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120 Days to TOPIK #14 – Using Tim Ferriss’ Methods for Accelerated Language Learning


I’ve been following Tim Ferriss recently and have really been impressed with the amount of things he’s been able to do and learn using a few “hacks” that accelerate his learning. I recently watched the episode of his Tim Ferriss Experiement TV Show where he learns Tagalog in 4 days and does a TV interview using what he’s learned. His results were very impressive after only a few days.

So how did he do it? We’ve already discussed his philosophy of the MED (Minimum Effective Dose), and in the TV show, he presents two more related acronyms: CaFE and DiSSS. All three are presented in more detail (with questions) below:


  1. Minimum: What is the least amount I can do to improve? How can I be lazy, yet effective?
  2. Effective: What does “effective” look like for me? How will I know and SEE that I’m improving?
  3. Dose: What amount of improvement am I looking for? What amount of effort will get me there?


  1. Compression: Can I encapsulate the most important 20% into an easily graspable one pager?
  2. Frequency: How frequently should I practice?  Can I cram, and what should my schedule look like?  What growing pains can I predict?  What is the minimum effective dose (MED) for volume?
  3. Encoding: How do I anchor the new material to what I already know for rapid recall? Acronyms DiSSS and CaFE are examples of encoding.


  1. Deconstruction: What are the minimal learnable units, the LEGO blocks, I should be starting with?
  2. Selection: Which 20% of the blocks should I focus on for 80% or more of the outcome I want?
  3. Sequencing: In what order should I learn the blocks?
  4. Stakes: How do I set up stakes to create real consequences and guarantee I follow the program?

Using the Acronyms to Study Korean

Since my goal this year is to PASS the TOPIK II with at least a Level 3 (last year, I failed with 88 out of the necessary 120 points), I’m really interested in studying EFFECTIVELY and studying the RIGHT THINGS in the right order. So, thinking through these acronyms has been beneficial for me:


See my previous posts on this subject:

  1. Reduce, Reuse, and Reward Your Way to Fluency
  2. What’s the Minimum Effective Daily Dose?


  1. Compression: One-page cheat sheets
    1. Vocabulary: The first of our one-page vocab cheat sheets is here (verbs + adjs) and I will be making more later
    2. Grammar: Korean Grammar In Use A (5-page A4 doc or 1-page A2 poster – could use simplified) | Korean Grammar in Use B (upcoming)
    3. TOPIK: I hope to put Reading, Writing, and Listening tips together on a one-page cheat sheet soon (as I continue studying them)
  2. Frequency:
    1. Vocabulary: The Leitner Calendar and Flashcards are great!~ (once daily)
    2. Grammar: I’m considering doing a similar system with grammar flashcards – perhaps 2-3 times per week. I haven’t tested this yet though. Also writing is important – perhaps a daily 100-200 character diary entry with the day’s grammar.
    3. TOPIK: The goal is once daily, but practically this isn’t working out so well (I’m busy). Perhaps 2-3 times per week on the off days from grammar. TOPIK Writing, however = Monday, first draft; Wednesday, second draft; Friday final draft.
  3. Encoding:
    1. Imagery + a personal connection (story or experience) is best for most things.
    2. Hanja: Additionally, since I studied Chinese for 3 years in college, I know enough Hanja to recognize when the same character is being used in various vocabulary words. It really helps to know when  (과) refers to “over doing” something – like “over eating”, “over drinking”, “over spending”, or “speeding.”
    3. Verbs: You can also begin to form connections with various verbs that are used often in the same context or with similar nouns. Extensive reading helps with this connection forming, or also getting an excellent vocabulary book like the 쏙쏙 TOPIK 한국어 어휘 books.


  1. Deconstruction: (in this order – my time in parenthesis)
    1. Vocabulary (5-6am)
    2. Speaking + Grammar (9-10am)
    3. Writing + Grammar (MTW 1-2pm)
    4. Reading (RF 1-2pm)
    5. Listening (I will put some listening on my phone and use like a podcast – possibly daily)
  2. Selection:
    1. Vocabulary: Focusing on 쏙쏙 TOPIK 한국어 어휘 books
    2. Writing: Focusing on composition structure and thought process rather than grammar and vocab alone
    3. Reading: Focusing primarily on TOPIK Reading passages from previous tests – I will try to gather all of them into a single document and post it here later.
  3. Sequencing: (see Deconstruction above for the order I plan to study them in)
  4. Stakes: Taking the TOPIK II on October 17 and looking for a Level 4 (max), but will be super happy with a Level 3 in any case (just so long as I beat last year’s 88~)


Figure out what you’re going to FOCUS on during your studying time. What 20% is the MOST important to help you get 80% of the result you want? Use the above acronyms to help.

Over to you:

How’s it going now? Are you (like me) realizing just how much you DON’T yet know and have left to learn? Don’t let it overwhelm you. Take it slowly, one step at a time, and be content with small, daily improvements. Focus on what’s MOST important to reach your goals and just keep plugging along at it. Share with me in the Comments below or with #120TOPIK on social media.

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