Changing the way you learn language could be the best thing you’ve ever done.
One of the things I love so much about teaching online is I get to travel the world from my armchair and meet many fascinating people from all over the world. I can have in-depth conversations with people I’d otherwise never have a chance to speak to. Most of the people I meet are students with wonderful life stories and inspiring reasons for learning English. But I also meet teachers. Incredible people who we can all learn from. One such teacher is Tony Marsh, a guy with a precise, effective teaching method with profound learning philosophies. He was kind enough to give an hour of his time to me in a Skype interview. Here’s what I learnt about him.
Tony has spent the last 10 years developing his method. It all started back in 2005 when he was working in the armed forces as an Arabic cryptologic linguist. He joined the DLI to learn Arabic but started to feel disillusioned by their methods. He soon began tutoring other disillusioned students.
While teaching, he noticed that people had too many misconceptions about learning. So he started to develop systems that would stop people focusing on the wrong things and get them using the language immediately. No questions. No Study. Just doing.
Tony points out that people are often stuck in the paradox of how can you use the language without “learning” it, but, as he says;
“[Learning language] is like riding a bike, you can’t learn to ride a bike by reading about it. You have to ride it!…The inherent generativity of language is so that you can learn a little and use it to make a lot!”
In 2006 he saw a Ted Talk from Benoit Mandelbrot talking about fractal patterns in nature. Looking at the way trees and river systems grow. They start with a trunk, branches grow out, then smaller branches grow out of them and then even smaller branches (or leaves) grow out of them. Tony started to think that language grows this way too. The more he thought about fractals the more he started to apply this concept to his teaching. The verb is the seed and you make a conversation by watering the seed. A whole conversation stems from the verb, and all the other language branches out of it.
How does the Tony Marsh method work?
Tony presents this “fractal tree” in an excel spreadsheet that grows out from left to right. There are some great videos on his youtube page which show it in practice.
He trains you to be your own teacher using his matrix, (a spreadsheet of language building blocks that grow out, like the branches on a tree.) You build the matrix together and then practise in your own time including more traditional listening, reading and writing exercises.
The method works on the principle that every single word in a sentence can be switched out for another word. As I watched him write out sentences in Spanish and Arabic at the same time I could see how you can learn by this association. It’s like watching a formula develop on a math geek’s blackboard. A better description might be; it’s like watching crystals grow on a giant snowflake.
One fascinating aspect of Tony’s method is how well it works with people who have otherwise failed at languages. “My best types [of learner]” he says “are those who say they are bad at learning languages. Those that have tried and failed in the past. The worse they think they’re going to be, the better they are”.
There’s a great video on YouTube of a Venezuelan kid with ADHD who can finally focus due to Tony’s method. As Tony explains;
“You need the space for your mind to wander… It’s the act of expressing outwards that leaves the shape of the language in your mind.”
What kind of results do you get?
Tony’s method is always in development as he believes there will always be a better algorithm to replace the last. But his goal is to hit critical mass in 21 hours. So in one intensive month, you’ll have all you need to be speaking at an intermediate level.
To put it into perspective he did a 1-month class with 2 guys from the FBI 4 years ago and after 120 hours they tested at a B1-B2 level. He’s now working towards that same result in just 21 hours!
Tony’s method is changing people’s lives. He’s really harnessing our innate ability to learn by doing. I’m looking forward to hearing if he reaches his goal of critical mass in 21 hours and I will, of course, keep you updated. But, if you’d like to stay up-to-date with his development and even try out one of his lessons, subscribe to his youtube channel or check out his website.
He’s currently promoting his Arabic (or Spanish, Portuguese or English) in 1 week – 7 hours course.
You can see how much Arabic I was talking in just 30 minutes and get a feel for how the method works in this video here where I learn Arabic using his Language Matrix.
If you’d like to learn using Tonys method click here to find out more!
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