Hello! My name is Jonty Yamisha. I’m an accidental polyglot, an endangered language activist, and the founder of OptiLingo.
Deep down, though, I’m a language learner. I like to learn new languages. I speak several, and I’m hoping to learn several more. But I wasn’t always this way. For a good portion of my life, I was a monolingual—someone who speaks one language—and I struggled to learn languages.
It All Began in My Childhood
My parents immigrated to the United States as refugees in 1967. I guess you could say I’m a third-generation refugee. My great-grandparents were born in what is now the Russian Federation, though, at the time of their births, the region was called Circassia.
My parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents all spoke several languages, along with our ethnic language, Circassian. Unfortunately, this 200-year-old tradition ended with me. I never spoke anything other than English as a child.
At each family gathering, the sounds of the words that flowed in their conversations were familiar and even comforting, but their meaning was completely lost on me.
I was never able to pick up more than the most basic of vocabulary. My ability to speak was practically non-existent, and my comprehension wasn’t much better.
This was a huge barrier blocking connection and communication between most of my family and me. For my entire life, the lost words of my now-deceased grandfather have haunted me.
To this day, I can see his kind smile and tired eyes, but I will never recapture his words. It was at that moment that I decided I wanted to not only learn the Circassian language, but to keep it alive.
How I Taught Myself
I learned quickly that the Circassian language was considered “at risk” by the United Nations. By some estimates, fewer than 20 percent of the world’s ethnic Circassians can speak the language, and that number will likely decrease to 10 percent over the coming decades.
To put that number in other terms, there are approximately 1.5 million speakers of the language out of the 8 billion people on Earth; that means that less than .0001% of the world’s population speaks this language.
I defined an ambitious goal: save my dying ethnic language and learn it as quickly and easily as possible so I could teach it to others. If I couldn’t make learning it fast and easy, I would fail, and my language couldn’t be passed on.
Language is more than spoken words and scribbles of letters. It’s tied to how a culture expresses its innermost thoughts; hopes, fears, disappointments, achievements, gratitude, and love. It permeates our recipes, literature, media, music, and more.
Language shapes the way that people view the world, too. When a language dies out, it’s not as easy to simply use a different language. Some ideas and concepts are unique to the culture in which the language is spoken.
I felt a duty to help in saving my dying ethnic language. In passing on the language to more people, I would also be helping to pass on the beautiful culture of my family and my ancestors.
So I started learning how to learn. I purchased every commercial language-learning course available and dedicated countless hours to studying.
I even attended rapid learning programs. I did this across as many different languages as possible–those closely related to English and those distant from it. Even those with similar alphabets, different alphabets, or no alphabets at all.
Over the years, I’ve learned how to speak Circassian well enough that I am often mistaken for a native speaker. I’ve taught thousands of people to speak my language.
I never dreamt I’d speak it to my wife and parents; I never imagined it would be the first language of my children; I never thought I’d become so passionate about language learning in general.
Learning More Than Circassian
As I improved my language-learning skills, I discovered three things:
- I’d stumbled upon my own method for learning languages.
- My method could work across a variety of different languages.
- It turned out that the method I had intuitively stumbled upon – and then refined through trial and error – was backed by decades of research in linguistics and neuroscience.
I call my method Guided Immersion. Here’s how it works:
- Guided Immersion focuses on high-frequency words and useful phrases.
- These words and phrases are designed to be mixed and matched so that you can say thousands of useful things. Each word or phrase is like a tool in a toolbox. Once it’s in there, you can pull it out for use in different contexts.
- We cover a variety of grammatical structures that build upon each other, so you absorb proper speech organically – just like small children.
- Finally, we provide lots of natural repetition; there’s no need to memorize anything; the content just settles into your brain.
I pioneered my method for over a decade, teaching the Circassian language as the Executive Director of the non-profit Nassip Foundation. I then commercialized my method and applied it to 20 different languages as the founder and CEO of OptiLingo.
So if you’re dreaming of learning a new language but don’t know where to start or how to finish, you’re at the right place. Because I’m Jonty, and these are my Language Learning Secrets. Welcome!
Here, I do my best to lay out as much detail as possible and provide you with stories, examples, and practical tips you can use to take advantage of the tools and methods I present.
To learn more about me or the methods I use, dive right in!