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Interview with Arkady Zilberman

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Arkady, could you please tell us a little bit about your professional background? I read on the Internet that you hold a Ph.D. degree in material science. What was your thesis and where did you study?

I received my Ph.D. in material science from Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys. I loved science all my life and issued six patents in the former Soviet Union and five patents in the USA. My second love was learning foreign languages.

During many years of my work as a scientist and simultaneous interpreter I tried to find an answer to the question: why do adults have difficulties in acquiring a foreign language? In my opinion, most adults have a habit of subconscious translation into their native tongue when they learn a foreign language. In other words, they try to add a foreign language to the existing center of the native language speech center. It took more than ten years of my own experiments and further research before I have published the solution to this problem in the form of the first edition of Language Bridge with a subtitle: acquiring a foreign language the natural way.

Why do you think so many people who learn English as a second language try to translate between English and their native language? Arkady: Children learn native and foreign languages easily because they directly associate the image or situation with a word or word blocks. Adults have a long history of learning where they develop a habit of remembering abstract structures or ideas. When adults learn a new word in a foreign language they subconsciously associate it with a similar word in their native language and not with the image or situation.

In the BBC program "Your Say" published a recommendation of their listener: "Try not to consciously translate words into your native language, and then retranslate your response into English. Instead, try to think in the target language and let your subconscious find the right words you have previously learnt."

It is easier said than done. One Chinese immigrant to Canada who could read and write in English but could not speak or understand spoken language described his problem in email to me: "I have tried many products out there that promised to help people like me to learn English quickly and effectively but none of them work. I think the reason why these products failed is because they have ignored the common but inevitable problem of cross-translation. Many people who want to learn another language have to face this problem. Most people don''t understand this but only those who actually faced this kind of problem would know how difficult it is to overcome cross-translation."

What would happen if the Chinese immigrant you mentioned started to listen to English on a regular basis. I mean, what an English learner started to develop the habit of surrounding themselves with spoken English on a daily basis? For example, what happens if a person watches English TV and listens to English radio for at least 60 minutes every day for at least one year? Does that person start picking up new phrases subconsciously if they expose themselves to English long enough?

The Chinese immigrant lived in Canada and was surrounded with spoken English all the time, but he could not successfully pass an interview for a professional position. After completing the LB program, he was able to get a professional job and he is still successfully working in his chosen field. Only few people will benefit from exposure to English TV since approximately one out of ten people don''t have a cross-translation problem. These people usually choose profession of a foreign language teacher or study foreign languages with great passion and success by themselves.

Unfortunately, eight out of ten people in adulthood suffer from cross-translation problem and consider themselves to be language-incapable. These people would feel uncomfortable if exposed to English TV since subconsciously they try to translate into their native language whatever they hear. It is impossible for them to accomplish this subconscious task; don''t expect positive results if people are uncomfortable.

There are plenty of people who have lived in the US for years and are not fluent in English. It depends on whether or not you study the language or are forced to use it in everyday life.

Did the Chinese immigrant you are describing try to listen to English on a regular basis? I mean how much time did he or she spend watching Canadian or American TV channels every day? How much did they spend listening to audio books?

This advice to watch TV and listen to the radio helped me and apparently helped you. We are lucky people since we belong to the one out of ten category. Most adults would not benefit from this advice.

For students who buy Language Bridge and start learning English, I do not recommend to watch TV broadcasts, at least during the first half of the program, until the new English language speech center is formed and subconscious translation is stopped. One more fact that proves my approach:
You probably know that in the USA there are Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian communities that occupy large portions of such cities as New York, Chicago, Cleveland, etc. Middle aged and elderly people in these communities practically don''t speak English, although they watch American TV regularly. They also generally have problems in passing the citizenship exam: about twenty percent of them regularly fail on this exam.

As far as I know, a lot of immigrants in the US watch TV channels from their home countries. So for example, Russians watch Russian TV, Chinese watch Chinese TV, etc. Is that true?

That is true, especially now in the Internet age you can watch Russian TV (or in any other language) on your television without any satellite dishes or expensive contracts. One example: using the service you can watch Russian TV anywhere on the Globe paying $9.95 for 20 hours per month or $19.95 for 50 hours per month.

In Brooklyn there is a Brighton Beach area where mostly Russians live. A popular anecdote in this area, a journalist asks a middle aged lady if she learns English and where, her reply is: "Why? I don''t need English, I live here and I don''t go to America".

Watching TV in English helps in learning English for children and young adults; the older you are the less positive is the TV impact on acquiring English language skills.

Up to what age would you say is it possible to learn a second language in a similar way you learned your mother tongue?

Up to the age of 12 if a child comes to a new country he or she will speak without accent the new language. After the age of 15 the slight accent is nearly inevitable. Interesting scientific fact: if a child at the age up to five or six years lives in a new country with parents who speak different languages to the child, he may speak without accent four or five languages. Such a child has one language speech center for all these languages which is more extensive than the average size of the language center.

However, when an adult learns a foreign language and speaks it fluently, he or she will have two different language speech centers in the brain. A bilingual simultaneous interpreter during interpretation can use one or the other language center but never both of two centers at the same time.

I was a witness of such a case: an old Russian immigrant asked his 10 year grandson who was bilingual to help him to explain something to the American neighbor. His grandson told him: grandpa, I can speak Russian or English but I can't translate for you.

So how can somebody learn to speak English like a native speaker when they are older than 12 years? Is this possible at all?

Unfortunately the conventional teachers are in denial of the obvious fact: most adult students who learned English in conventional schools, are frustrated. They have high scores on English tests, such as the TOEFL. They read English well and have a large vocabulary. According to standardized tests - they are advanced English learners. But most of them have a problem-- they speak English slowly, make frequent mistakes, and struggle to understand native speakers. All over the world, millions of English learners struggle with the same problems.

Many companies tried to develop a method that will help adults learn as a child. For example, Rosetta Stone uses no English-language instruction—in fact, no instruction at all. There are no vocabulary lists, conjugation tables, or translation drills. Instead, it mimics language immersion by associating language with pictures. Rosetta Stone doesn''t put it this way, but the program asks you to learn like a child.

Is this possible at all? I doubt. Rosetta Stone is better than other methods but still is rather ineffective because this approach does not change the habit of subconscious translation into the native language which in adults inevitably hinders formation of the new language speech center in the brain.

To learn as a child you need tools that will give you a possibility to build a new language speech center in the brain starting from the first lesson. This concept is based on a scientific fact: adults who learn a foreign language and speak it fluently develop a new language speech center in the brain.

You have described the Pimsleur method in details, what about the comparison with Callan Method?

From the very first lesson, the Callan teacher speaks to his students in English at the rate of 200 to 240 words a minute. This is faster than normal conversational speed, which is only about 150 to 180 words a minute. The main approach of the Callan Method is based on question-answer-repetition. The Callan teacher's extra speed prevents boredom, makes the student concentrate, stops him translating in his head (by not giving him time). The inventor Robin Callan wanted the method to remain unchanged; the first school was opened in 1960 and his teaching method remains rigorously structured program with no new development.

With the Callan Method, there is almost no homework. In fact, it involves no equipment at all, not even desks or a blackboard. The Callan Method is like the alphabet, or the keyboard of a piano or typewriter. If it is altered in any fundamental way, its performance is upset to such an extent that it malfunctions and does not produce the desired results. That is why Callan schools did not acquire world wide recognition; they are popular in Poland and Brazil. There are only two schools in the USA, mainly for Polish immigrants.

From the above description it becomes quite clear that Language Bridge uses a totally different approach and goes with the time. Our current objective is to provide tutor-led self-training using the patented multimedia tools. A student integrates with the language, listening and imitating rather than learning from theory.

Many thanks for providing some background information on the Callan Method. You are right, Callan doesn''t seem to be very popular worldwide. As far as I know, there is only one single school in Germany that is offering English courses based on the Callan Method. But what about the Pimsleur Approach? How is different from Language Bride?

As discussed above, the consecutive repetition of a foreign phrase during a pause used by Pimsleur has a totally different mechanism in comparison to simultaneous repetition used in Language Bridge.

The Pimsleur course was designed by Dr Paul Pimsleur in 1967 and is based on theories that are 40 years old. Some of the theories of that time are obsolete today. For example, Pimsleur taught that "student should think before responding. His principle of anticipation, in his opinion, reflects real life conversations where a speaker must recall a phrase quickly.

Both concepts are obsolete: speech is a subconscious process and you should not think or analyze your phrase. You can''t recall a phrase quickly, because if you learned a foreign language correctly and were successful in developing a new language speech center in the brain, the phrase appears on your tongue tip automatically ignited by feelings which you want to express.

There is another big disadvantage to that method: each one of the Pimsleur courses costs several hundred dollars and generally there are three successive courses for each language that a student will need to purchase.

Pimsleur argued that the auditory skill and visual skill are two independent skills, and they should not be confused. He completely ignored visual skill in his system.

In contrast to Pimsleur, the Language Bridge method utilizes all sensory modalities in integrative manner to achieve fast action in forming a new language speech center in the brain. Language Bridgestudents do not use the native language in the learning process because cross-translation is the main barrier in acquiring fluency in the new language.

Most language books are written by linguists for linguists. It is very difficult for linguists to understand the difficulties non-linguists have in learning a language. They cannot understand that what was easy for them to learn is extremely difficult for others. Language Bridge is written for others, for those who have difficulties in acquiring a foreign language by conventional methods.

Here I came to the point when I want to ask you a question. Torsten, can you please explain why the Pimsleur method, which has so many deficiencies is widely used by millions whereas such a modern and patented system as Language Bridge is used by thousands of customers only?

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Next:ESL Cafe: Interview with David Geer

Author: Arkady Zilberman

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