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Accelerated Language Learning (Timothy Ferris)

November 07, 2007

Many years ago I wrote a paper on accelerated learning and experience induction.  This paper explains how I induce weeks of experience in days, months of experience in weeks, and years of experience in months and how to dramatically learn new technologies with little to no investment.  I know people who have worked in a field for 4 years, but only have 6 months worth of skill (usually VB developers -seriously).  I also know people who have worked for 6 months, but have over 4 years of skill (usually Linux geeks; paradoxically, VB developers usually are quicker to learn .NET basics than PHP developers, though they usually switch places in more advanced studies.)  How can anyone expect to gain skill by doing the exact same job for 4 years (e.g. building database driven interfaces, cleaning data, writing reports)?  Obviously, calendar-years of experience is not directly related to skill-years of experience.  As it turns out, my learning techniques are not uncommon.

Today, author Timothy Ferris (Four Hour Work Week) posted a blog entry about how he learns languages in an incredibly short timeframe.  His post was fascinating to me for many reasons, one of them being that his first step is as follows: "Before you invest (or waste) hundreds and thousands of hours on a language, you should deconstruct it."  This is the same first step in my accelerated learning method.  Apparently I was on to something!  In his deconstruction method, he asks a few key questions and does some component and paradigm comparisons to give you some idea of the language scope and of its difficulty.  Based on what you learn from the deconstruction, you should have a good idea of what the language entails.

In my learning system, I refer to this deconstruction as "learning the shell", which is followed by "learning the foundations", then "learning the specifics" -- Shell, Foundations, Specifics -- my SFS (pronounced "sifs") method.  The method exploits Pareto's Law, allowing you to learn 20% of the technology at first to give you 80% of the return.  That's MUCH more than what most so-called "experts" have anyhow!  As it turns out, Timothy Ferris uses Pareto's Law in his language learning as well.  You can hear about this in his interview with my other role model, Scott Hanselman.

For more information on Timothy Ferris' other life-optimization work, check out his book The Four Hour Work Week and his blog.

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