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Is it possible to learn a new language in 48 hours?

If you are a sane, right-thinking human, your response is probably a very resounding, “No!”. So let me adjust the question a touch: “is it possible to learn 120 words in 48 hours?”

You might accept that that is rather less absurd. Even a touch unambitious, perhaps.

“Is it possible to learn 120 words and 10 grammar rules in 48 hours?” Again, that seems fairly doable, doesn’t it?

So, what if there was an entire language that consisted only of 120 words and 10 grammar rules? Then would it be possible to learn a language in 48 hours?

I don’t know. But I’d like to find out! And luckily for me, there is just such a language – Toki Pona.

So we are going to find out. On the 11th and 12th of December, we will be holding the first Memrise Language-athon. A group of ambitious free spirits will gather together in Memrise’s Bethnal Green HQ to focus their minds for 48 hours on nothing but learning to communicate fluently in Toki Pona.

“Why?” You may very reasonably be asking.

Eight years of French, Latin and Ancient Greek lessons at school taught me only one lesson that really sunk in: that I was rubbish at learning languages.

It wasn’t until years after leaving school that I had the experience that changed my attitude to language learning. I remember the moment very clearly. I was having lunch with a ‘language partner’ in a cosy restaurant in Qiqihaer, in a distant corner of Northern China.

She was speaking slowly, clearly, annunciating her words. I was just about keeping up. I was conscious of every word as she said it. Then she started to speed up. The words came faster and faster… and yet I still felt myself understanding what she said. She spoke, and understanding emerged in my mind.

In reality of course she was still speaking the most basic Chinese possible – but the experience to me was deeply and authentically magical. I felt my ability to perceive the world expanding as she spoke. My brain was doing something I had never before believed possible; something that I had come to believe that I was not capable of.

That experience has influenced everything I’ve worked on since. It was one of the most profound moments in my mental development.

I’d like to work out how to help more people have that experience, earlier in their language learning careers – that is what this Language-athon is really about.

I want to know if, by focusing on a language that is as compact and elegantly constructed as Toki Pona, we can fast track people to that moment of linguistic magic. Because if we can, then perhaps Toki Pona could be a new route into starting to learn languages.

If you’d like to join in, email me (ben@memrise.com) explaining why you think you think it would be fun – space is limited and the places will go to the most inspiring applications!

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