Five tips for quickly learning any language.

Rhodia notebooks are great for learning languages.

Your own personal language notebooks will help you track your progress and provide a great reference for review.

You’re never too old to learn a new language. It isn’t hard. You just need the right attitude and some tips and tricks to help you get started. Over the years, I’ve developed my own strategies to accelerate the process. Here’s my approach.

1. Learn some basic phrases.

Not only will learning some basic phrases give you a jump start in learning the language, being friendly and polite does wonders for how people respond to you. Even in countries jaded by tourism, like Canada, speaking a handful of words will open up doors to new experiences you could never plan and that could never be outlined in any guidebook.

It’s shocking how few tourists even learn to say basic things in the native tongue, things like “please”, “thank you”, and “one more beer”. It’s not that hard. Be polite.

2. Speak early, speak often.

With your basic phrases, get out there and start speaking. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Speak clearly, deliberately, slowly.

You may not yet have the correct tone or inflection, but if you are careful, people will still understand what you say. Better yet, I’ve found when you do so that people will speak to you in-kind, slowly, carefully, in simple tenses without using lots of flowery language. In other words, it will help you with your listening comprehension, too.


I cannot emphasize enough how important listening is in learning a new language. Listen to pronunciation. Emulate it. You might even need to exaggerate pronunciation when you are first learning to get proper tone, stress, enunciation. That’s fine. Don’t be afraid of sounding like a buffoon.

The more closely you listen to native speakers, the more closely you will be able to speak and sound like them. It’s a sure way to accelerate your progress on the learning curve.

4. Keep your eyes open when having a conversation!

What? What does having your eyes open have to do with learning a language. Everything.

When you are having a conversation with someone, be attentive. Watch their mouth. What shapes does it make when they are pronouncing words? It will help immensely with your own pronunciation. It will also help keep you focused and listening to the conversation.

Watch facial expressions and hand gestures. These will help smooth over gaps in your vocabularly. These gestures are also important cultural devices. Is it okay to point at people? Can you wave at them without being rude, and so on.

5. Keep a language notebook.

Keep a notebook of the things that you learn. Review it when you have a few quiet moments. I use one notebook for every language that I learn. In each notebook, I have separate pages for distinct parts of speech. For example, I have pages for adverbs, adjectives, verbs, common nouns, prepositions, etc. On each page I write a brief note — in my own terms — about grammar rules for using that part of speech. I’ll describe my process more in a later post.

BTW, Rhodia notebooks are great for this purpose. I highly, highly highly recommend them, in particular the 5.5″ x 8.25″ gridded web notebook. They come in orange (great for finding in your bag) or black (slightly more sophisticated) with great quality paper and superb binding.

You can pick up the Rhodia Notebooks on Amazon. I like the 5×7 gridded variants.

That’s it! Five simple steps to get you started learning any language:

  • 1. Learn some basic phrases.
  • 2. Speak early, speak often.
  • 3. LISTEN!
  • 4. Keep your eyes open when having a conversation!
  • 5. Keep a language notebook

Why I’ve given up reading the Huffington Post

The Huffington Post used to be a great place for center-to-slightly left leaning news coverage.

Over the last five years it has continued to slide as a serious news source. During the holidays, I finally decided it no longer merited a stop during my daily news perusal. I stopped reading on January 1st and haven’t been back since. Here’s why.

1. The annoying click bait titles are annoying.

“You won’t believe what this politician said next.” or “The top nine foods you need to eat RIGHT NOW” simply does not qualify as journalism. Give me an informative title to judge if I want to read your content please.

2. The annoying featured ads inserted directly into news content are annoying.

This is particularly egregious on the mobile app with “Presented by…” some corporate sponsor and formatting to look like any other of their other low-brow click bait articles.

Which brings me to…

3. A vast majority of the worthy content on HuffPost comes from 3rd party sites anyways.

The HuffPost reposts things from the NY Times and other sites anyways. I prefer to get my content from primary sources.

There are a few select people I continue to follow on Twitter but I have pretty much wiped the HuffPost from my slate.

Since I’m not going news free, I’ve replaced it with a renewed subscription to Harper’s, The New York Review, and of course, the New Yorker. For breaking news, Twitter.

Middle Fork of the Salmon

Rivers are magical places that embody freedom and adventure, the fine line between chaos and control. They resist our efforts to control them and remind us that not everything is regulated, sanitized and certified safe for our consumption. You might damn well get hurt on a river.

They say that some river trips are for testing yourself and some are for having fun. An early season run down the Middle Fork of the Salmon river is one of those trips about testing yourself. The Middle Fork slices a 100 mile path through the Salmon Challis National Forest of central Idaho. It begins as a tiny high alpine creek, but during its run, 100’s of feeder creeks join with it. By the time it reaches the confluence with the Main Salmon near North Fork, Idaho it’s big and burly.

High water and blustery weather go hand in hand on the Middle Fork. Rain, snow, sleet, microbursts. In May, the Middle Fork is in your face. Be prepared to be cold and wet and spend nights trying to convince yourself that synthetic fill sleeping bags really do insulate when they’re wet. Whiskey helps.

Extensive forest fires in 2007 have dramatically altered the river. Tributary streams that once tumbled down lushly forested side canyons now run unimpeded dumping untold numbers of charred ponderosas into the river, in turn creating big debris fans, new rapids, and floating hazards in every eddy. The Middle Fork is alive.

Paddling rivers with good friends is a moment of living in the hive mind. You can let your guard down knowing that anything that gives your friends trouble is a spot to be aware. Memory gaps of rapids and safe lines are collectively filled. Epic surf waves and play spots are communally annotated with near pinpoint precision. Collective memories are are the best river guide ever.

Flickr Photos


Download the GPX file.

Elevation Profile

As recorded by kayak from the put-in at Marsh Creek to the takeout at Cache Bar on the Main Salmon.