The Hoist Method

The Concept

The Hoist Method is an underlying conceptual framework, that can be applied to anything.

The key here is that you’re: Trying something reasonably outside of your comfort zone, but going about it in such a way that you can get through it with a little help.

Imagine you’re completely new to rock climbing and trying a challenging route—one that requires you to perform moves that you’re not exactly comfortable with. Now, say that while you’re trying this move, the person belaying you puts a small amount of extra weight on the line connecting you to them, so that some of your weight is taken up by theirs.

Call it cheating if you want, but this is the crux the Hoist methodology.

It allows you to experience doing something that, initially, seemed impossible. And once you’ve done it, you can do it again. Each time you repeat this with a little less help.

How does this fit with learning a new language? It means, you don’t need to wait to do all the awesome things!

So put down that glorified picture book and stop memorizing introductions that require you to stand around doors, constantly asking strangers: How are you? Do you have the hour?

Today, we’ll apply this method to books, novels in particular.

The Process

Step 1

Read it in your native language.

Step 2

Simplify or summarize the story into a few paragraphs.

Step 3 

Go through each chapter and try to capture the most important actions, translate these, before taking them and making a narrative that’s no more than 10 sentences long.

Step 4

Work with a native speaker and the internet to translate this narrative into something that sounds natural in the language.

Step 5

Read what you’ve made and add details to it over time.

For obvious reasons, this works best with shorter books.

The thing you’re going for here, or really anytime you’re learning a new language, is mileage. You need to get used to it, so that connections become faster and memorizing words reveals itself to be the awkward, archaic technique you’ve always felt it to be.

Unless your goal dictates that you need to learn a certain amount of vocabulary by a specific date, don’t force yourself to retain words. Just keep going after the things that interest you!

Patterns will emerge and words will infect you, so long as interest levels stay high.

The Example

If you’re much younger than me, you’ve probably never heard of K.A. Applegate’s, The Animorphs, a science-fiction based young adult series from the late 90’s.

My simplified summary of the first book in the series “The Invasion” is: Five adolescents meet an alien and get involved in trying to save their planet from a race of parasitic brain slugs who want to take over the galaxy.




From the first chapter I’d pull out the main actions in the form of phrases: Going to the mall, playing video games, meeting friends, going home through an abandoned construction site, seeing a flying saucer in the sky.

After translating those phrases I’d turn them into a short narrative, that might sound something like:

Jake and Marco are at the mall. They’re playing video games when they meet up with Tobias, Cassie and Rachel. They’re all friends who decide to walk home together. They go through an abandoned construction site and see a flying saucer.

I’d go through each chapter like this. And then move on to the next book in the series or a different book in a similar genre, so I could keep playing with words that had to do with aliens or similar narrative themes of saving the world.

The Wrap-up

I’ve seen this method work, consistently with myself, my language students and the kids and adults I coach in rock climbing. You might have to modify the above example to fit with your goals or learning style but it’s not all that different from the educational concept of scaffolding.

Don’t let years of formal education tell you that you need to put off doing the really fun things, asking the really hard questions or trying the seemingly impossible, because you’re not ready yet! The best way to get good at something is not to prepare yourself to get good at something, but to actually practice what you want to get good at.

If it sounds like common sense, why do  so few of us actually attempt it? My pessimistic guess, because the people who know this want your money. Or maybe because doing things this way is not something we can buy in a big yellow box.

Until next week, stay strong and keep learning!


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