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AMA: Ask Matt Anything


Me, but less sexy

Hey party people,

Yeah, I know, the site has been sitting idle for a stupid long time. Ramses is busy doing whatever Dutch people do (drugs, taking growth hormones, being snarky, listening to bad electronic music, etc.), and I’ve been busy with my experimental foray into learning an L3 at a university. I was going to write a scathing article about exactly why and how much it sucks, but I’ve changed my mind. It won’t convince anyone of anything, it’ll just dig the trenches even deeper on each side. Rather than saying why someone is wrong, I think I’ll just keep doing what’s right, and anyone is free to come along for the ride. Life’s much easier this way, and oddly enough I think this actually helps more people see the light.

In other news, I turned 30 a few months ago, and my priorities have really been changing lately. Suddenly I’m much less interested in seeing other parts of the world, and much more interested in putting down roots. That’s what happens when you get older I guess (I still look awesome naked though (I’m even more fit than I was when I turned 20 (the ‘secret’: never stop))).


It’ll happen to you too

I think part of the lull on this site involves a zen-like truth about language acquisition: there’s a finite amount that needs to be said. At Spanish-Only, Ramses spent a few years chronicling his journey to Spanish mastery. Once he’d done this, I suspect he slowly started running out of things to say. That’s where I came in, the excited new padawan learner, young, dumb, and full of, you know, stuff. Now that I can easily read all my comics, watch all my movies, play all my games, and listen to French people complain about everything all the time, I find myself where Ramses was when I started. Now I’m doing it again with Korean, and already I can make girls laugh and have fun conversations with taxi drivers. It’s neat, but there’s no more mystery to this game; it’s so easy babies can do it. Literally. Babies do this every day. I’m just chopping wood and carrying water, how many posts need to be written about it? What is left to say?

Thus this AMA: Ask Matt Anything.

No advice anyone gives you will ever be as valuable as experience, but it can be a bit helpful sometimes, especially in the beginning. So go ahead, be as specific as you want, ask whatever the hell you want, I won’t bite unless you try to sell me a ‘fluent in 30 seconds’ language acquisition product, in which case I’ll destroy you after seducing and impregnating your nearest female relatives, making passive aggressive remarks about their weight until they develop eating disorders, then riding out of town on the tornado I rode in on, leaving them anorexic, financial burdened by my abandoned children, and unable to be pleasured by any man on the planet after having been with me.

Then, and only then, will I destroy you.

Anyway… stay sexy, readers!


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Matt is an unorthodox teacher and, above all, an unorthodox writer. He taught himself French mostly by watching TV, and now lives in Korea where he is training for the International Bench-press/Bicep Biathlon.


Stuart January 6, 2014 at 1:37 am

Ok help me out here Matt, how the hell do you use those websites such as Yonkis mentioned in the booster packs? I just end up on voting / fake video sites etc etc … if you can get me to some Spanish tv series and films I’d most appreciate it.


Matt January 6, 2014 at 4:32 am

Spanish is Ramses’ thing, so I just emailed him to come answer your question (I’ve never used Yonkis). Answer incoming!


Daniel January 13, 2014 at 10:54 pm

Find a film or TV show using the links or search box. Click on it. You then get a page listing tonnes of streaming links with the link ‘Reproducir’ next it them. Click that, then on the next page ‘Reproducir ahora’. That opens the streaming site.

Beyond that you just to have to learn how to get through the ads etc. to the video, depending on the site. You’ll also get to know the better streaming sites, e.g. Putlocker and Streamcloud. An ad-blocker might be useful when the sites are covered with scantily-clad women or fake play buttons.

Hope this helps. And may I recommend for anyone looking for a German version of Yonkis.


Pedro January 6, 2014 at 7:18 am

Hi Matt
I’m learning french just like you.. I would like to know how good is your accent/pronuntation in french and what are you doing or what you did to improve your speaking skills?


Matt January 6, 2014 at 8:55 am

Hey Pedro! I like your name, I’ve always wanted a friend named Pedro. I have a Pablo, but that’s not quite as good.

Speaking has two real facets: knowing what to say, and having the ability to say it like a native. For knowing what to say, you just need input. Comics, TV, movies, video games, whatever. Like magic, you will simply instinctively know what to say.

As far as the actual act of speaking, I think two specific things helped me the most:

1: Shadowing
Listen to a podcast and mimic the speakers as closely as possible (do this for maybe 5 minutes at a time, it can be mentally tiring). This helps with the ‘music’ of language (pitch, rhythm/timing, prosody, etc.)

2: Single-word repetition
Download a shared Anki deck that has audio (something generic like “French 101 Vocabulary”), one where every card has just a single word on it. Repeat these individual words over and over again. This helps with training your mouth to produce the correct pronunciation of common words. You don’t need that many cards- a few hundred of these and you’ll be able to produce every sound in the language. If you’re using a beginner deck, a bonus is that the cards should all be high-frequency words.

One other fun/helpful thing is to choose a language role model, someone who you want to sound like, and just imitate the hell out of them. For me, it’s Cyprien from youtube.

It’s as simple as that, feel free to ask more questions!


Stuart January 6, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Slightly different tangent from learning a language,but….Is it possible to become an effective language teacher without falling into the trap of following textbook grammar exercises and worksheets that bore the death out of the student? How do you do it?


Matt January 7, 2014 at 7:23 am

Now THERE is something I could write a post about. I’d like to think I have the answer to this question, because the 5th graders at my school overwhelmingly voted for my science class as their favorite class when they were surveyed at the end of the semester. The shortest possible answer to your question is “yes,” and the method is called gamification. Wikipedia defines this as “the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems.” In normal person speak, that means the medium of the classroom is games, and the message happens to be in English. I taught two classes, 5th grade science and 3rd grade reading. The trick to both was to have high turnover gamified activities. Keep it fun and short. A good example would be my 3rd grade reading class. The school wanted me to have the kids read in silence or something, which is literally impossible for a 3rd grade kid. Instead I divided the class into four or five activities that each used whatever book we happened to be ‘reading.’ I’d do things like have a crossword puzzle where each clue was a sentence from the book missing a word and a page number where that sentence was located. The kids would be frantically reading each page as fast as they could looking for the sentence so they could find the missing word. The first three teams to finish the crossword would get an autograph on their crossword from yours truly. See what I did there? I gamified reading. It was a massive success, I think.

Same thing with my science class. I turned every class into a group competition (strongest popsicle stick bridges, highest paper towers, egg-drop devices, etc.), and the only rule was ‘speak English.’ If a student spoke Korean, I didn’t yell, I didn’t send them outside, I didn’t ‘punish’ them in any traditional way- I simply pulled them from the game for five minutes. Watching everyone else have fun building these projects was a form of torture for them, because, you know, games are fun, and watching people have fun without you sucks.

I hope this was helpful!


An January 12, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Ok… At the moment I’m learning Korean like you, but without being in Korea. I watch every day a bunch of Korean dramas, listening to Korean Rock (rare but there are some bands) and put interesting sentences in Anki etc. But now I’m a bit afraid of the pronunciation or listening comprehension. Because I just can’t distinguish ㄱ,ㅋ,ㄲ etc.. At first I though I would hear the difference after a certain time, but now I don’t know, how it should become understandable to me?
Will it come after a time? And the sound shift is also a bit complicated. I know that 자각나무 is pronounced 자강나무… I heard it in this way and read in an dictionary, that ㄱ + ㄴ becomes ㅇ + ㄴ… But now it could be that I hear two words that I actually know and be pronuncec different because of this shift… How do you cope with that?
My goals are understanding dramas and conversations without a problem and be able to read books. Speaking isn’t that important at the moment but It will be important one day…


Matt January 12, 2014 at 5:37 pm

In my humble opinion, the ‘trick’ is to always, always learn from audio, not from text. No coping necessary! For example, I know a girl named 언미. Romanized, it’s “Eonmi,” but the actual pronunciation is 엄미 “Eommi” because “m-m” flows better than “n-m”. Lots of people trip up on her name over and over because they rely on their memory of how it’s written, even when corrected again and again. Learn from audio and the problems of learning from text will never arise.

For everything else, exposure will solve the problem. Distinguishing between ㄱ,ㅋ,and ㄲ will come naturally, but if you want to rapidly reinforce things like this then add some Anki cards with those sounds (chop them out of TTMIK podcasts with Audacity or a program like it). Also remember that Koreans, like everyone in every language, break rules all the time. The way it’s written is never more than an extremely subtle hint of how the word may sound, a clue that points your brain to a word you should already know.

tl;dr – Keep listening!


Aanji January 13, 2014 at 12:39 am

Hey Matt! First I just want to say I have been following you and Ramses for quite some time and I am a huge fan of this blog. My question touches on something that you brought up in your earlier post on international students while studying abroad. Over last summer, I was studying abroad in China and next semester will be in Asia once again. While I wanted to improve my mandarin as quickly as possible by trying to block foreigners from my life, I also became conflicted because I thought I might be missing out on meeting some really interesting/life-changing people/great opportunities. So even though not hanging out with intl. students/not speaking English was the best for my Mandarin, I thought that I may have been missing the bigger picture by missing out on potential friends, contacts, business opportunities, etc. Matt, as someone who is living in Korea and is super serious about learning Korean, do you ever feel as though you may be missing out on the bigger life picture/bigger life opportunities because you are so dedicated to the Korean language? I would love to hear back – I have been conflicted on this issue for a while.

– Aanji


Matt January 13, 2014 at 11:26 am

Well Aanji, I wish I had the answer to this question. Here’s the harsh truth: more time on L2 = less time on L1. Do you need to completely cut yourself off from English? No, I don’t think so. English has bought me a lot of crazy good opportunities and good times, so I’m not going to slam it too hard. I would say the ultimate objective is fun, so don’t torture yourself trying to maximize L2 time; it’s a sure way to poison your enthusiasm. For instance, I just got back from a coffee date with a really cool Korean girl, and we spoke English the whole time, except when I prodded her to teach me bad words and whatnot. Even though I was speaking English, the amount of fun I had just bought me a boatload of enthusiasm for studying Korean.

Come to think of it, there’s my new theory: use your L1 to have fun in such a way that it gets you into your L2’s community and creates more emotional fuel to use in your L2 studies.

I hope that makes sense. I’ve been running myself ragged touring/partying for four days, and I can barely think straight right now. Hope it helps!


Dave February 19, 2014 at 12:30 am

Your language learning articles are like a fresh mountain breeze that suddenly rushes through the putrid air in the language classroom prison. To me, doing grammar exercises is more like doing algebra than language. I have used input methods for learning, but they have involved a lot of reading. For my next language, I’d like to give your method a try.Here are my questions:
1) I gather that most of your learning is from listening. At what point do you start reading? When you can understand 50%? 90%? After x hours?
2) Does listening to things where you only understand 5-10% still help? Will it go up by itself?
3) In the beginning, is it better to just listen, or do you also follow along with transcripts? Does it harm your listening comprehension to use transcripts? At what point (if any), would you use transcripts?

Thank you very much for your answers


Matt February 19, 2014 at 2:36 am

Hey Dave! Thanks for the awesome simile, I owe you one.

1) With French, I probably did listening only for about the first year. At that point I downloaded a few French video games and jumped into “reading.” I didn’t actually start reading text outside of video games for probably another three or four months, when I got into comic books (the absolute best and most useful form of reading, novels are totally weak for language acquisition at the early stages).
2) Everything helps, BUT I learned faster with easier material (cartoons are especially good). I watched a bunch of Dora the Explorer in the beginning just to get the most basic stuff down. Then I moved on to Batman: The Animated Series and the Superman cartoon, and watched the hell out of those. Listening to French podcasts is totally cool for learning how French is spoken by real people, but there’s nothing easier than when Batman walks into a trap and someone yells “C’est un piege!” My brains immediately goes “OK, ‘piege’ = trap’ and it sticks because there’s a visual stimulus that made the sounds = meaning so easily. It’s not always as simple as that, but yeah, cartoons man, cartoons.
3) I didn’t use transcripts until very late in the game when I got into Anki, and my “transcript” was Mass Effect 2 and 3. Everyone is speaking French with exact subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Turn those into Anki cards and baby, you got a stew goin! If I had known about Mass Effect having French audio earlier on, I would have used this as my first foray into “reading.” To me the real usefulness of subs isn’t to improve reading comprehension, but to give you a way to look up the things you hear without any guessing about spelling.

Thanks for dropping in buddy, hit me up with any more questions.


Dave February 21, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Hi Matt,
Thanks again for answering my questions. I got another set regarding L2 vs L3. Basically, how do I keep the two languages from going at it like my brain’s a Thunderdome? I don’t want two going in and one coming out, if you know what I mean. (Background: my L2 is high intermediate-low advanced, L3 starting from scratch, essentially):
1) When you were learning Korean, how much work did you put into maintaining French? An hour a day, or a cartoon episode or something?
2) Would you say that listening is all that is needed for maintenance, or did you also throw in reading? In other words, active studying or just exposure?
3) Did you notice reduction, stagnation or improvement in your French while learning Korean?

That’s all for now
P.S. Alternate analogy for this question: Languages going Highlander (there can be only one).


Matt February 22, 2014 at 8:29 pm

1) Nearly none. I basically stopped French, other than keeping up with my Anki deck, while I was going hard at Korean.
2) I think exposure is all that is needed, ever, for anything. Exposure exposure exposure. We could have called this site The Exposure Dojo.
3) A very minor reduction, but considering I spent like 6 months away from it I’m amazed at how easily it all comes flooding back when I need it. Like, people will ask me “how do you say X in French” and I just answer without thinking about it, it’s weird. I think when you learn a language organically the roots go really, really deep and can stand long droughts.

I like the Mad Max and Highlander analogies. You rock, Dave.


Vitor February 22, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Hey Matt, why not talk about the Korean stuff, I like those “honey, how was your day?” posts. What else? Oh yeah, the question.

How you deal with other sounds systems? I’ve been really wanting to go after Chinese or Korean, but everybody says me that takes years of hard work to master Chinese pronounce, so I decided to ask for the real specialists, by reading your posts seems all I need to do Is to listen carefully and perhaps make some “minimal pairs” training to get my ear sharp. Is that’s all or there’s something else?

I’m thinking that immediate feedback is the answer, there’s a old research with some Japaneses, where they tried to make adults distinguish between L and R, if they just repeat after the sound there was no effect but if given immediate feedback their accuracy grow to 80%+, now think about it with Chinese, if you gotta a red light making beeee- after every mistake and showing the right way to do it I wonder if even the so feared Mandarin tones and sounds could be mastered in a matter of weeks, not years.

There’s this dude who used this method with several languages


Matt February 23, 2014 at 11:40 pm

A summary of my method: languages are naturally acquired by listening. Any problems (distinguishing between similar/new sounds, rapid speech comprehension, different levels of formal grammar, etc.) are solved by listening more.

That’s just what has worked for me dude, there are a thousand schools of thought and methods and whatnot. And yeah, feedback is always helpful, especially when you’re both naked. Whatever floats your boat, it’s all good!


Vitor February 24, 2014 at 9:00 am

Thanks, listening to Chinese still sounds very odd but, at the same extend, interesting


Magallanes April 1, 2014 at 10:53 pm

Matt (or anyone)

I love heroes, international or local

But does anyone know how did Jose Rizal become conversant in more than 20 languages?

Please I hope somebody knows,
I dont find any documentation etc anywhere on google, but I do have his Novels in original Spanish


Matt April 2, 2014 at 4:13 pm

1) A high fat + high protein diet
2) Weight training
3) High Intensity Interval Training (most likely sprinting)
4) 8-9 hours of sleep every night
5) He practiced a lot


Magallanes April 10, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Yeah btw I know for sure that he was indeed an expert in fencing and wrestling so the physical activity is important indeed


Jumaluu April 13, 2014 at 2:26 pm

After several starts and stops in Korean… I think I’ve got it. Now My Korean language acquiring counts 9 days and I’m still motivated (record!). The reason? The effort that I put in Anki… I’ve reduced it to one hour a day and not some hours anymore and much moooore listening. I think I’ve underestimated the effects of listening… because it’s so effective… I’ve never realized that.

Buy my question is… do you think it’s possible to reach native fluency in Korean? (These bloody scientits concern me because they give me the feel I can’t reach it cause to my age “critical period for second language acquisiton” even if I know somehow that this isn’t true) Because my goal is native fluency (actually better as the average Korean… but native fluency is good as well). it doesn’t matter if I need 5, 6 years or more… I’m young (18) and I would even make the effort to be able to write a freaking awesome book in Korean… because I think I’m addicted to Korean now… it’s my drug! (I’m gone off topic…)
Do you think it’s possible? About 50% of my day is either passive or active Korean and I want to keep it like this (or more if possible) and will only concentrate on input (listening and a few anki cards a day). I don’t want to speak a single word until I’m able to understand Korean tv etc. without a problem (or almost). I think I will need about 1.5 – 2 years and I don’t mind it. Speaking is overrated, I think understanding is way more important. When I acquired my first language ((Swiss-)German) I haven’t spoken a single word until I reach the age of 5! They thought I could be retarted or something like that… but now… my teachers are always surprised when they discover my big vocabulary or that I’m able to build very complex sentences without a problem. So I’ve just heard German until I was 5. Why should I rush in Korean now??

Because I’m so happy about my little progress in this week, I want to show you some facts^^

Things I noticed after one week:

– Korean sounds a bit slower and clearer now
– I think I could form a verb although I’ve never learnt “the rules” (Even “the unregulary” aren’t that difficutlt 듣다 > 들어 I think or 반갑다 > 반가워 but I don’t know if they are unregulary… I try to avoid grammar)
– When I watch a drama with korean subtitles I understand sometimes a phrase or can even guess the meanings (but this is at the moment very rarely). I think in every sentence I hear is at least one word I understand.
– I can distinguish ㄱ ㄲ ㅂ ㅃ etc. a lot better than before… but it’s still very difficult for me
– I think I’ve got the difference between 오빠 and 형…
– I don’t fear the language anymore… sometimes there are some difficult sentences… but once I can understand simple grammar… I’m able to decode the more complex one

These are my results and thoughts after one week. I think I’ve never had such good experiences after one week and now I’m very motivated to go further! And when I get better, the motivation will increase as well due to better understanding…

I hope that you can answer my question and I wish all of you a good journey in your target language! Keep motivated!


Matt April 27, 2014 at 6:16 pm

“…do you think it’s possible to reach native fluency in Korean?”

Yep. 😀

Keep it up buddy!


Jumaluu April 28, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Sure I will!
But since you are a bit further than me… could you recommend me some websites additionally to your booster pack? I’ve got enough stuff for dramas and movies… but what about forums? I tried to google some… but I haven’t found one yet… or is there a website for downloading/purchasing e-books??


Jumaluu April 28, 2014 at 6:06 pm

I’ve forgotten something! Would you say that you are able to distinguish ㄱ ㄲ ㅋ etc.? Although I’ve experienced a improvement in distinguish them, I sometimes think that I won’t master them… however we can’t rely to much on the written Korean (okay, that adjusts to other languages as well) because there is changing so much as soon as you speak in sentences (actually almost all human beings) so I have to master them somehow…


Matt April 29, 2014 at 2:45 am

I can’t recommend any websites or forums because 99% of my “studying” is watching movies, listening to podcasts, and doing Anki. I don’t really mess around with forums. As for distinguishing ㄱ ㄲ and ㅋ, I’d say don’t worry about it. If I were you, I’d ignore the writing system and focus on listening. In time 방 and 빵 will sound totally different. But that’s just my style, do whatever works 😀


Jumaluu May 2, 2014 at 7:32 pm

Thanks for the answer!
But how do you learn vocabulary? I make MCD sentences (according to AJATT) but do you translate them? All? Or do you think that we will somehow find out what the meanings are? (Yes, I think that this is possible although it seems to need more time to acquire the vocabulary like children than translating words first and later move on to monolingual/context guessing).

And what can I do against sudden boredom? I mean I’m mostly motivated but sometimes I’m even too bored to watch a film…
My experiences are that I’m very motivated in the first month but then it melts down… I hope always that this up and down will cease as soon as I reach intermediate level. What have you done (French, Korean) when you had/have motivation killer?

Jumaluu May 2, 2014 at 7:33 pm

Oh, yes! I’ve forgotten something again ^^
Do you see subtitles (in Korean) as harmful? Because I watch dramas mostly with korean subtitles.

Geoff April 27, 2014 at 4:53 am

Where did you guys go? Did you and Ramses elope or something?


Matt April 27, 2014 at 6:15 pm

There are gonna be two hits, bub: me hitting you, then me hitting you again before you hit the ground, which makes it three I guess. Three hits.

Seriously though, Ramses is just doing whatever people do in The Netherlands, and I’m just chillin’. I think we’ve both taught everything we know when it comes to “how-to” articles, and neither of us feels like writing a never ending stream of motivational posts. Our shit works, and is simple enough that it can be explained in a finite number of posts. That’s why I made this AMA, so people can ask really specific questions if they need to, ’cause frankly I don’t know what else to say to ya’ll. The hardest part to comprehend about language acquisition is that it’s really so simple.

Keep it real Geoff!


Geoff April 28, 2014 at 5:11 am

No worries man! I was just kinda bummed that you quit the blogging thing since I thought your shit was pretty funny. But good luck with whatever you crazy dudes decide to do.


Matt April 28, 2014 at 6:16 am

Thanks man. Who knows, maybe instead of articles I’ll just post crap I draw in MS Paint. That would be pretty cool.


Geoff April 28, 2014 at 7:18 am

Does that mean the whole Korean school thing was a bust? ;p

tama ni makura ni uzumeru hito July 8, 2014 at 10:25 pm

Hi Matt,

I just wanted to ask how it’s going on with Korean?

My target language is Japanese and at the moment I’m able to understand many sentences/phrases when I’m watching an anime/movie. My current goal is to going from “bla blah sentence blah blah sentence blah blah blah blah sentence” to blah sentence sentence blah sentence sentence sentence blah” etc.
I think two months and I will be there, but I don’t stress…

So how about you?


Jim Cheeks July 18, 2014 at 5:15 am

Hi Matt,

At what point do you just say, F*** the anki, and live your life completely immersed without it. I always wonder about learning a third language without all the anki, even from the get go. I know you have experience in this with french. How do you think your results would have differed had you used anki right away?


Matt July 23, 2014 at 4:30 pm

GREAT question. I’m at work right now, but I’m totally gonna answer this question when I get home.


Matt May 22, 2014 at 4:59 am

I don’t use MCDs, I only use single-sentence audio cards in my Anki decks. About boredom, well, just make sure whatever material you’re using is fun. My rule is simple- if I wouldn’t watch it in English, I won’t watch it in French or Korean.


Matt May 22, 2014 at 4:59 am

I’m really, crazy focused on listening so I never use subtitles. But hey, whatever works for you!


Matt April 29, 2014 at 2:39 am

Well, the class itself was retarded. But I did get to live in Korea and spend tons of time hanging out with natives & practicing. It’s funny, I never did homework or any assignments, yet I had the highest speaking level in the class; I was the “class leader” for the semester and had the worst grade in the class simultaneously. So much awesome.


Geoff April 29, 2014 at 2:57 am

haha I had the opposite experience at Middlebury back in the day. I had pretty good grades but my speaking level sucked terribly despite the “No english rule”. By the time I finished the 8 weeks I was so burnt out on the language that I ended up dropping the Russian major. So are you still blasting through Korean or have you moved on to greener pastures?


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