and the language, they forces you to reflect on your own learning, which has, it just makes you a more aware person, I think, in the way that you tackle everyday problems in your life.

And then, um, just secondly, on the personality point, absolutely 100% I, you know, and it just, in the last week have chatted to people in Cantonese, in Japanese and French and in Spanish. And I feel like a different person in each of those languages, because ultimately you're talking to other people and conversation is the art of adapting what you say, to communicate with someone else, right? 

So the personality of someone in a particular culture, if you were a person with any kind of awareness then you have to adapt the way that you think, and the way that you speak to meet that person, halfway, you know, and to communicate on their terms.

So it's, it's kind of half adapting your own personality, but what that really is, is being an effective communicator with the person that's listening. 

Jonathan Levi: Yeah. And developing those social skills. I want to ask you, Olly, what point did you realize, because as you said, you learned French the old-fashioned way.

At what point did you realize kind of that the normal way, as you said, you succeeded eventually. At what point did you realize that this normal way to learn languages just wasn't working, that it was defunct? 

Olly Richards: Well, I mean, pretty much straight away, I think. I mean, cause I had such little interest in languages at school that I just kind of put that out of my mind from the minute that I walked out of my high school at 16, you know. My world has been kind of a world of an independent learning since then. And, you know, school does have a place in a lot of the time I end, I do actually end up going back to fairly kind of rote learning techniques in my language learning, but I think the difference is now that because I had this awareness of how it fits into the overall thing, I kind of, I understand how, and when it can have a place, you know, so it's not that the, the so-called school system of learning languages is bad. It's just one very small part of a big puzzle that you need to solve in order to actually get somewhere with a language.

Jonathan Levi: All right. Very cool. So first before we get into kind of how you've hacked it, what's the fastest you've ever been able to become conversational in a language? 

Olly Richards: And it really depends how you define conversational, you know. It's a very difficult question to answer, even in like my strongest languages, which would be Spanish and Portuguese, I'm still improving and still learning.

So at what point did I become conversational? Difficult to say, I mean, I recently went on a trip to Thailand and I often got to Thailand and I really wanted to stop using English. I wanted to be able to speak Thai, right. So, I went to Thailand and I studied Thai intensively for two weeks. And I actually, documented the whole thing on YouTube.

And if you go to YouTube and search for Olly Richards you'll find it there. There's these daily videos of watching, documenting me learning Thai from zero. And then after two weeks, you know, I couldn't really say I was conversational in the sense that, you know, if you parachuted me into some random street in

Bangkok and said, talk to that street vendor, I'd be limited, you know. But at the end of the two weeks, I recorded a 45-minute conversation with my teacher, 100% in Thai. Now there's not a realistic scenario because she knew what I could and couldn't say and do, right? But nevertheless, we could maintain an interesting conversation in Thai and I was asking her about her daughters and if they were enjoying playing Pokemon and, and things like that.

So we had some sort of level, we had an interesting conversation limited in many ways, but you know what I really wanted to sort of demonstrate in that particular project was that you can get to a point very quickly where you can really use the language for communication.

And then from that point onwards, it's like one long journey of iteration, really. It's like gradually adding new vocabulary, practicing more, becoming confident. But in more general terms for a kind of familiar language, which for a native English speaker would be something like French or Spanish or Italian.

Typically I'd be looking at about three months, I think, to have a kind of decent conversation level. Wow. Where you're going to enjoy conversations, still tons of mistakes and not what you call fluent, but I'm like that kind of minimum viable level where you can actually, you're stopping the language.

Jonathan Levi: That's brilliant. And I just want to reflect on a couple of things. The first is just kind of how sincere you are about it and, and saying, you know, this is not a, you're not going to learn in two weeks. And I think it's true that you'll potentially never speak like a native English speaker. I mean, I've lived in Israel, for three years and I still make issues with feminine and masculine.

And when the masculine is plural and the singular is that, you know, weird stuff like that. But also just that you reflect this point that it's not about being perfect. And a lot of people, I think, come with this attitude that, well, I'll never speak perfectly, so I better just either keep practicing or why bother.

And it's so not about that. And it's so much fun to meet new people and share a good laugh with them when, you know, you make some huge grammatical error, that's some totally different meaning and word. I find those experiences to be so much fun and so rewarding. It's really not about speaking the language perfectly.

Olly Richards: Yeah. I mean, of course, it's a good to aspire to speaking accurate, but that's a lifetime's work. In any language, it's a lifetime's work to truly become truly fluent. And then there's even people who live their entire life. Henry Kissinger is a great example that the US politician of someone who came to the, who came to the US when he was young-ish and now speaks in the most sort of perfect articulate English you can imagine. As well as any native speaker, and yet he has the worst accent. Yeah. The worst German accent you can possibly imagine. And you don't think any less of him because of it, you know. So a lot of these things such as accent, such as grammar, such as, you know, those pesky masculine, feminine, singular, plural verb ending, noun endings.

You know, if you focus on them, yeah, they'll cause you a lot of trouble, but you can have a perfectly fulfilled life and have the language really enhance your life in every way while still making mistakes. 

Jonathan Levi: Incredible. So before we move on to the methodology, I know people are probably dying in the audience to hear how do you do it, but what are the eight languages that you do speak?

And which ones are the most challenging? I think you've mentioned seven so far. 

Olly Richards: Yeah. So in chronological order, I have studied French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. Those are the European ones and then Japanese, Cantonese, Arabic, and then more recently German and Thai, as well. But in terms of fluency, I mean, it's all across the board.

I've got like Spanish where I consider myself fully fluent and then German where I'm complete beginner. 

Jonathan Levi: Yeah. Awesome. Okay. Okay. Out of curiosity, which was the most challenging for you? 

Olly Richards: Asian languages. Yeah. Were and still are. I mean, like, you know, Japanese and Cantonese, I spent a lot of my time working on, I don't really ever see a day where I'll finish studying them, honestly.

Jonathan Levi: That's so awesome. And I feel the same way honestly, about Hebrew, even though I use it every single day. It's kind of like an onion. Like every time you peel back a layer, you realize there's another layer, like there's biblical Hebrew or there's this high-level Hebrew that's really only used at eulogies and in poetry.

And I mean, even in English I could stand to improve my English. So it just goes to show you that maybe what's so beautiful about languages as in music is that you can never really finish the subject like you could, you know, so many other things, like you can learn everything there is to know about javascript and know every single possible permutation of writing code in a certain way.

I don't know javascript, I'm sure someone in the audience will correct me on that, but with languages, there's just so so much. And you meet these Russian folks who look up so much to Pushkin because he spoke 50,000 words. I think that's just incredible. 

Olly Richards: I think it's also important to think about the implication of that for you and your life as well.

Because one of the topics that comes up a lot in my podcast is people are saying, and I'm stressing out about this or stressing out about that. And so often my reply is like, listen, unless you have an exam to pass next week, just chill out. It doesn't matter. Enjoy yourself. Like the process of like learning is a pleasure and like the journey of, you know, when you first put together those first words in a language and you put together a sentence and the other person understands it.

Like you got to treasure those moments and enjoy the process and the beauty of the learning journey. Or if you're constantly focusing on the results, you're going to, you know, read your old age and realize you forgot to enjoy yourself along the way. 

Jonathan Levi: I love that. And it seems like you and I have very much the same philosophy. So Olly let's get into the part that I'm sure people are so excited about. How do you do it? Give us a broad overview, if you were to tackle, say Hebrew right now, how would you apply this unique language learning methodology that you've shared with so many people?

Olly Richards: Okay. Am I staying at home or am I going to Israel? 

Jonathan Levi: Ooh, good question. I'm not sure. Let's assume you're staying at home and you'll make a brief visit to Israel at some point. 

Olly Richards: Yeah. Yeah. So given the choice, I would stay at home and, oh, interesting. Yeah. This is a kind of a counterintuitive thing because a lot of people think, well, the best way to learn a language is to go to the country, right? 

Well, maybe, but I don't know about you, but whenever I've traveled to another country, half the time, people just speak to me in English and I'm more concerned with having fun than I am studying the language. Bingo. So language learning happens in stages. And there are certain points, certain stages, I guess, where you can't get around the fact, you just need to learn stuff, right?

There's no point talking about fancy, sexy methods when you still haven't learned how to say hello or the days of the week or whatever. So if I was going to learn Hebrew right now, the first thing I would do is I'd go down to the bookshop. We've got a great bookshop in London called foils with probably the best language book department in, well, I haven't been everywhere in the world, but it's, it's amazing.

And I would look through all the Hebrew books and I would find a book, like a beginner's textbook, to study for, and I would basically devote the next two or three months probably to going through that book from cover to cover, that's my first task. Wow. Interesting. 

Jonathan Levi: Okay. I did not expect that. 

Olly Richards: Yeah, and most people don't. And the reason is that you need to learn the basics of the language, right?

You need to get the basics of grammar and you need to learn that core vocabulary. And there's no point, you're going elsewhere, trying to reinvent the wheel. When many people have spent years putting together these coursebooks, which contain all that information, right? Beginner's books already have everything you need.

It might not be particularly glamorous, but it's all in there. And so, like most people in an effort to find like a cool app or some website or whatever, they actually overlook the fact that you've got everything you need right there. The hardest thing of all is then sort of waking up in the morning and committing an hour to actually going through that book every day.

Like that's where most people will fall down. And so then they start to get distracted by some app that they've read about. So my strength, I think, as a learner is that I'm sort of willing to do those things, which are, the kind of the routine tasks of actually learning and building this core knowledge, I would simply set aside the next couple of months of going through that book cover to cover.

Now the couple of things to point out the first of which is that I would look for a book that is full of dialogues because rather than actually kind of studying or doing all the exercises that they give you in a beginner's textbook, I would mostly ignore the exercises, I might do a few here and there.

I would spend most of my time just reading and listening to the dialogues and the textbook. So I'm actually spending time with the language as it's actually spoken. So I spend every day reading and listening and I would learn the vocabulary from those dialogues. And that's what I would then focus on,

throughout the book. So by the time I get to the end, I will have studied maybe 20 or so dialogues and learned all of the main grammar patterns in the language, a lot of the basic vocabulary. And generally just got to grips with the language. I don't know any faster way of doing that. An alternative might be to go and sign up to a class, but then you're dependent on the teacher and the speed that they want to go at, so I just prefer to do it on my own. So that's the core strategy for starting up. Now, at some point during that journey and it kind of is going to depend on the language to a certain extent, but I would look to start speaking fairly soon. And my basic formula is to look for a tutor, probably not a professional teacher, but just a tutor.

So a native speaker who is willing to spend some time with me in the language. And what I would do is I would take the contents of one chapter from the textbook to the lesson and say, right, I want to practice this with you now. So let's say that chapter three in my textbook was all about talking about daily routines.

You know, I wake up and have a shower in the morning at six o'clock. Then I go to work at seven at whatever, that chapter going to contain vocabulary and grammar that's relevant to talking about daily routines. So I'm going to spend a few lessons with my tutor um, practicing saying that stuff and that's going to help me get it off the page into real life.

Say it myself, get a bit of feedback from my teacher, listen to her, using those words as well so I start to recognize them basically start to manipulate the language. And so I'm studying the textbook and then actually using it in a kind of controlled conversation environment and keeping that up for as long as I can.

That's the kind of first part of the process. 

Jonathan Levi: Fantastic. So I am pretty surprised because so many language learning experts will tell you, throughout the textbook, I think it's really interesting what you said that there's so much accumulated wisdom there. So how do you go about accelerating the process?

Olly Richards: You mean at that time, like during that first stage? 

Jonathan Levi: Uh, no, just in general, why is it that people are able to learn languages so much more effectively using your methodology? 

Olly Richards: I mean, this is not really my methodology. For me, it's kind of common sense really in a way. I think a more interesting question is why do people screw up?

Yeah. And why do they fail? Because let's be honest of all the people, you know, who have ever set out to learn a language I would wager that most of them never got past, less than one, right. And they certainly can't use the language. Statistically, if you look around most people who have tried to set out to learn the language, they don't succeed.

So for me, that's the more interesting question and what I think I do well is I don't mess up. I don't stop. I try not to, I guess what I'm saying is I know to trust in the process and I know that by simply having one aim, which is to build this foundational knowledge of the language and then start to practice it as soon as possible with kind of safe person.

I know that by doing that, I'm going to learn everything I need. What will happen to most people is they'll start to get distracted. They'll start to look for a different way. They'll start to get bored of going through that textbook. They probably won't start speaking so they will lose motivation. And after a few weeks, they'll forget why they started learning that language in the first place.

It doesn't seem so sexy anymore. And so for me, that's what you got to focus on for most people listening, that's the danger. If they can kind of control that take this view, this kind of longer term view of the process and say, right, this is what I'm focusing on for three months, and actually do it, like you don't need me to tell you what to do.

Jonathan Levi: Wow. That's so great. Does that make sense that. It does. I mean, I saw a lot of myself in that even with the accelerated learning techniques. I mean, I got really excited about Russian, almost, I think a year and a half ago, maybe two years ago. And you know, I have all the memory techniques, so I would sit there every day and I would learn 30 new words in, you know, 20 or 30 minutes and I still know those words, but then, you know, you get to the less exciting stuff, the less sexy stuff, like the grammar and hooking it all together, which one could argue, lends itself less to memory techniques that I think I've figured out a way that I can hack it, but you lose motivation very fast.

And there's such a diminishing marginal return where your first hour of studying a language, you're learning amazing things that completely open up new avenues of conversation. The hundredth hour, you're learning the very minute difference in grammatical cases, you know, or you're memorizing the genders of different words.

So I do think that's really, really interesting. 

Olly Richards: And this is why I think the most effective language learners that I know, they will ultimately figure out a way of creating this very holistic approach to learning. They like most like prolific language numbers, they don't have specific techniques so much that they use.

Like you won't see them sitting there learning hundreds of words, memorize, like committing stuff to memory. And, because although that can be helpful in a certain context. They know, these people know that the way to really make progress is by doing it all together. And that if you actually spend time with language listening, reading, speaking, and you do that in an effective way, everything else is the learning vocabulary, a lot of the time is a byproduct of that. And certainly in the case of grammar, you know, learning difficult grammar, like the case endings in Russian for example, is, yeah, you've got to learn the rules, but if you just try and learn those rules, you'll be forever confused.

 Like really, really absorbing those case endings is a by-product of a lot of reading in the language, you know, such that you have such exposure to the language that the rules become instinctive. It's like in Spanish when you have the difference is impor empara or ser and instar. Yeah, there are books with rules for those verbs and prepositions in them, but Spanish people can't explain them to you.

They just know it instinctively. Of course. You got to kind of got to come at it from this view of like, how do I develop that instinctive understanding of the language? And so that's why after that, that first stage of just kind of amassing this like foundational knowledge. That's it comes a bit more difficult after that, because then you have to talk about, well, how do you actually create an environment where you can become like, not necessarily immersed in the language, but how do you spend time with it?

So you're using, you're developing all four skills. You're not, kind of looking at single words or rules in isolation, but you're kind of, you're doing it in such a way that the, you can kind of develop this understanding instinctively. All right. 

Jonathan Levi: So in your programs, essentially, you offer a step-by-step program per language, as opposed to someone like, you know, Benny, who's a mutual friend of both of us and Anthony who gives you the kind of tools and then sets you on your own to apply those tools, things like mnemonic techniques and so on. 

Olly Richards: It's a kind of a mix. I mean, most of my training actually does focus on the meta stuff. And so when my main program, which is called language learning foundations is essentially a more detailed explanation of what I've just given you.

So it was okay well, how, because, here's the thing that most people, because as we said earlier, most people will fail almost fall at the first hurdle, you know, in terms of not getting up and starting to stay motivated. So what I really do is I show people, okay, well, what are the materials you need? What materials are gonna work best for you?

How do you study those dialogues in the textbook? How do you find someone to speak with? How do you memorize vocabulary when it comes up and it doesn't seem to stick? How do you plan your week so that you you've got a kind of study structure that makes sense and is going to maximize opportunities for learning, things like that?

So I have a few courses like that. I have other things that focus on memory and on time management, but increasingly I'm actually focusing on specific languages. Cause I think that's, you know, most people aren't systems thinkers like we are, you know Jonathan, of most people don't really, I guess, I mean, listeners to this podcast probably are systems thinkers, but the general public, I think they just kind of want a language on a plate.

You know, they kind of looking for it look, teach me, French. Don't talk to me about all this funny stuff, just teach me the language. So I I'm sort of at the moment, thinking of ways to kind of combine the techniques that I talk about with an actual language program, because I think that's probably gonna help me have a bigger impact.You know, across the board.

Jonathan Levi: I love that. And I think you're absolutely right. I think so many people for better or worse need just a step by step by step process. And if that's language specific, all the better. And I know, I attribute a lot of the success that we've had with our online courses to, hey, you can learn these memory techniques on YouTube.

You can learn speed reading, anywhere in the world but, we have a methodology that's going to take you step by step and hold your hand. And I think, I think that's the way it really people need to learn. And that's the big opportunity with online learning is you can just devote so many hours and so many resources to helping someone learn step by step that you could and if it were a one-on-one course, I mean, answering any question anytime of day, prerecording the most thorough, most in-depth exercise, uh, explanations and so on and so forth. 

Olly Richards: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that's the challenge for us, isn't it? It's like one thing is to know how to do this stuff. And, uh, you know, how I spend my days is really thinking about what's the best way to most effective way of actually helping people to learn from this and to implement it themselves.

Jonathan Levi: Agreed. Now, do you guys also teach visual mnemonics similar to myself and Anthony? I mean, using visual symbols and creative pictures. Okay. Very cool. And then how do you guys tackle grammar. I mean, I wanted to ask you, what's the number one hurdle facing most people when it comes to a language, but for me, it's always been grammatical structure.

So I'll ask it a different way, which is how do you tackle grammar? Is it just a matter of reading and allowing the grammar to kind of sink in? 

Olly Richards: Well, it depends on the language in many ways, you know, because if you're learning Spanish, it's very different to learning Russian, which is very different to learning Japanese, which is very, very different than learning Arabic.

So there's always kind of different. But, um, you know, you, you need to spend a bit of time with the rules you know. You've got to read the rules so that you know them. But there comes a point where the rules just give you a headache because there are, there seem to be too many exceptions. Right. And so it's, you know, as any English learners will tell you, like learning how to accurately use the present perfect in English, is just the most confusing thing in the world that we do it naturally. Right. But most people, if I asked them, can you explain that what the perfect aspect is, which is actually the way that you talk about something in the past, which still has some connection to the future is, you know, most people wouldn't know what the hell you were talking about.

So the thing about grammar is you've got, you've got to do a bit of study and you have to make sure that you do understand the rules, but you ultimately need to have enough exposure to the language so that you can internalize it. So I don't honestly tend to worry too much about grammar. I really don't.

You know, it's like there are studies that show that if you actually look at the communication of meaning. So as we're speaking now, like what aspects of what I'm saying to you that, that you understand are a result of vocabulary and which are a result of the grammar that I'm using my English? Can you guess, like, what do you think the proportions are there?

Jonathan Levi: I have a feeling that it's going to go with the golden 80-20. 

Olly Richards: Yeah. I mean, who knows what it really is, but, um, I think it's even more than that. It's kind of 95-5, well, it's that level of, of importance. Wow. So the implication of that is that you know, at the early stages, really vocabulary should be your main focus along with really fundamental grammar. Over time,

it's, you know, you need grammar in order to give nuance and more detailed meaning to the stuff that you're talking about. But really the only way to do that is by doing a lot of reading. Because you can't take in the rules in that abstract form efficiently enough. You know, you've got to just get used to the way the grammar is used and be patient.

I know it's probably not a very sort of satisfactory answer, but it kind of that's the mindset you need over the long term. 

Jonathan Levi: Well, it makes sense. And I think actually it is pretty satisfactory because what you're saying is kind of a departure from memorizing all the rules. I mean, a lot of people come at it and they're like, I'm going to learn all the cases and all the tenses and all the everything.

When in fact, and I've heard this said before, by people who speak many languages, it's better to just kind of let your brain do what it's meant to do. I mean, the brain is so good at understanding language that let it do what a native speaker would do. Children just start to figure this out as they listen to the language enough, like I will have been, starts to make sense.

Right. And, and let your brain do its thing. 

Olly Richards: Here's the thing like most people, I think they will end up at a point where they're saying, why is this grammar so hard? How how can I learn grammar? Because they're not spending enough time with the language. If they were spending enough time listening and reading to the language, what they would find was those worries and concerns over grammar would start to diminish over time because they are finding the answer to those questions in the language itself.

Jonathan Levi: Right. Right. And just through good old-fashioned practice.

Olly Richards: Yeah, which is not, and it's important to say this one, which is not to say that grammar is not important because sometimes people say screw grammar, you don't need it, but I don't agree with that. I think grammar is extremely important and you do need it.

But what we're doing here, as people are talking about languages, we're kind of fighting against the status quo, which is that language classroom and textbooks teaching grammar. And they do that because it's the easiest thing to teach. It's difficult to teach someone how to memorize vocabulary. It's difficult to teach people how to speak, right?

But it's very, very easy to teach grammar, which is basically a list of rules. It lends itself very nicely to teaching and that's why it's taught so much, but that doesn't stack up when you actually look at the relative importance to speaking the language. Right. 

Jonathan Levi: It's the same thing I always say, you know, the fastest way to teach someone in a classroom is the way that we teach it, the sounding it out.

That doesn't mean that long-term, it's the best way to learn it, or the best way for you to kind of digest it. 

Olly Richards: Yeah, it's complex.

Jonathan Levi:  Definitely. So I want to transition and talk in a little bit more general terms, Olly, because as Anthony has told me, you've been able to learn quite a lot about entrepreneurship.

I know he very much looks up to your knowledge about entrepreneurship, marketing, management, and just the business that you've been able to grow. So my question is this, have you experienced kind of any bleed or acceleration of your learning across the board as a result of the work you've done in language learning?

And if so, what are some of the strategies that make you a faster learner? 

Olly Richards: I'm a huge believer in education and self-learning. I mean, I have spent so much time and money on my own education. When I first, you know, I didn't realize that there was such a thing as a kind of polyglots language learning community online until 2013, I stumbled across a video of someone on YouTube and, um, you know, I've since spent many years watching and learning from other people. 

I still have the same ability with languages um, three years ago, as I do now, the difference is I'm much better at articulating it now. And that has come from observing the way that a lot of other people talk about languages, learning from them, you know, standing on the shoulders of giants, you know, and, um, I think that's why I'm, I'm much better now.

I actually talking about these issues a, with some degree of clarity, I think because I've kind of been over them so many times. And with these issues in general, there's always a process in there. You somewhere starts off being new to you. So, you know, someone listening to this who has never had any experience with languages, may well be listening to this thinking, wow, I had no idea this was a thing. But then over the course of the next couple of years, if they keep learning about languages pretty soon, their mind is going to start to distill the most important features of that to the point where it's just becomes accepted knowledge, accepted wisdom.

And I followed that same pattern with everything else that I've done I think with, in terms of, you know, my work online I've spent oh, I wouldn't even be able to guess how much time I've actually spent learning about the way that the online businesses are run and set up. I've listened to hours of podcasts, and audiobooks, and read tons of books.

I've taken training courses. I basically just become a student of the thing. And I think I've realized one of the big realizations I've had over the last couple of years, I think is that any knowledge that you want, anything that missing in your mind, any disconnect, somebody out there knows it. Yep. You could have that knowledge by the end of the day. The only barrier most cases is money, which is kind of the way our society works, I guess.

But I've always set out with this approach of, okay like I know that there are people out there that have the answers that answers to my questions. And I think I've been prepared to, sort of pay it forward and do things like invest in my education, join mastermind groups with people who can help me out with that.

Um, make friends with people such as Anthony, for example, who's taught me a lot about these things and, um, much in the same way as like my approach to learning something difficult, like grammar is just like take the holistic approach. Stick at it and don't stop. They tend to have the same kind of belligerent approach to most things I do.

And then over time, that kind of just becomes knowledge and it kind of works its way into your general practice. And that's really the kind of the way I approach everything. 

Jonathan Levi: I love it. And, you know, I think what's interesting is I detected a note of what I would call brute force learning in your response, which is learning, so many people make this mistake like you said of learning from one source. 

When in fact you're listening to podcasts and you're interviewing people and you're talking to people and you're meeting people and you're reading blog posts and books, and just learning it from so many different sources. And I think where so many people go wrong as they think that that's being non-focused when in fact that's kind of covering all your bases and making sure that you're learning it and reinforcing the learning over and over.

Olly Richards: I think there is a degree of control though because I mean, in the case of, in general, at the moment, for example, my life is divided pretty much into, all my professional life

I'd say it's divided into three kind of buckets. One of which is language learning, so I spend time actually learning languages myself, but do it every morning. It's also fitness, I spend a lot of time going to the gym, mostly to make up for like 10 years of not going to the gym, but, nevertheless, just like something that I'm focused on.

Right. And I'm learning about it, I have a trainer, all those things. And then the third part is, my work. And, um, for each of those three things, I'm fairly single-minded about it. Like, I, I don't necessarily set out in a very structured way to learn how to do those things well, but I do take this very kind of belligerent attitude of like, I'm going to do this thing.

And then anything that comes from my way, I'll suck it up and all them, I'll absorb it and I'll learn it. And you know, when you focus on it, I made a video about this just yesterday, that when you focus on something know there's kind of single purpose, the world will mold itself to help you get there. And it just comes from the force of you deciding, declaring almost that you want this thing, and I'm providing that you will then willing to work hard and open to opportunities that come up.

You know, there's not much standing in your way really, other than time and, um, the occasional hiccup. 

Jonathan Levi: Absolutely. So Olly, tell me this, what products or services could you simply not do your job without specifically ones that relate to learning languages or communicating, stuff like that?

Olly Richards: Yeah, so, I mean, in languages, I mean, it does tend to change depending on the language I'm learning, but the things that I use every day are I use a flashcards app called Flashcards Deluxe.

Other people use Anki what, uh, like a, it's a basic spaced repetition. I don't use it so much for the space repetition, but I use it as a kind of single point of storing all my vocabulary so that anytime someone wants to review something, it's there inside the flashcards app. Cool. Which is, um, yeah, there's like my single storage place.

Cause I hate any hundreds of notebooks everywhere. Then I use an app called Speater, which is S P E A T E R, this app is called Smart Repeat on Android. Uh, Speater is an iPhone only phone. What that does is that's like a, kind of a one touch audio app for listening to stuff. So you can add the touch of a button you can skip back two seconds or five seconds, or put a certain part on repeat or slow it down to half speed or three-quarter speed or something like that.

And that yeah, and you can probably guess what that's for, but as for kind of focused listening. So if I'm listening to one of the dialogues from the textbook that I talked about earlier, I'm going to use that app to just help me listen to it. So I don't have to, you know, that when you're trying to listen to something on repeat, you're on iTunes and you're trying to scroll that thing, that little point of backward, five seconds when you go back 30 seconds, it's just so inefficient. 

Right. So this app, it makes listening to an absolute joy to do. I'm learning Chinese characters at the moment, and I'm using an app called Skritter, which is amazing. S K R I T T E R. And then more generally I use Evernote as a kind of repository for all my ideas, for anything that comes into my mind.

Love it. When I'm walking down the street, whether it's an idea for a video or a blog post, I want to write or a word I want to remember, it goes straight into Evernote and, um, yeah, it keeps everything in one place. It's just the way I like. Those are some good tools. The first two I've never heard of. And the last one I use religiously, I'm using it right now for this interview.

Jonathan Levi: Cool. Awesome. Olly, are you a reader? I mean, besides grammatical books, what books have most impacted you in your life? 

Olly Richards: I'm not a massive reader I have to be honest. I tend to consume more audio simply because of the way my life works out. I tend not to be patient enough to sit down and read for extended periods of time.

Um, so I tend to, um, consume books by audio and there have been a few books that have really, uh, impacted on me recently. But I think the main one at the last few years, the one that I definitely couldn't do without is a book called The One Thing. Oh, interesting. And it became very popular a couple of years back, and it's a way of looking at big challenges and achieving huge goals in whatever it may be, your business or your life.

And it breaks it down in such a way that, you with one thing only to focus on. And they have a, it sounds very stale the way I'm explaining it. But much of the, the success of the book, I think is the way that it's, um, it's written and the journey that it takes you on. And, but it's been incredibly someone like me who has a fairly scattered mind like it's been incredibly helpful in terms of focusing me on the things that I need to do each day to get me further towards longer-term goals. Cause I struggle working for myself. You know, sometimes I'm like, I, how you say no to things. I have a million projects I want to do. And you know, anything that helps me focus, condense things down, become more objective with what I'm doing is a good thing.

And this book was just amazing for that, highly recommended it. Awesome. 

Jonathan Levi: So I definitely need to check that one out. I actually, uh, I've heard of it once or twice. I haven't had a chance to read it. Olly so I know we're coming up on time here. I want to ask you our last two closing questions first and most importantly, where can people learn more and get in touch with you?

Olly Richards: Yeah, well, um, I'm all over social media and, uh, I'd love to get messages to feel free to hit me up. You can just search for Olly Richards on Facebook or Twitter, you'll find me there. You probably like podcasts and you're listening to this. So if you would like to learn more about language learning, anything come over to the, I Will Teach You A Language Podcast, which is, uh, in all the usual places.

And then I also have a blog over iwillteachyoualanguage.com, where you can sort of follow me on some of these kind of crazy language experiments that I take up and, um, you know, get a few ideas along the way to improve your own language learning.

Jonathan Levi: Awesome. And  we will definitely put a link to all of that stuff in the show notes for anyone who's driving, don't risk your life and try and jot it all down.

Now, Olly, the last question. And then, uh, I think you, and I should definitely make some time to connect offline and hopefully get you to Tel Aviv. But, Sure. Last thing I wanted to ask you is if people take away really one big message from this episode and they carry it with them for the rest of their lives, what would you hope for that to be.

Olly Richards: I would say that language learning is something that brings such incredible joy and fulfillment to your life in ways that you probably can't imagine if you haven't tried doing it yet. So it's something that you should, you know, I wouldn't want you to go through your life without really learning or discovering the joy that can come from it. But it is something which you succeed at through patience, time, and hard work and it's not something to be rushed or to be hacked really is something to have part of your lifestyle to make it a lifestyle thing in order to really both enjoy it and to, and to get the benefits from it over time. And, uh, yeah, if anyone has any further questions about that. Feel free to reach out. I'd love to help. 

Jonathan Levi: Fantastic. Olly, I want to thank you so much for making the time. I know you're a very busy guy running your business and learning languages. And I think people learned quite a lot from this episode. So I really look forward to the next time we chat.

Olly Richards: Yeah, me too, man. Thanks very much. Great questions. And it's been a lot of fun. 

Jonathan Levi: My pleasure. Take care, Olly. 

Olly Richards: All right, then. See you soon. 

Jonathan Levi: All right Superfriends, that's it for this week's episode, we hope you really, really enjoyed it and learn a ton of applicable stuff that can help you go out there and overcome the impossible.

If so, please do us a favor and leave us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, or however you found this podcast. In addition to that, we are. Always looking for great guest posts on the blog or awesome guests right here on the podcast. So if you know somebody or you are somebody, or you have thought of somebody who would be a great fit for the show or for our blog, please reach out to us either on Twitter or by email our email is info@becomingasuperhuman.com. Thanks so much. 

Closing: Thanks for tuning in to the Becoming Superhuman Podcast. For more great skills and strategies, or for links to any of the resources mentioned in this episode, visit www.becomingasuperhuman.com/podcast. We'll see you next time.

 

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18 Comments

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