(Originally published in Journey To Samal blog)

How long would it take to learn Tagalog, if you concentrated on nothing else and worked at maximum efficiency? Herewith, a couple of data points . . . .

For those who haven’t heard of him, Tim Ferriss is the best-selling author of books like The Four-Hour Work Week, The Four-Hour Body, and The Four-Hour chef. The underlying theme of all his books and other projects is what he calls “deconstruction” — breaking a skill down into its essential elements and figuring out how to learn them quickly and effectively. . . .

His latest project is a TV show called The Tim Ferriss Experiment (available on Amazon and iTunes). In each episode, he takes on a new learning challenge — in the first one, for example, the challenge was to learn, in one week, to play a drum set well enough play on stage in a live actual rock concert with Foreigner.

The latest challenge: learn enough Tagalog in four days to be interviewed in Tagalog on a a Los Angeles TV show. He succeeds, sort of. I don’t speak Tagalog, so I’m not the ideal judge, but from the subtitles my impression is this wasn’t exactly Hardball, interview-wise. But still — four days.

He does this by — predictably — working with a professional teacher, living in a Filipino home in Los Angeles for the four days, and putting in a whole lot of time studying and memorizing. What is most interesting is his method of “deconstructing” language and figuring out which are the most useful things to focus on. Not a whole lot of detail on that in a half hour TV show, but he has written much more about his language learning methods on his blog — Four Hour Work Week.

So, what could someone do on a more reasonable time frame, say three months?

Benny Lewis is a professional language-learner. He chooses a country, goes there, and in three months of total immersion becomes fluent in the language. (Here’s a TEDx talk in which he describes how he does it.)

So far he’s learned about a dozen languages, each in three months. He posts videos of his progress, and it’s pretty clear that after three months he really is able to interact reasonably well in the language, even with “hard” languages like Chinese or Arabic. He came to Manila and learned Tagalog last year — here is his post on learning Tagalog. Interestingly, he doesn’t seem to have succeeded as well with Tagalog as he did with some other languages (too much beach and karaoke, not enough nose to the grindstone, apparently), but at least he achieved a basic conversational level.

So, Tagalog in four days! Or three months!

Do you feel motivated yet?

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