I have a confession to make: like many in our society today, I was once a workaholic. As an entrepreneur, I had a tendency to obsess over whatever idea I was working on. I would work for hours upon hours, sometimes more than 16 hours a day! It was too much! I would sacrifice family time, relationships, my health and my overall well-being all in the name of a 'more is better' mentality. In the end though, this approach ended up being highly inefficient, and even self-destructive.
Enter the Minimal Effective Dose (MED). The Minimal Effective Dose is simply the smallest amount of input that will produce the desired result, and anything beyond that is wasteful. For example, water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. If you add more heat, the water doesn't become 'more boiled', rather, it becomes a waste of energy.
MED is also highly applicable to language learning. The grammar of any language can easily be perceived as complex and intimidating. Parkinson's Law dictates that work expands to fill the time that you allow it. By studying grammar at too great a length, its complexity only increases! That's no fun!
By having a native speaker translate the following 12 sentences into the language I'm learning, I can quickly deconstruct that language's grammar in an afternoon. These 12 sentences give me the critical few structures I need for constructing sentences when speaking (e.g. direct object, indirect object, noun cases and possessives).
The MED of Grammar Study:
The apple is red.
It is John's apple.
I give John the apple.
We give him the apple.
He gives it to John.
She gives it to him.
Is the apple red?
The apples are red.
I must give it to him.
I want to give it to her.
I'm going to know tomorrow.
I can't eat the apple.
(The 4 Hour Chef, Ferriss)
The MED of Fluency in Any Language:
What if one wants to become fluent in any language?
First, deconstruct the language's grammar using the 12 sentences listed above. Then, memorize the 1200 highest frequency words and learn all the conjugations for auxiliary verbs (e.g. to have, to want, to need, to be, to be able to, to make, I am going to). Learn to speak starting with an auxiliary verb, and then slap the infinitive of any other verb that isn't auxiliary at the end of the sentence. For instance: I am going (to swim) tomorrow.
More Uses of MED in Language Learning:
For more examples of MED in language learning, I recommend checking out fluent-forever.com. Read the article ‘Your Base Vocabulary: The first 625 words’. This 625-word list will give you 80% or more of the highest frequency vocabulary, which you can then translate into your target language.
Another link I recommend is Four Hour Work Week. This blog (by acclaimed lifehacker Timothy Ferriss) covers some very useful methods for rapid language acquisition that center around MED.
Some language learning purists may disagree with MED, as it ignores certain grammar structures and vocabulary. However learning a new language can be highly intimidating to most people. It is only by cultivating selective ignorance and focusing on the few materials relevant to your goal, that you can effectively cut a path through the language learning jungle. Learning effectively requires massive elimination and the removal of options. If everything is important then nothing is important. Focus on the critical few instead of the trivial many. Use the Minimal Effective Dose!
Ferriss, Timothy. The 4-hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life. Boston: New Harvest, 2012. Print.
Hero image: Author's own photo