A Vancouver polyglot and popular YouTuber is teaching others his secret to learning a new language, after acquiring more than two dozen foreign languages for work and fun.
Steve Kaufmann, 76, who has over half a million subscribers on his language teaching YouTube channel, said his love for learning new languages started when he met a professor at McGill University in Montreal who encouraged him to continue his academic studies in France.
“Everything was in French so I became very fluent,” Kaufmann said on the CBC’s The Early Edition. “And when I was a student, I hitchhiked a lot to Spain, Italy and Germany, so I kind of picked up those languages too.”
Today Kauffman speaks over 20 languages, including English, French, Japanese, Mandarin, Korean, Spanish, Swedish, German, Italian, Cantonese, Portuguese, Greek, Polish and Hebrew. He’s currently in the middle of learning Russian, Arabic and Persian.
He said 15 years ago, on his 60th birthday, he and his son decided to create a website and YouTube channel to help others who are interested in picking up a new language.
Using flash cards and content from Netflix, movies and books, he said the site — LingQ.com — teaches people a new language in the same way that people learn to speak their native language.
“The first language is the most difficult,” Kaufmann said. “But once you do it, it becomes easier and your mind becomes a little more flexible. Our website has beginner material that we have designed, which has a lot of repetition and lots of listening and reading.”
New language, new culture
After he completed his degree in international relations at L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, Kaufmann joined the Canadian Government Trade Commissioner Service where he was sent to Hong Kong to learn Chinese.
He then moved to Japan for nine years to work at the embassy there.
The key to learning a new language is listening and reading, Kaufmann said — and to “overwhelmingly” expose yourself to the language to increase your vocabulary.
“If you are going to go to Mexico, give yourself a year to really build up your ability to comprehend so that when you get there, you can actually operate,” he suggested.
Kaufmann says learning a new language helps him experience a new culture and learn about people in different places around the world.
“When you learn another language, those people of that country come to life, so you have a totally different perception of that country, those people and that culture,” he said.
LISTEN | Steve Kaufmann talk about his love for learning new languages:
5:39Vancouver polygot teaches people how to speak different languages