Old man Steve Kaufmann cartoon

Who is Steve Kaufmann?

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 2024, 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 gave Steve an early advantage in picking up languages. When he was just a little kid of 5, the family moved to Montreal, Canada, 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. Steve may have gotten lucky. But I tend to believe he was just persistent. Either way, he made it to London ten days later.

From there, Steve hitchhiked through Europe. He picked up basic language skills in Spain, Italy, and Germany. Steve couldn’t get enough of languages. He even studied politics while learning French in Paris.

Later, he enrolled in the Canadian diplomatic service and learned Mandarin in Hong Kong. He became fluent in it within a year of full-time studying. After that, he learned Japanese when working at the Canadian embassy in Japan.

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 the Gordon Ramsay of language learning. But he doesn’t just help regular folks like you and me. He founded the North American Polyglot Symposium. So, he’s also However, 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.

Are you struggling to learn a new language? You might want to hit up Steve Kaufmann.

Language learning technique

So, let’s begin this section by quoting Kaufmann:

“The best way to learn a language is to ingest it massively. How? 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. He has developed his 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.

Kaufmann doesn’t like sticking 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. 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 crucial 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.

Steve Kaufmann cartoon

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 as 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. If Stephen Krashen thinks you’re good, you know you’re doing something right.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, Steve Kaufmann is a language-learning legend. 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 stick to speaking English and hope for the best.

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4 Comments

  1. Whoa! This post is such an intriguing dive into Steve Kaufmann’s life and his passion for languages. I mean, twenty languages, are you kidding me? I’m here juggling between English and well English, and this guy’s got the whole linguistic world in his pocket! I’ve got to say that his childhood probably played a big part in sparking his language enthusiasm. I mean, a bilingual family and then growing up in Montreal, a city that’s a melting pot of cultures and languages.

    His European escapade story, quitting his job, and getting aboard a German tramp steamer – that’s straight out of a movie! You need a certain kind of resilience and determination to take such bold steps. It’s inspiring to see how he turned these experiences into opportunities for language learning.

    And let’s not even get started on his career in the diplomatic service and the versatility he showed in learning Mandarin and Japanese. Steve’s story is a testament that you can use your passion to fuel your career. He’s just not stopping, is he? He is in his 60s, and he’s still adding more to his language repertoire!

    But what gets me the most is his approach toward language learning. It’s not academic or rigid. It’s more about immersing oneself completely, taking the language in its natural context. He’s not just reading language textbooks. He’s reading history books in that language! And his emphasis on making mistakes and learning from them is such a fresh perspective.

    It is not a surprise he’s regarded as a role model (by language-learning experts). And you’ve got to appreciate that he’s using his knowledge and skills to help others (with his social media contributions and participation in language learning symposiums).

    So to all my friends trying to learn a new language and finding it a daunting task, remember Steve Kaufmann’s words. Make mistakes, immerse yourself, and most importantly, enjoy the process. And hey, if he can do it in his 60s, so can we, right?

    1. Hi, John.
      Yeah, Steve Kaufmann has an exciting story. Getting acquainted with it does not only help us learn languages more efficiently, but it also is a big encouragement.

  2. Steve Kaufmann is a language superhero. His language journey is an adventure. He quit his job to travel Europe and learn languages on the go. He learned Mandarin in just a year. And after that, tackling Japanese while working as a trade commissioner in Japan? That’s mind-blowing! But what’s even better is that he keeps learning languages even in his 60s.

    1. Hi! I hope Steve Kaufmann’s story has served as an inspiration. I wish you all the best in your language-learning journey!

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