Thoughts on 'The Thinking Method?'

I’ve been listening and thoroughly enjoying LanguageTransfer’s podcasts on learning a language (in particular ‘Complete Spanish’ and ‘Intro to Italian’) & I have found it quite a refereshing take on learning something I used to take in high school.

Something the creator of the project, Mihalis Eleftheriou, has done is make a free book online that details the method he uses in his courses called ‘The Thinking Method.’ In my brief and ostensible readings of the topic, it seems interesting, but has anyone given it a read themselves? And if so, what did you think of it?


Thanks @lmrobin, I hadn’t heard of these language courses. I read through the course development manual that he shared and as a fellow course developer, I recognize that he has put a tremendous amount of thought into how the material is structured. I also found that my system of training was tending towards that style of thinking first, and application second.

What was very interesting to me, in view of those people who are trying to short-cut their language learning with a mnemonic system, is Eleftheriou’s view on that. He feels that engaging a system that relies on artificial memory before understanding the way the language is used to express thoughts is premature. I have to agree.

Although he doesn’t rule out the later use of mnemonics, I can see where a palace structured to hold a language would be based on concepts of similar root words and some rules of grammar. I would have thought that all languages could use the same type of palace design but he put that one out of commission quickly except for related Latin languages or other dialects.

I’ve been associated with many languages over my life but none really stuck (French, Russian, Czech, German, Portuguese). I think that it was because I never had the foundations in English grammar and the instructors never improved on my lack of that information or taught by concepts. It was just rote memorization and it dissolved fairly quickly.

I am a fan of his now and appreciate you bringing this to my attention. Maybe I’ll figure out how to apply a few more mnemonic skills to language learning in the future and share them because of that.


Glad to hear it was of use to you! I thought it was especially relevant here because, as you say, he takes an almost antithetical approach to those who are training their memory; his Spanish course builds a lot of initial foundation from Latin etymology (like how words in English with ~al at the end are almost one-to-one in Spanish, just altered in pronunciation).

It seems like a good approach to hybridise a ‘logical’ beginning for learners, whereby you bring in familiarities that they can take on a step-by-step basis to come to a correct conclusion, and then later on building a memorisation-based knowledge for the words that are incompatible with that method.

I’m very keen to see what he does later on, as he’s Patreon-funded there’s a community of people who want to see him tackle languages like Japanese, which are so far removed from English that I’m intrigued to see how he applies it.

I’m also interested in your course development as well, especially as you seem to have some overlap in approach and ideas - will be great to see how yours comes out!


I use japanese daily, cook, and attend meetings (where I understand enough if I focus, but usually less than half what is said).

They say that thought is limited by language and I agree. Pertinent to this thread are the grammar patterns and the frequent omission of the subject in Japanese.

Developing the Mental Frames for Japanese is definitely key for fluency, but I still think mass memorization of words and phrases would have greatly accelerated my snail-pace development in the language. My theory is that the frames won’t become apparent unless you can understand most of the component parts (words and phrases) within the frame.

Haven’t looked at the language learning method yet though, so I can’t say if it would be effective or not. Any elaboration on why it would be premature @thinkaboutthebible?


There’s definitely a trade off - I used Pimsleur for a spell and it was good on that initial bump of making sure I was using phrases that were useful for someone who was visting Japan as a beginner i.e. 日本語がわかります。

One way I can say it’s tied back to this idea of knowing a lot of necessary words in ‘The Thinking Method’ is that it feels like Milhalis has done a very meticulous approach in what the learner goes through.

The application of this in Romantic lagnuages is different to others too, however, so it’s definitely worth having the perspective of how Japanese likely/does differ greatly from it. That said, I’m looking into his methodology and course structure to see if I can apply my years studying it at university into something that fits that mould where I have a somewhat firm foundation on Spanish now.


@lmrobin, if I have the time, I’ll probably tackle Greek next to try out his system. For my course development, I applied a thinking method mostly to business analysis which requires people to critically think about information systems. I’ve found that much of that same analysis can be applied to memory systems which are information storage systems also.

My main document for mnemonics is in shambles after several major revisions due to trying to explain the structure and principles. What I do have somewhat solid is posted on my github account.

@Mountainmystic, a good tutor who understands most of the component parts in the frame and understands how to communicate the patterns would be better than you trying to figure it out. I wasn’t happy with my teaching method until 15 years into teaching the subject and editing the method.

For Japanese, are the types of books that teach patterns of any use do you think?

The premature learning of vocabulary with only a basic sentence structure doesn’t allow for much ability to create meaningful sentences. I’m ramping up my Portuguese right now (wife and relatives from Brazil). Duolingo has taught me how the butterflies drink milk but other than an icebreaker, it’s not useful.

Timothy Ferriss in his Four-Hour Chef recommends a simple approach of learning 12 sentence patterns for understanding grammar as part of his Deconstruction process. His other parts are:

  • Reducing - learning 1,945 Japanese characters, chunking and organizing
  • Interviewing – shooting a basketball, talking to the best people
  • Reversal – building unparalleled fires, hacks and tips
  • Translating - building the 12 example sentences

His other parts of his DiSSS learning process are Selection of 20% to give a 80% return, Sequencing to learn the best order, and Stakes for a guarantee that you will follow the plan. He places a higher value on finding a pattern also and not just vocubulary so I think he would agree that vocubulary learning before solid meaningful phrases would be premature.

I’ve got a long way to go before I can say that these are the best ways to learn a language. The opportunity for applying basic associations to new vocabulary in Portuguese is always available so that’s what I end up doing more than any kind of deconstruction. I enjoy hearing how teachers and struggling students are going though.


I think sentence patterns are better than words for language acquisition. I started learning in my 20s, so I can remember fairly well how keenly I listened for these patterns and started plugging words into them and using them as soon as I could (living in Japan gave me several opportunities to try them out and see if the communication was successful).

Examples are ~please, I can~, Where is the~, etc

Maybe 20 words per sentence pattern is a good balance. A lot of textbooks use that basic structure anyways, and I can see why. Sentence patterns without words are useless, and words without sentence patterns are hard to use.

Zooming out to the mental frames that govern the language, I’m not sure that filtering an explanation of the frame through an abstraction in your native language would be extremely helpful. I think it might lower the time it takes to pick it up spontaneously.


Maybe the sentence structure plus 20 words of vocabulary is a good tool for language acquisition. And maybe the other tools are mnemonic associations, drills, and grammar rules. The mental frames should be hidden by an instructor but used to guide the student I think. You are right in thinking that explaining a concept without cultural backing would be senseless. I know of several examples such as the mental frame of calor humano brasileiro that you only know by being around Brazilians.

Maybe a good teaching example would be when you understand arithmetic but never encounter number theory until after you complete calculus. You acquire enough practical number skills up to a point where you have developed a considerable framing background and you can start thinking about numbers.


To continue with math as an example, students who were guided into or spontaneously used visual-spatial models for math equations as a child may be more likely to grasp the complex concepts in calculus and above (as they can visualize the abstractions represented by derivative equations and integrals).

Not sure that this is true, but we can connect that same idea to rules of politeness in the Japanese language. Teaching that long forms are polite is a decent frame, but foreigners often end up using short forms too soon with acquaintances because they don’t want to be too polite. Perhaps a better frame would be that short forms are more frivolous (same basic idea, but framed negatively) and foreigners would be less apt to make that mistake.


To bring it back to our conversation, Im essentially trying to demonstrate when an early frame can be taught (even in L1) effectively. But natural frames (like the one regarding Brazilians that can only be understood contextually) can only be completely grasped in context, in the L2 (like you demonstrated using number theory as an example).

I wonder how this course deals with or avoids these limitations


I agree. Where possible you should focus on learning phrases or short sentences, preferably easy, common ones that can be understood and regardless of the context and/or. The phrases should be mastered to the point of understanding them at a fast normal speed.

Examples might be “Wait a minute”, “What do you mean?”, “What did he say?”, “What do you think?” “When can you do it?”, “How is it?”. “I don’t agree”. “I agree”. “That’s right”. “What are you talking about?”. “Are you nuts?” etc.

Drilling rapidly “What is he talking about?”, “What is she is talking about?”, “What are they talking about?”, “What are you talking about?” could also be good, as long as it achieves fast normal speech and doesn’t dwell too much on grammar in the abstract.

I’m a big fan of language drilling but it seems to be out of fashion, perhaps because it seems militaristic. Also, like drilling on a parade ground, it is a lot more fun than it looks, especially after you’ve done it quite a bit. It grows on you. It can feel like a game when it’s really fast, and even a meditation.

It is a type of rote learning I suppose. Rote learning also has an undeserved bad name.

The type of drill I am talking about is when you listen and repeat, and then substitute a word and say the new sentence at a fast normal speed, e. g.
T (teacher): “Eating at home.”…“School”
S (student(s)): “Eating at school.”
T: “Sleeping”
S: Sleeping at school
T: in church
S: Sleeping in church
T: Eating
S: Eating in church
T: Running
S: Running in church
Instead of a teacher you can use an audio file.