Learn a language 20 minutes/day

Message_1467858015214At least once a week, I hear people say they want to learn a language.  Because I live in Florida and near Cuba, people usually talk about learning Spanish.

From spending over a year in Spanish speaking countries, I’m already on my way with that language.  Because of my interest in coffee, history, and travel in general, there are more languages I’d like to be able to communicate in.

It’s too bad that the average American holds multi-lingual ability so high.  They’re just languages.  There is a finite number of words and rules, and you don’t need to know that much to get by.  English has a ton of rules and exceptions, especially when it comes to spelling.  German is easy to spell, but grammar is horrendous.  Spanish is easy all around.

Now I’m going after French.  The alphabet is pretty much the same, so it’s not as difficult as Arabic or Cantonese or one of the 22 languages of India.  After French is underway, I don’t think Italian and Portuguese should be that tricky.

So, let’s get into the method.  The key is to stay interested and not feel overwhelmed.  

I recommend you spend 15 minutes/day (or whenever you feel like it) reading/writing.  Spend the other 5 minutes listening.

It makes sense to me to start with a group of common words.  You can Google the 100 most common words in the language you are learning.  Although a forgotten and failed search engine, About.com actually has some really great language tools and I use it almost exclusively.  Write the words one day.  Start defining them over the next few sessions (see the picture above).

For listening practice, there is a site called www.rfi.com which you can listen to in 15 languages.  It broadcasts in different countries so you can hear Argentine Spanish in one article and reporters from Spain in another.  You can also choose the category and topic like news, sports, economy, etc.

After the 100 common words, verbs seem to be pretty important, so I made a list of 20 common verbs, most of which are from the 100 list.  Present tense is easy and effective in early communication, so I practice the conjugating patterns as seen below.


Work on only what you are working on.  That’s one way to avoid getting overwhelmed.  If you’re learning conjugation, don’t worry about understanding, you are just building patterns.  After the 4th verb, I was guessing the endings.  I was still way off, but by the 17th, I was conjugating confidently with 75% accuracy.

The next day, I defined the verbs I didn’t recognize, reading a few examples to improve association memory.  By now, I feel it’s important to overview pronunciation.  Using a guide like this one, I guess, listen, and practice the sounds.  Again, I spend about 15 minutes studying and then I listen for 5 minutes while doing something like organizing my room.

Then I look for another part of speech, maybe prepositions.  They pair well with nouns and and articles to make simple phrases like “on the table” and “beside the door”.  With a pad of post-it notes, your room can turn into a constant learning environment.parts of speech puzzle

If I spend 2 days on each part of speech, that’s just over 2 weeks.  After that, I’ll look into regular verb conjugations, common nouns, and start moving into past and future tenses.  That will keep me busy for another week or two.

So in just a month of studying only 20 minutes/day, I can start watching kids movies that I know, like The Lion King and Toy Story.  Watch them with the audio/subtitles in the language the you are learning.  When I can’t watch movies, I read very short stories for extremely young children.  Pretty soon, I’ll be able to watch adult movies that I know by heart such as The Matrix and Forrest Gump while studying French grammar and common expressions on my laptop.


It takes time and interest to begin learning a language, but once that momentum is built there is absolutely no stopping it.  For the rest of your life, you will be exposed to new bits and pieces of whichever languages you start.  The key is to start.


Food for thought (6 minute read)

“If it’s what you want to hear, then you’ve already made up your mind.” -quote from the movie Before We Go

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The first known form of life on this planet was Archaeabacteria dating back to 3.78 billion years ago.  We don’t know how or why or where it came from.


I’m not going to cite other articles just to make a point, but this is what I’ve gathered:

  • Bacteria colonized the first life on Earth.
  • They live in our gut.
  • Our gut affects our health.
  • After our bodies die, the bacteria consumes our bodies.

Who’s in control again?



The book I just finished reading, Brain Maker, is about the correlation between the state of the gut bacteria (microbiota) and our health.  After the book, I read 6 articles on how the author is a quack and his advice is dumb and dangerous.

In the end, we all have to take what each of us say with a grain of salt.  I’m as full of shit as anyone else out there and I honestly wish I would have realized this earlier.

I believe the most important thing is to study, experiment, and decide what works for you.

I tried the book’s recommendations for 6 weeks, looked like I was casting for Fight Club 2, and then went back to eating just normal, healthy food with the occasional junk food and sweets.

The thing I took away from it was that sugar really affects me.  The reasonable amount for my body seems to be less than half an ounce of sugar (which is how much is in a banana) per meal or snack.  Any more than that makes my heart rate increase for a half hour and followed by the drop in glucose which causes the “sugar crash”.

Why would an individual follow the latest health trends?  Are they hipsters who want to name drop the diet of the day to impress others?  That’s what I always thought.  But, why did I feel offended by their actions?  Confirmation bias is our tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms our preconceptions.  That means new ideas scare us.

The Greek physician and father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, is said to have said in the third century B.C.E., “All disease begins in the gut.”

What has the common treatment been for illnesses in the last hundred years?  A lot of the time it’s taking a pill, which dissolves into your bloodstream and goes to the symptom source.  Well, aspirin is made from Willow bark.  Penicillin is made from mold.  In fact everything that is “medicine” is formulated from stuff on this planet: herbs, roots, oils, minerals, seeds, water, animals, fungi, gases, etc.

A little bit of curiosity and googling can help you make better choices, whether at Burger King, a 4-star steakhouse, or a hippie-vegetarian restaurant.  You don’t have to say goodbye to your Thanksgiving and Christmas food or your Italian grandma’s lasagna.  You just have to know what is in the food and how it reacts with your body.  Then you can decide if you want to die 30 years early or dance on your 90th birthday.

Here are my brief notes from Dr. Perlmutter’s book:

  • Lipopolysaccharides cause “leaky gut”. They are present in the gut because of simple carbs, like sugar.
  • Cells accept sugar (glucose) using insulin for transportation.  Too much insulin (because of glucose and the pancreas) forces cells to turn off insulin receptors. This is how we get Type 2 Diabetes.
  • Fake sugars (fructose) don’t stimulate insulin, which suppresses hormones ghrelin and leptin.  Basically they make you want to eat, but you don’t know you when you’re full.

Cross-checking facts, I kept finding facts which say in the 1700’s, the average Englishman ate 4 pounds of sugar in a year.  In current times we eat an average of 77 pounds each year.

>>>Fun Fact: According to my research and calculations, one gram of sugar (1/4 teaspoon) equals the amount of energy absorbed from the sun shining on one square meter of black asphalt for 16 seconds. <<< 

Read labels.  If one of the first three ingredients is sugar, or if the amount of sugar is more than 1/4 of the serving size, I stay away from it.  If it’s too tasty looking, like a maple-bourbon-bacon donut, I take one big bite, which is only eat enough to get about 15 grams of sugar.




Isn’t it expensive to eat healthy?

I’m not gonna bore you with recipes, but this is about 8 meals for under $30.  This gets supplemented with thick-cut peppered bacon, granola, kale, other vegetables, and m.f.-in’ pancakes.  I’m not sold on marketing strategies like free-range nor organic, but the eggs were on sale for as much as the regular eggs. When I have the cash and inclination, I like to experiment and find out for myself if it’s hype or not.  I can tell you the organic JIF peanut butter is much better than the regular “natural” JIF.  Same brand and both jars have no sugar, but the organic doesn’t dry out like old wood putty.

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I tried a 24 hour fasting last Friday.  I have this body for up to 80 or even a hundred years.  Why not try some stuff out?  Why would I want to live every day the same for the rest of my life?

It was surprisingly easy (I only got hungry for an hour in the evening) and the next morning I didn’t even want breakfast.



If you want to know more about our bodies, the first half of this article (not for the weak of stomach) is pretty interesting.  I am a little baked* though, so keep that in mind.

[*After not being able to sleep well for 2 years, I tried smoking weed before bed.  I slept great 20 out of 22 nights.  When I did not smoke, during the same time frame, I woke up during the night 75% of the time, usually hyperventilating.]



If none of this is strange enough for you, fecal transplants (Bacteriotherapy), have been documented in the 4th century in China and are coming back.  Although relatively new in the U.S., German soldiers recorded using fresh camel feces in WWII to treat severe diarrhea in the Afrika Corps.  The FDA began regarding human stool as a treatment in 2013, specifically to treat a dangerous infection called Clostridium difficile infection (CDI).

Other animals, such as elephants and pandas are also born with sterile digestive tracks.  Hamsters, gorillas, chimpanzees, guinea pigs, and other animals eat their own feces.  It seems clear to me that this is why dogs perform coprophagia (eat other dog’s poop), to build up their microbiome.

We humans are have no bacteria in our gut when in the womb.  We get bacteria as and after we are born.  Vaginal birth, breastfeeding, and our environment are major factors.  Although antibiotics can save your life, they have a serious impact on your gut bacteria.  They are designed to annihilate bacteria, good and bad.  Ask questions and think about what you are doing.  Having an education means having a choice.


When you stop considering time as a resource, you realize how wasteful developed countries are with materials.


How dangerous are Central America and Mexico?

Is it dangerous outside of the U.S.?  Here are some photos from living over a year in Latin America.  You decide.

(The following photos are from 2 separate trips, a year apart, paid for in full by working entry level jobs at restaurants.)