A Language Expert’s Critical Look at My TED Talk

It’s been more than two years since I opened my mailbox and found an invitation to appear at a prestigious TED Conference in New York. Having only three weeks to put my presentation together didn’t discourage me; after all, one does not reject such an opportunity, right?! I accepted the offer and decided to give it my all, even though I already had plans to appear at a different conference, the Language Mentoring team was in the middle of launching a new course, I was sick and well aware of the fact that going to New York on such short notice would not be easy at all.

But it was well worth the effort! 🙂 In the two and a half years since my TED Talk was published on the Internet, it has been seen by almost 12 million people. One of them was Olly Richards, a well-known polyglot who recently analyzed it with the critical eye of an experienced language professional. Most English learners will definitely know Olly from his popular podcast “I Will Teach You A Language”, in which he looks at various aspects of learning foreign languages and speaks in his amazing British accent as a bonus. Apart from that, he also makes videos for his YouTube channel. Recently, he published a video in which he reacts to the ideas from my TED Talk.

Olly is an experienced polyglot who speaks 8 languages, so I was really curious to see his reaction. It was interesting to see where our opinions on learning languages converge and which ideas presented in the lecture he considers the most interesting. You can watch Olly’s video (in English) here:

Olly’s comments could be summarized in the following way:

  • Learn from someone who’s been through the learning process themselves. You don’t have to test all the available methods yourself, just “copy” experienced polyglots to find the really effective ones. All the methods I recommend in Language Mentoring are ones that have not only been tried and tested by me, but also by thousands of other happy learners, and I truly believe that everyone will find a few which they consider useful among them.
  • Polyglots are not geniuses, they’re regular people who have discovered a passion for languages and found a way to learn them that doesn’t feel like torture, but is actually fun.
  • Learning has to be enjoyable, but just having fun is not enough to learn a foreign language. You also need a system which you will follow and which will motivate you to spend time with your language even on days when you really don’t feel like learning.
  • Don’t try to do everything at once. Choose a few specific methods at the beginning which you want to use (e.g., podcasts, Goldlist, and self-talk) and create a learning plan that will tell you what you should do each day. It’s important to learn regularly and keep it up in the long run. Be patient because you won’t see progress right away, but it will come after some time.
  • I often come across people who, upon hearing my ideas about learning languages, simply shrug and say something along the lines of “It’s easy for you to say, since you have a talent for languages.” But, as Olly says in the video, their problem is not a lack of talent, but their way of learning. One simply cannot rely on a textbook or a teacher to teach them a language. They need to try new things, find out what works for them and stick with it.

It is clear from Olly’s comments that he sees learning languages in the same way I do and at the end of his video, he actually gave my Talk 10/10 points. I’m honored and really happy to have been given such a high score. 🙂

If you want to watch or re-watch my TED Talk, you can do so below:

If you feel like we’ve mentioned TED before, you’re not wrong. In Language Mentoring, we often recommend TED videos as a fantastic source of listening materials, so if you’re interested in this format, you can start with my video and then fully dive into the world of the most interesting ideas from the world’s biggest experts. Enjoy!

Would you like to get lots of tried and tested tips on how to effectively learn a language and where to begin? Then sign up for my free webinar, in which you’ll find out:

  • How to learn a foreign language in two years, even with a full-time job.
  • Three effective and free methods for learning any language, which you can immediately apply in real life.
  • Four simple steps for sticking to your learning and never losing motivation.
sign up for webinar by language mentor Lydia Machova

Lýdia Machová

Language mentor
I have learned 9 languages by myself, and I usually add a new one every two years. As a language mentor I've helped thousands of people to learn languages by themselves, in ways different from traditional classroom methods, and with much better and faster results. I'm a TED and TEDx speaker and a former organizer of the Polyglot Gathering, one of the biggest world events for polyglots.

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