The 4-Hour Chef Review – Accelerated Learning with Time Ferriss

How long does it take to reach fluency in a language? Is it five years? One year? Six months?

It’s been said that it take 10,000 hours of study to become a master in any skill. But what if you just learned enough to become proficient and effective for 95% of the time? And what if you could learn how to do it in several months instead of years?

Well that’s exactly what Tim Ferriss shows you how to do in his book The 4-Hour Chef. It’s a book about accelerated learning and it uses the skill of cooking to give actual examples of the principles he teaches.

Even though the book is primarily focused on cooking, he does go quite a bit into other skills like language learning, surviving in the wild, and a lot of other cool things!

Since I’m primarily interested in how these advanced learning techniques (also called “meta learning”) can be applied to learning Japanese, I will mainly focus on that for the review.

Become world class in six months or less

First of all, it’s a big book. I’m talking HUGE! It’s got over 600 pages and it’s divided into five different sections. The first section is all about meta learning. Tim asks the questions: how do the fastest learners in the world go about it? What are their methods and routines?

It mostly comes down to these two things: what you study and how you study.

What do you study?

There are over 50,000 different kanji (Chinese characters) in the Japanese language! That is WAY too much for a beginner to handle! So if there’s that many kanji, then how do you know where to start?

Well a good place would be to find the list of jōyō kanji, which are the kanji that you need to know to be considered literate. That brings the list down to about 2,000, which is a lot better than trying to learn 50,000, but it’s still a big number. Can we reduce it down even further? You bet!

As it turns out, there are only 200 kanji that account for 50% of all the kanji on Wikipedia! And just under 500 of them account for 75% of it. So by focusing on those ones first, you drastically reduce the time you spend studying and still maintain a high degree of fluency. The Japanese people themselves don’t master all 2,000 jōyō kanji until they’re in high school. So learning 75% of what you’ll read anyway in just a few months is not too bad!

Switching over to vocabulary, most people who are natives in their own language know about  20,000 to 35,000 words. But did you know that the top 100 words in English account for 50% of written materials? That’s crazy!

Tim Ferriss goes into more details about this in the book, but the point is that you don’t need to have the vocabulary of a native to be able to use the language fluently. Tim says that all you have to learn are the top 1,200 words in a language to gain conversational fluency. Again, what you decide to study is key.

How do you study?

Tim Ferriss
Tim Ferriss (author)
There is a saying that goes: how you do anything, is how you do everything. That is certainly true when it come to learning Japanese. Is it more effective to study for two hours a day, or thirty minutes a day? The answer might surprise you!

What about frequency? If you study for a total of five hours in a week, is it okay to do it all on one day or should it be spaced out throughout the week? All of these questions pertain to how you approach learning the materials that you’ve selected.

The 4-hour Chef answers a lot of these questions. For example, it’s more effective to study for thirty minutes because of the primacy effect and the recency effect. These basically say that you remember more of what you learn at the beginning and at the end of a learning session.

It’s the stuff in the middle that you have the hardest time recalling. Tim has a nice graph in the book that illustrates this principle and shows how long breaks should be between sessions when you’re studying for several hours at a time. He also shows you a unique way to help remember things during the middle part, but I’ll leave that to the book.

When it comes to frequency during the week, Tim explains why it’s more effective to study each day as opposed to all on one day. Do you know why? As it turns out, sleep plays a critical role in the learning process. You need both REM sleep and non-REM sleep for your brain to store and organize the information that it learned during the day.

How does pain play a role?

Something that The 4-Hour Chef goes into depth about is how people react to pain and pleasure. For example, most people are way more motivated to avoid losing money, than they are to gain additional money. This has to do with some basic human psychology that we all experience. But how do you use it to learn more?

Tim recommends you set up a punishment for yourself if you don’t hit your language learning goal. Set a goal, like “become fluent in Japanese in 2017” and then you put your money where you mouth is. He recommends an amount that will hurt, but not kill you if you lose it. like 1% of your net income.

Everyday you’re going to be thinking about how you DO NOT want to lose that money! And you will be very motivated to work on learning Japanese. You’ll work longer and harder to achieve your goal, but a large part of the driving force will be because your psychology is going to want to do whatever it takes to avoid losing that money!

I honestly don’t think that I’ve ever heard anyone else talk about this concept of using both accountability and pain avoidance to provide yourself with the motivation to succeed. I think it’s brilliant!

There’s just this one thing…

Remember when I said it was a big book? Well, the first section (meta learning) is actually only about 100 pages. The rest of the book is really cool, but it goes into learning other skills besides language. So if you’re only interested in using the book to learn Japanese, then you’re going to really like those first 100 pages, and not care so much about the remaining 500.

I’ve gone over some of the things he talks about in the meta learning section, but definitely not everything!

Here’s what I recommend: if you got enough value from reading my review on The 4-Hour Chef, then don’t worry too much about picking up the book. You won’t have all the specific techniques per se, but you will have the gist of the material which will still help you out a lot.

But if you DO want all the details, and if you like Tim Ferriss as an author, then give his book The 4-Hour Chef a read.

Best place to buy: Amazon

A list of everything Japanese

Fortunately for us both, Tim Ferriss loves Japanese! So there are a lot of Japanese specific things included in the book. Here’s a rundown on the cool things in The 4-Hour Chef:

  • A cool one page sheet that shows all 1,945 jōyō kanji (常用漢字)
  • The DiSSS process Tim Ferriss uses to learn new languages (this is mainly what we’ve gone over)
  • His CaFE principles to accelerate learning even further
  • The 13 phrases (4 translated to Japanese) he uses to figure out the grammar of any language
  • A graph that shows Tim’s language learning process (it might remind you of your own)
  • A graph to show the most effective way to structure your time during study sessions

If that’s something that you’re interested in, then check it out by clicking the link below!

The 4-Hour Chef

Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

I want to hear from you! Do you like any of Tim Ferriss’ other books? Are there any other books on advanced learning that you recommend? Let me know with a comment below!



  • How To Build A Business Online

    I have all of Tim’s 4 hour books. They are absolutely amazing as reference material. Is the 4 hour Chef your favourite?
    I have to admit, I haven’t read into it as much as I should. Problem is I bought them all together and all the information at once is overwhelming. Can you really learn a language that quickly?
    I want to learn German, is this possible through Tim’s techniques? Thanks for this.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Either this one is my favorite or The 4-Hour Body. I haven’t read his newest book Tools of Titans yet, but he always has really good information in his stuff so I will probably get it eventually.

      Yeah, how quickly you learn a language depends on a few things like which language you choose (example: Spanish is easier for English speakers to learn than Arabic), how often you study, and for how long each sesson. There are lots of people who have become fluent in as little as six months, but it does take a lot of dedication to achieve it!

  • Trent

    Interesting read and how Tim wrote his book about cooking but really about learning new stuff. Thanks for posting it. I’d like to ask, how long does the typical person take to learn Japanese that do not learn this way? I’ve heard people taking as long as 4-5 years just to be able to have a simple conversation with a stranger. Is this somewhat accurate or no? I’m just wondering for a more accurate comparison.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, it takes most English speaking people a few years to become fluent in Japanese due to just how different it is from our language. But I’ve read about some Korean people who have mastered it in a little as one year because Japanese and Korean are structured very similarly.

      So it kind of depends on where you’re coming from when you start learning, but Japanese (like Arabic and Chinese) is considered one of the hardest languages to learn if your native language is English.

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