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  • (rich tango music)

  • (audience applause)

  • - So, I want to start off by telling the story

  • that got me started in all this.

  • Basically, I had just graduated and I moved to Spain.

  • I went to this dinner.

  • There was an international exchange group.

  • People from all around the world.

  • And I sit beside this guy from Brazil.

  • Very interesting guy.

  • He gave me the most impressive multilingual show

  • I'd even seen in my life.

  • Basically, another Brazilian came in.

  • He turned to him and he said something like,

  • (speaking in a foreign language)

  • And he turned immediately straight over

  • to this French girl who was chatting him up

  • because he was a good-looking guy.

  • He's like,

  • (speaking in a foreign language)

  • And then he turned directly to the organiser,

  • the Spaniard, and he's like,

  • (speaking in a foreign language)

  • And then he turned back to me and he says

  • with a very strong American accent--

  • Actually, I can't do American accents.

  • Sorry.

  • (audience laughs)

  • I asked him,

  • "How did you do this?

  • "How are you speaking all these languages?"

  • Because I was actually--

  • I could only speak English.

  • This is eight years ago.

  • I had grown up thinking I just don't have...

  • I just can't do it.

  • It's not possible because I took German

  • and Irish or Gaeilge in school.

  • I did very badly at them.

  • So I kind of figured I don't have the language talent,

  • the language gene, you know.

  • I figured I knew everything about genetics

  • even though I didn't study it.

  • I figured I was sure I don't have the language gene.

  • I had plenty of other excuses or reasons

  • that many people can relate to.

  • I didn't really have the time

  • or the resources.

  • And I was too old.

  • Even though I was 21, I figured that's it.

  • I'm too old because I'm past the age.

  • It's like I heard--

  • Somebody told me that 14 is this cutoff age

  • that you can't learn a language anymore.

  • I was sure of that.

  • I figured you have to learn it as a child.

  • That's it.

  • So these are reasons most people have.

  • I had an extra reason.

  • It was that I actually was sick when I was growing up

  • and I had to go to speech therapy.

  • I actually had trouble learning English

  • and I still kind of stumble

  • and pronounce things incorrectly at times.

  • Most of the things you're hearing me

  • pronouncing incorrectly now is actually

  • my Irish accent.

  • Don't worry about that.

  • I was sure.

  • I was a hundred percent sure.

  • It's not possible.

  • I asked this guy,

  • "How are you doing this?

  • "How are you speaking all these languages?"

  • And he just said,

  • "I don't know.

  • "I'm just trying to speak them.

  • "Going up to the person and using the language."

  • And I said,

  • "No, no. It can't be that simple."

  • I challenged myself.

  • I thought, "I'm going to do this.

  • "I want to learn Spanish."

  • You know?

  • Because I'd just moved to Spain and I decided

  • instead of just having a quick internship

  • where I just speak in English because

  • I'd just graduated as an electronic engineer.

  • So I was just all like right-left brain.

  • I was good at mathematics.

  • Bad at languages.

  • But I figured, no, I can figure this out.

  • I can find a way to learn this language.

  • So I dived into everything I could think of.

  • I went to a course that was very expensive.

  • There was just three or four other people

  • in the classroom.

  • Went to that for several weeks.

  • Didn't work.

  • I started studying a lot of books.

  • Didn't work.

  • I got some CD courses, some software.

  • It didn't work.

  • I tried to read a book.

  • My first choice was not particularly clever, I think.

  • It was "El Señor de los Anillos".

  • The Lord of the Rings.

  • I thought, "I'll read this. I'll read this in Spanish."

  • I had my dictionary which I would consult

  • every second word, basically.

  • I made it to two pages and then I thought,

  • "Okay. I'm not going to keep this up."

  • After six months living in Spain,

  • I couldn't speak Spanish.

  • So, if anything, this just convinced me even more

  • that I don't have this thing.

  • This magic language gene that people are just born with.

  • And then I had an epiphany.

  • This is what I want to share with people.

  • This is where I'm trying to convince the world

  • it's not actually about language talent.

  • I really feel language talent is irrelevant.

  • Some people might do it a bit better

  • but that doesn't matter for you.

  • What I did was I started to speak Spanish.

  • I don't know if that makes sense right now

  • but hopefully it will.

  • The problem was, for six whole months,

  • I had been studying Spanish.

  • I'd been studying it so much that

  • it was making it harder for myself.

  • I kept seeing all these subjunctives

  • and definite articles and things that

  • were just confusing me.

  • After all the studying,

  • I was nowhere further.

  • I didn't really know any words.

  • Six months and I was still at the stage

  • of just saying, "Hola. Gracias. Por Favour. Adios."

  • You know?

  • Just running off like that.

  • I just decided I'm going to start speaking the language.

  • I'm going to get all of these excuses

  • and ignore them.

  • That I'm not ready and I need to work more

  • or I'm not intelligent enough to learn a language.

  • I just started speaking it and everything changed.

  • Very soon after that, I was gaining momentum.

  • A couple of weeks later, I realised I'm actually

  • doing everything in Spanish.

  • I'm living my life through this language.

  • Eventually, I reach the stage where my level

  • was pretty good.

  • The thing is you will find people who kind of

  • would retort that, saying how it's not so possible

  • for them.

  • They always have many reasons why they can't

  • just start speaking.

  • Hopefully, I can go through a list of the most famous ones

  • and see if I can convince you that it's not quite...

  • I really feel anybody can learn a language.

  • One thing people might say is that they

  • just don't have the words.

  • You start learning a language,

  • you've got no words.

  • How can you have conversations with somebody?

  • But, actually, if you're learning a Latin language

  • like Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese,

  • what people don't realise is that they've got,

  • maybe, tens of thousands of words before they even start.

  • I think like in 1066, the French Normans got into England

  • and they hung around for a few centuries.

  • You had like two layers of society.

  • You had the poor peasants who would speak

  • the old Germanic English.

  • And you had the rich noblemen who would speak

  • something closer to French.

  • Eventually, these things merged.

  • So in English, we've got a lot of French vocabulary

  • which actually happens to be very similar or the same

  • in Spanish and Italian and French and Portuguese

  • and so on.

  • If you learn some of these words,

  • you get a headstart.

  • You can figure out without have to learn the language

  • how you might say these things.

  • So if you remember the different strata,

  • the different levels of formality.

  • Let's say I wanted to say the word "country"

  • in like Spanish and I forget what it is.

  • I forget or I don't even know.

  • I've never come across the word.

  • Well, how about I try to rephrase that in English.

  • Can I go back to English?

  • Instead of country, what's another way to say country?

  • I could say "nation".

  • It means almost the same thing.

  • It's not exactly the same thing.

  • It's close enough.

  • Nation is just "nación".

  • Or "nation or whatever is might be

  • in the corresponding language.

  • Or you might think if somebody's knocking on the door,

  • you can say, "Come in."

  • And that's fine.

  • Or you could also say, "Enter."

  • And "Enter" is from the old kind of French version.

  • You've got "entrar", "entrer" and so on.

  • So you've already got some words

  • but let's say you're going to something far away,

  • an Asian language.

  • Middle-Eastern language.

  • It's not possible nowadays to start a language from zero,

  • from scratch.

  • It's not possible because you always have something.

  • Human beings are interacting all the time.

  • You have maybe brand names or you've got technology

  • that uses the same words.

  • So it would be very hard to find a language

  • where at least one or all of Coca-Cola,

  • internet, Obama, where these words would

  • not be pretty much the same.

  • (audience laughs)

  • You know?

  • And this is pretty universal.

  • If you can thinks of this and kind of maybe...

  • I've used brand names to explain myself

  • and get a point across initially with people.

  • When you've got this vocabulary,

  • you can really start getting into learning

  • the words that obviously have nothing to do

  • with what's you've come across before.

  • You can try some memory techniques.

  • I've got a very bad memory.

  • I really feel that I've got censorship

  • in my brain whenever somebody tells me their name.

  • It's like, you know, "Nice to meet you. I'm beep."

  • (audience laughs)

  • I forget it immediately.

  • I don't have a good memory but, despite that,

  • I would learn words quickly because I'd try

  • to make it more fun.

  • I'd think to myself, when I was learning Spanish,

  • I took the word for "beach" and I saw it "playa".

  • I thought, okay.

  • Well, "playa" kind of looks a bit like

  • the English word, "player".

  • So I thought, well, imagine this.

  • When I think of a player, I think of this of like

  • a cheesy pickup artist.

  • And imagine this super over-confident guy

  • walking down a beach in Spain and trying

  • to pick up girls and getting a slap in the face.

  • You know, a very visual image.

  • From then, I remembered if I see the word, "playa",

  • that sounds like "player",

  • then the guy was on the beach.

  • And it works the reverse as well.

  • You think of beach, you associate the player

  • and you go backwards.

  • So you can learn words very quickly if you learn them

  • with an association.