Steve Kaufmann is a Canadian polyglot, which is just a fancy way of saying he’s one of those guys who can speak a million languages. Okay, maybe not a million, but as of 2023, he’s got a grasp of about 20 different languages!
He was born in Sweden back in 1945 to Jewish parents from Czechoslovakia. They were bilingual in Czech and German, which probably gave Steve an early advantage in picking up languages. When he was just a little tyke of 5, the family moved to Montreal, Canada, and that’s where he grew up.
Now, here’s where things get interesting. In 1962, Steve decided he wanted to go to Europe, so he quit his construction job and went down to the docks to find a ship that would hire him and pay him by taking him to Europe. After being turned down twice, he finally landed a job on a German tramp steamer that had lost a sailor. I guess you could say he got lucky, or maybe he was just really persistent. Either way, he made it to London ten days later.
From there, Steve hitchhiked through Europe, picking up basic language skills in Spain, Italy, and Germany. It’s like he just couldn’t get enough of languages. He even studied politics while learning French in Paris.
Then Steve joined the Canadian diplomatic service and learned Mandarin in Hong Kong. And get this, he became fluent in it within a year of full-time studying. Then, when he was posted to the Canadian embassy in Japan, he had to learn Japanese.
Afterward, he moved to Japan and worked as a trade commissioner for nine years, using his language skills in commercial trade. And then, when he was like, I don’t know, in his 60s or something, he started learning even more languages!
Steve Kaufmann today
He attends conferences, talking about how he learned all these different languages. Kaufmann’s also all over social media, dishing out language-learning tips and tricks like they’re hotcakes. He’s like the Gordon Ramsay of language learning. He doesn’t just help regular folks like you and me, he founded the North American Polyglot symposium. Yeah, that’s right, he’s like the king of language nerds.
But Kaufmann’s not content just sitting at home on his computer. He’s out there traveling the world to learn even more languages. And when he gets there, he’s not just speaking to the locals in English, he’s giving interviews in their native language! Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian, you name it.
And if that’s not enough to impress you, Kaufmann’s also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.
So if you’re struggling to learn a new language, you might want to hit up Steve Kaufmann. Just don’t be surprised if he starts spouting off in like 20 different languages at once. That’s just how he rolls.
Language learning technique
So, let’s begin this section by quoting Kaufmann:
“The best way to learn a language is to massively ingest it, by listening and reading. Listening and reading are so powerful. If you can read books, you know the language. Getting to know a language takes a lot of time and a lot of interaction with it – and a lot of that time has to be on your own. I think it’s better to work on comprehension and vocabulary without pressure to reproduce the language (by speaking).”—Steve Kaufmann on language learning
Steve Kaufmann has been learning languages over the past 50 years. And he has developed his own unique language-learning techniques. He’s all about total immersion. That means diving headfirst into the language and not being afraid to make mistakes. It’s like when I was a kid and jumped into a pool without knowing how to swim. Except Kaufmann jumps into a language pool and knows how to swim like a pro.
He’s also a big reader, but not just any books. Kaufmann loves to read history books in the language he’s learning.
Now, here’s the thing, Kaufmann doesn’t like to stick to a set schedule when he’s learning a language. He’ll listen to content in his target language while doing other things, like cleaning the house or cooking dinner. And he says: “age isn’t an issue when it comes to learning a language, so you can still learn even if you’re my age.”
But let’s not forget the most important thing Kaufmann believes in when it comes to language learning: making mistakes. He sees them as a natural part of the learning process, so don’t be afraid to mess up.
Kaufmann has French, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Swedish, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Ukrainian, Czech, Slovak, and Romanian in his bag of tricks. Plus, he’s learning Arabic and Persian. It’s like he’s collecting languages the way I collect pebbles on the beach.
Even the experts in language acquisition, like Stephen Krashen, are impressed by Kaufmann’s language learning abilities. Krashen says Kaufmann is a model for other language learners. I mean, if Stephen Krashen thinks you’re good, then you know you’re doing something right.
In conclusion, Steve Kaufmann is a language-learning legend. He’s like the Chuck Norris of language learning. So, let’s all take a page from his book and jump headfirst into the language pool, make mistakes, and read history books in foreign languages. Or, you know, we could just stick to speaking English and hope for the best.