Take a code break, and hack your brain with a foreign language!

Short Form


How I used free, available and Open Source technology for 1 year and 3 months to teach myself a conversational level of German. It can be applied to learning any foreign language, and anyone can do it!


This talk is geared around pointing out the amazing wealth of free and available technology and information we all have access too, and how that can be used in order to teach yourself a foreign language. It is pretty common to hear folks say, “if you want to learn a language, just move to that country”. And while that may be true in some respects, not all of us have the ability to jump up and go do that – even if we wish we could.

Learning a language is about emersion, and as a programmer I know that it is quite easy, even natural, to become completely immersed in writing code. The way we do this is by surrounding ourselves with technology that in one way or another enforces and stimulates our brains to think about different aspects of the technology we constantly interact with (reading blogs, listening to podcasts, going to meetups, arguing on irc, reading others code).

Over time, these technologies become so second nature – that I can work in vim all day and the moment I step away from the terminal I can’t tell you a single vim command I used in my 8 hour session. This is the same kind of place in your brain where a foreign language needs to live. And applying the same methods one uses to become a technology master, we can get our brain to do the same thing with language.

In both of these scenarios getting to the point of “no thinking required” is not for the faint of heart, and requires a level of commitment that many would consider fanaticism. But this kind of dedication is no stranger to a community of people that find a “2 week, 24 hr a day, world of warcraft binge” as an acceptable pastime.

Using technology we can dive into the culture of a foreign nation, to hear and understand the politics, the current societal and economic issues, the music, the sports, tv, movies, humor and much more.

I would like to explain where and how I had to search to find the resources I needed and tools I used to keep track of my progress. I also have some recommendations on methods I employed in order to keep taking my efforts seriously and avoid distraction. But more importantly I want to talk about the benefits I have experienced through my life’s first conscious brain hacking exercise. It’s quite exciting to have been able to apply all of the hard earned learning methodology I have acquired in 13 years of programming to an effort that feels so different and satisfying.

As part of my talk at OSBridge I would like to release some fun open source tools I built to expedite and focus my language learning adventure.

Speaking experience

I have done some public speaking, including at OSBridge last year (I am missing a handful here, but these are the ones I enjoyed the most).

GTAC 2011 (Mountain View, CA) : NodeJS and Jellyfish for Browser Automation
JSConf 2011 (Portland, OR) : Run your JS everywhere, with Jellyfish
OSBridge 2011 (Portland, OR): Javascript Everywhere, with Jellyfish and FooUnit
SeleniumConf 2011 (San Francisco, CA): Automated Battle Scars, Lessons Learned
OSBridge 2010 (Portland, OR) : Automating Functional Integration Testing, Flex and DOM
OSCON 2009 (San Jose, CA) : Using Windmill
PYCON 2009 (Chicago, IL) : Using Windmill
OSCON 2007 (Portland, OR) : Automated Ajax WebUI Testing with Windmill

This will be my first time giving this talk, and my first time giving a talk outside my comfort zone which is normally web development, and or browser automation.

You can see the slides to other talks I have given here: http://www.slideshare.net/adamchristian

My latest talk which was at GTAC 2011 can be watched here: http://youtu.be/eXJdgTz8LwQ