West Van YouTuber teaches the world to speak, one language at a time


Steve Kaufmann, 75, speaks 20 languages ​​and reaches millions of people through his social media giving language instructions.

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Anyone with enough motivation and time can learn a new language, says Steve Kaufmann, and age is not a factor.

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He should know: The West Vancouverite speaks 20 languages ​​with varying degrees of proficiency, has 400,000 subscribers on its educational YouTube channel, and over 25 million views. And co-founded LingQ, a language learning app used by over a million people.

Learning a language is not difficult and it should be fun, it is its currency.

It’s a bit like taking a long walk, he says, a walk in which you might not reach your destination but you certainly get somewhere: if you are able to enjoy the scenery, it doesn’t matter where you are. find, that’s good.

“My message on language learning, via social media, is that we can all learn languages,” Kaufmann said over the phone from his home in Eagle Harbor, “and that traditional language teaching, focused on grammar and good language, is counterproductive. “

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Kaufmann was born in Sweden, just after the end of World War II, to Czechoslovak Jewish parents, but the family moved to Montreal in 1950, when he was five years old.

At 17, he quit a job in construction and looked for a ship in the Port of Montreal that would take him to Europe in exchange for work on board. After a few refusals, he succeeds with the Gerda Schell, a German vagabond. Ten days later the boat was moored at the docks in London, England, and from there Kaufmann traveled to Dover, took a ferry to Ostend in Belgium, then headed to Grenoble in France, where he spent a year at the foot of the Alps. .

He had taken French lessons growing up in Montreal, but now he’s taken the plunge head first, studying French at the Institut d’études politiques de Paris, a large school which luminaries such as Pierre Trudeau and several French presidents attended. From there, Kaufmann traveled across Europe, going through the basics of Spanish, Italian, and German.

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Driven by his new linguistic hobby, he applied and was hired as a trade commissioner for the Canadian government. It took him a year of full-time study to master Mandarin in 1967 as Canada prepared to recognize the People’s Republic of China.

Relocated to Japan in the early 1970s, he must now learn to speak the language of that country. After leaving the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Kaufmann spent nine years in Japan and worked in commercial lumber. He is still President of KP Wood Ltd, based in West Van.

But it wasn’t until later in life that he started learning other languages ​​- he started studying Russian, his ninth language, at age 60 – and is now tackling Arabic. and farsi.

(The full list of languages ​​he speaks includes English, French, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Swedish, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese , Ukrainian, Czech, Slovak, Romanian, Greek and Turkish, and the two languages ​​he is currently studying while listening to Arabic and Iranian TV series, watching news on Al Jazeera and reading books on Arab and Persian history.)

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Kaufmann’s model of learning has won him praise from people like Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus of linguistics and education at the University of Southern California, who on at least two occasions has said he admires the methods of Kaufmann.

The West Vancouverite is lively and upbeat in his YouTube tutorials, a small part of his library-like collection of books and CDs can be seen behind him in his airy wood-themed home.

“You have to be motivated, you have to love the language,” said Kaufmann. “It’s all about the attitude, you have to think you can do it, you want to learn the language, you think the time you spend learning the language is well spent.

“You can’t blame yourself at this point, you have to spend a lot of time on it. There is no way to be fluent in three days, three weeks, or three months.

The trick is not to get bogged down by the rules of the new language, Kaufmann said, or to become frustrated because you can’t master a new language. This is where teaching traditional languages ​​discourages people, he said.

“Anyone can learn and you will improve; not only do you gradually learn more of the language, but your brain becomes more flexible, more used to different sounds, to different ways of saying things.

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twitter.com/gordmcintyre

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