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Moses McCormick’s admirable achievement

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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United States
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 Message 1 of 221
13 December 2008 at 8:25pm | IP Logged 
Whenever someone subscribes to my YouTube channel, I am informed via a link that shows me that person’s channel page. I am curious as to what kind of person finds me intriguing, so I always look their pages over. As an aside, I must say that I notice a confluence of interests surprisingly often, as people who tend to value my videos also share other relatively rare tastes with me across the board, such as my political leanings or historical and other interests, with a far greater frequency than I encounter these tendencies in other people in the normal run of life. Of course, however, the binding tie is love of languages, and in this respect, I have just made a “discovery” of a remarkable degree of linguistic aptitude when Moses McCormick subscribed to my channel the other day.

I gather that Mr. McCormick is a majoring in Chinese at the University of Ohio, Columbus. He is 27 years old, and began studying languages at the age of 19. He describes three key elements in being able to learn languages:
1) access to necessary resources (and he relies primarily upon the Teach Yourself Series plus online language exchanges with native speakers).
2) confidence to speak precisely so that you can make mistakes and, learning from them, improve.
3) an open mind.
And he implies a 4th element, namely lots and lots of hard work.

Over the past 4 months, Mr. McCormick has posted videos of himself speaking an astounding range of languages, the LEAST exotic of which being for him, a native English speaker, Russian, Bulgarian, and Armenian. The list of 23 languages that Mr. McCormick has studied over the past 8 years includes (but may not be limited to):


Members of that coterie of critics who always surface to harp on the lack of a native accent (as if such a thing were desirable, let alone attainable) will probably immediately emerge to nag on the fact that he has not attained this – though why and how should he, sitting by himself in Ohio? Developing a decent accent requires a long period of actual immersion in a living language unless one has a particular inborn talent - as some people do, but from which the rest of us cannot learn. Mr. McCormick’s attainments, on the other hand, are something that we may actually be able to learn from. Indeed, he not only makes videos of himself speaking languages, but – for Zulu, Swahili, Hindi, Chinese, and a number of others – teaching their rudiments. Not only does he write on the board in his videos, but he has posted paragraphs of composition on his blog, so it is eminently clear that he considers every aspect of every language he studies. I only overlap with him on about half of his languages, but in all of those that I understand, I understand him perfectly. What he can do in Korean, for instance, is far, far, far more than most of my fellow past colleagues could do after years in the country. Furthermore, as he clearly states in many videos, he is emphatically not making them to claim to have “mastered” the tongues, but rather precisely so as to get feedback for those areas upon which he needs to concentrate so as to improve. More than anything else, I am truly impressed by the degree to which he is most clearly and truly actively thinking in the languages as he speaks them at the relative length of three or four minutes at a time.

Many of Mr. McCormick’s videos have few views and no ratings, and his blog has no followers. He has put forth a tremendous amount of time and energy in pursuit of our common passion, and as a result he has not only already attained admirable results, but he holds the promise of being a core teaching polyglot for years to come. I believe that anyone who finds this thread in this discussion room should naturally and of necessity feel the greatest respect for Mr. McCormick and all that he has achieved. Let us all visit his sites to congratulate him on what he has attained, to encourage him to continue doing what he is doing, and indeed, to ask him to join us here on our forum in the hopes of stimulating more interesting discussions about the art and science of language learning!

Here are the links to Moses McCormick’s YouTube channel and his blog.

Alexander Arguelles

Edited by ProfArguelles on 22 April 2009 at 2:40pm

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Senior Member
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Speaks: Italian*, French, English, German, Latin, Ancient Greek, Russian, Norwegian
Studies: Georgian, Japanese, Croatian, Greek

 Message 2 of 221
14 December 2008 at 1:57am | IP Logged 
Indeed, this is shocking. Of all the young polyglots who have shared videos of themselves on the net over the past few years Mr. McCormick is by far the most accomplished. As far as I could judge (which is very little, unfortunately) his work on pronunciation is impressive: his Japanese, Mandarin and Thai ring true, and he can mimick the Russian cadence better than many slavists I have heard, even if he calls himself a beginner... Plus, I notice he tends to work on unrelated and very unique languages, so no tricks here (as in: I speak Serbian AND Croatian). His being one year my junior makes me feel like reconsidering a lot of things about the way I study. That's it, the stake has been raised once more, the standards are being redefined. If somebody needs me in the next couple of centuries, I'll be standing in a waterfall meditating on the poorness of my methods...

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United States
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Speaks: English*, French, Sign Language, Spanish, Polish
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 Message 3 of 221
14 December 2008 at 2:08pm | IP Logged 

Great find, professor

It is really amazing how much he has accomplished, particularly considering that he appears to prefer tackling the more exotic tongues. He really puts himself out there and goes for it, which is why he will likely evolve into a great polyglot. I like how he attempts to speak freely, with no apparent script, and I like seeing the comments that he writes in the various languages.

I definitely will be following his videos. We should get this guy on the forum so he can share his methods.

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 Message 4 of 221
14 December 2008 at 2:49pm | IP Logged 
I have to say I'm very impressed! He may not speak the languages perfectly but he certainly sounds a lot more fluent and coherent that most other language learners (myself included!).

I must admit I feel a little jealous. This man seems to take to languages like a duck to water...

Thanks for the links and videos!
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 Message 5 of 221
14 December 2008 at 7:56pm | IP Logged 
Professor, thanks for sharing the links to Moses McCormick's channel and blog (which I am now subscribing to). This is truly inspiring.

Jeff Lindqvist
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 Message 6 of 221
15 December 2008 at 5:37am | IP Logged 
How ironic! I was watching Steve the Linguist just last week and came across Mr. McCormick's page and videos. His accomplishments are indeed quite impressive given the languages he has chosen, and he is able to use each of them for several minutes at a time without recourse to a script or note or anything of the sort. I have not watched any of his lesson videos, though I did notice them, and I think that certainly enhances his offering; unlike other polyglots on Youtube, who simply post videos of themselves speaking, Mr. McCormick has decided to share his knowledge and methods through the videos as well.

However, I must partially disagree with you, Professor, on his accent. While you make a fantastic point about him being in Ohio (away from speakers of nearly all of his languages, most likely), you also mentioned one of his primary methods: communicating with native speakers over the internet. If we assume that these exchanges are oral then I would expect his accent, at least for several of the languages, to be better than they are. Yes, some people either do not care or are unable to gain a pleasant accent, but I was surprised to hear that he had a rather distinctive accent in most, if not all of his languages. Perhaps I am expressing myself similarly to those who you described early in your post, but this is simply how I feel. I do apologize if any of my words on the matter of accent are at all discourteous or cause me to seem overly particular.

Evan McKinney
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United Kingdom
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 Message 7 of 221
15 December 2008 at 6:13am | IP Logged 
In my opinion many language learners are quite insanely 'hung up' about attaining a perfect pronunciation!

The simple fact is this: as a non-native speaker, one can almost never attain a truly flawless accent and intonation! (To do so it would probably be necessary to live in a country where the language is spoken for 20 years or more...)

Accent only really becomes an issue if:

a) It is so heavy that it is inhibiting understanding.
b) A person is intent upon masquerading as a native speaker of the language.

Assuming that neither of these are the case, then it is surely just fine to speak any given language with a light 'foreign' accent?

--Jon Burgess

Edited by JonB on 17 December 2008 at 4:20am

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 Message 8 of 221
17 December 2008 at 9:10am | IP Logged 
I really do think that Mr. McCormick's achievements are amazing. However, I should like to point out that he does not appear to have equal mastery of all his languages. His Arabic and Persian, for instance, are at a very low level (not to mention his pronunciation) compared to e.g. his Chinese. This does not, of course, take away from his achievements, but it does underline that the number 23 refers to the amount of languages that he has studied, rather than to the amount of languages he has acquired a good knowledge of. I guess it is a matter of taste and inclination as to whether one wants to study such a huge number of languages in such a brief period of time or whether one wants to focus on a smaller number but achieve more in each individual language.

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