By John Liu, The China Post
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Studying a new language is not difficult! This is the claim of a recently established language study group — Terry’s Multilingual Cafe. Members of the study group proclaim that they are learning seven languages, at the same time. Terry’s Multilingual Cafe heralds a very innovative approach in language study. Its founder, Terry Hsieh, is proficient in English, Japanese, French, German and Turkish and has obtained language certificates in all these languages. Hsieh believes that learning a language is not about memorizing language rules, instead, it should be a process that enables one to become acquainted with a language in a natural way. Liao Yi-an (廖宜安), a member of the Multilingual Cafe, says we should learn a new language the way babies learn it. Forget grammar rules, or the theories taught in classrooms, learning a language can be more effective if one just uses it in daily activities. You might not immediately believe in this approach’s effectiveness, until you hear Multilingual Lesson founder Hsieh’s success story.
In 2012, as a graduate student majoring in linguistics at the University of Kansas, Hsieh was given a rare opportunity to attend the Andes and Amazonian Field School, located in Ecuador’s Amazon jungle. Hsieh spent two months there learning Quechua, the local language, which was the official language of the Inca Empire before Spain colonized the country. He had no prior experience or knowledge of the language, but was able to become proficient in Quechua within two months, progress that overshadowed some who had been studying the language for 2-3 years, Hsieh said. Part of the curriculum at the Andes and Amazonian Field School is taking students on expedition trips into the jungle, where locals instruct students in herbal medicine and local culture. This was not enough for Hsieh, however, who believes that to become proficient in a language, one cannot always stay at the “receiving end” of language instruction, there must also be “output” from learners. In other words, he wants to use the language as often as possible. The best place to learn a language is in the kitchen, Hsieh recalled. “Once I met everyone in the village, I stuck with them all day long.” He spent a lot of the time in the kitchen helping or chatting with locals. Although he was unable to understand the locals or vice versa, they were also seldom “on the same page,” he strived to create an atmosphere that allowed for laughter. With continuous language “output” and “input,” Hsieh’s Quechua skills grew by the day. He was able to grasp the basics of Quechua and carried out simple dialogue with locals after a few days, Hsieh said.