Expanding our limits by learning a language

The full transcript is here.

“how can you help a normal adult learn a new language quickly, easily and effectively?

Now this is a really, really important question in today’s world.

We have massive challenges with environment. We have massive challenges with social dislocation, with wars, all sorts of things going on and if we can’t communication we’re really going to have difficulty solving these problems. So we need to be able to speak each other’s languages, this is really really important.

The question is how you do that.

Well it’s actually really easy.

You look around for people who can already do it, you look for situations where it’s already working, and then you identify the principles and apply them.

It’s called modelling and I’ve been looking at language learning and modelling language learning for about fifteen to twenty years now.

And my conclusion, my observation from this is

is that any adult can learn a second language to fluency

inside six months.

Now when I say this, most people think I’m crazy, that this is not possible.

So let me remind everybody of the history of human progress, it’s all about expanding our limits.”

Learning Russian by listening to music

Idea #1: Listen to a lot of Музыка (music).

Check out the fun song Давай замутим by the two members of RASA. Repeat for as many hours as you can tolerate in a day.

I’m not sure if it works for or against you if you’re listening nonstop to Russian while you’re on a flight.

Pro AND Con: you won’t be able to get the song out of your head. I believe that’s called an earworm.

авай замутим means “let’s start something”

We could choose the spectacularly entertaining Vitas to obsess over instead.

I prefer to watch Vitas instead of listening to him, to be frank. But this has less to due with his voice and more to do with my admiration for his flamboyant clothing choices.

Ok, maybe only watch that video when you need a palate cleanser.

Idea #2: Learn the chorus of a песня (song).

Sample gems:

Уля – это ураган, полюбила дурака. Ой мама, o my god, o my god… o my god… Пуля – это ураган, полюбила дурака. Ой мама, o my god, o my god… o my god…

Julia, it’s (like) a hurricane. You fell in love with an idiot. OMG OMG OMG (Hit like by a) bullet (or a) hurricane. You fell in love with an idiot. OMG OMG OMG

and also:

Я пришёл дать эту песню Из мира грёз. Я пришел дать эту песню Из хрустальных слёз.

I came to bring this song / From the world of dreams. I came to bring this song / From the crystal tears.

Seems feasible, right?

Some additional songs:

Hand-selected by yours truly from the Russian Hits 2019 playlist

Learning Russian for Russia’s women


“What does it mean?”

You ask when you encounter a new word that’s gibberish in your ear. After all, a word without meaning is, well, meaningless.

How on Earth do babies pick up words?

First, they listen. Not necessarily because they desire to. They don’t decide to pay attention or not, it’s more like they are hardwired to listen.

That “hardware” is called a language acquisition device.

Woman with a Fruit Basket, ca. 1820
Gardner Factory, Russian, Verbilki

Known as LAD.

It’s the theory that “all humans share a mechanism which allows us to comprehend, develop, and use language like no other animal”.

This instinctive mental capacity enables an infant to acquire and produce language.

Around three quarters of the babies in the world learn more than one language.

“They won’t realize that the words belong to different languages until they’re older.”

(Read more in this excellent book about language here: CRYSTAL, D. (2010). Learning how to understand. In A Little Book of Language (pp. 14-20). Yale University Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1np8zv.5)

How do you use this information to learn Russian?

Milkmaid, ca. 1820, Gardner Factory, Russian, Verbilki

First, focus on the most common sounds, letters, and words.

As for words, don’t worry at the beginning about studying from a book or another source about how to classify “nouns” “prepositions” “verbs”, etc.

Try to let your brain work to classify them.

Before you read “Milkmaid” in the caption to the right did you look at the image and guess what it was before being told the answer?

As always, make sure to click on the links as they are decent resources.

Many of the links will take you to google translate so that you can hear the pronunciation of the word.

My plan is to hear foreign sounds and shout, whisper, sing them. At the least this is an entertaining option.

The most common word in the Russian language:





and, though



Мальчик и девочка играют.

Pronounced: Mal’chik i devochka igrayut.

Sentence translation: A boy and a girl are playing.


Мы стояли и ждали.

Pronounced: My stoyali i zhdali.

Sentence translation: We stood and waited.


Я это и имею в виду.

Pronounced: YA eto i imeyu v vidu.

Sentence translation: That’s what I have in mind. / I mean it.


И как ты не понимаешь, что это интересно?

Pronounced: I kak ty ne ponimayesh’, chto eto interesno?

Sentence translation: How come you don’t understand that this is interesting?


Мы так и сделали.

Pronounced: My tak i sdelali.

Sentence translation: This is what we did / We did just that.


Я даже и не знаю.

Pronounced: YA dazhe i ne znayu.

Sentence translation: I do not even know.


Она и нам рассказала.

Pronounced: Ona i nam rasskazala.

Sentence translation: She told us too.

I’m tired.

Here’s a palate cleanser:

Russian Nun by J. Monstein, around 1865.
Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.