Review - Barry Farber's How To Learn Any Language
Barry Farber's How to Learn Any Language is a simple and effective book that can benefit anyone attempting to learn a new language. This book would be most helpful to a beginning language learner, but those with some experience may find his suggestions helpful as well. He clearly has a great passion for languages and it is this enthusiasm which is the greatest characteristic of the book. There are many practical suggestions for learning languages, but it is the personal anecdotes and his relentless excitement that motivate the reader to carry out his own language learning campaign and get down to actually using
the new language, and even go beyond and learn another!
The first part of the book is more autobiographical. He recounts his many adventures in language learning as a boy and on through adulthood, including his failures as well as his successes. This part of the book is short and a quick read, as is the book as a whole. It is here we begin to see his passion for languages and his motivations for learning them, from learning Chinese to prove he wasn't stupid for flunking Latin, to learning Swedish because he liked the looks of Swedish women (I'm with him on that one!). It is the rare person who has a language aptitude like Mr. Farber, but if we had just half of his drive to learn, I'm sure we could all reach our language aspirations.
The second half of the book is the 'how' portion. He goes into some detail laying out a study plan for a student of a new language. There are a number of practical techniques to use in studying a new language. Some are obvious, but sometimes we fail to see the obvious and it certainly helps to be thorough. Other suggestions are insightful and not so obvious to the average person who expects a store-bought language method to provide all of their language learning needs. We could use some or all of these tips to supplement a learning method, but Farber goes a little further and presents an alternative lesson plan of his own, using a wide variety of language learning tools.
The real benefit from this book for a student of languages is motivation. It is difficult not to listen to a man who can have a conversation in up to 20 languages, and I'm sure he's actually fluent in a few of those. One of his most important points is - "Do as I now say, not as I then did" - as we can learn from his lifetime of failures as well as his many successes. In the chapter titled with the above quote he says - "I'm the only one who knows how much of my language learning time has been wasted, how little I've got to show for all those years of study, considering the huge hunks of time I've put into it." That ought to be pretty good motivation for me or you to begin learning with some passion of our own.
If there was one single idea I learned from this book, it is that I should be a lot more pro-active in my language learning. I should not expect one language method to be the sum total of all my studies. I never expected a language method to do the work for me, but now I go far beyond the method itself, and seek out many avenues of learning, some of which I never would have tried or even thought of had it not been for reading this book. I don't use all of the techniques Barry Farber suggests, but I think about the languages I am studying every day, and I make sure I know more today than I did yesterday. If motivation in your language study is what you need, think about picking up this book.
In the book, Mr. Farber refers to a language club he began with other language lovers in the New York area. Many people have searched for information on this club without success. The club has since renamed itself the
Language Club of Westchester.
This link is the website maintained by active participants who meet weekly in Westchester county, New York. In addition, in this interview in early 2005, Mr. Farber refers to his club meeting in New York City. It is unclear if the group he refers to is the same group as the Westchester club. There may have been a split, or this could be more of a 'private' club meeting of the original oldtimers.
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