Veteran linguist leaves behind a better way to learn new tongues


Robert O’Brian’s goal is to put as many of his books in the hands of those who need to easily learn English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and ultimately any other language.

Viera Voice Linda Wiggins

There’s got to be a better way.

That’s what Robert O’Brian said to himself when he was tapped to study the Japanese language in order to perform U.S. military counterintelligence in Japan and Korea.

After percolating notions around in his brain for more than half a century, he finally published his revolutionary teachings in a series of books this past fall that help Spanish speakers learn English and vice versa, and use the same simple techniques to then pick up Portuguese — and as of this month — Chinese. He hopes to tackle Italian next because it is a cultural common denominator for many other languages. The series is called “A Comparative Vocabulary Study Guide.”

“I always thought it was so stupid not to teach the vocabulary first. All languages have similar words with exactly the same or similar meanings. That’s where you want to start,” O’Brian said. “You’ll find you can communicate the basics in minutes, not years.”

While it would be great for the books to become bestsellers, O’Brian would rather give them away. He does so, for free, to schools, nonprofit groups, and to all 17 branches of Brevard County Libraries.

He recruited a Viera resident to partner in his enterprise to carry on the effort past his lifetime, which, sadly, will likely be soon. He has terminal cancer and has already lived past his prognosis.

“These books have inspired him to keep going,” said Dolores Ashland of Crane Creek. “He continues to astound his doctors.”

The pair met a few years ago in Buenos Aires when Ashland moved there for rest and reflection. At the Buenos Aires International Newcomers group, which helps expatriates settle into the country, they hatched a plan over time that ultimately led to Ashland and her new husband, Guillermo, to relocate to Melbourne on O’Brian’s recommendation.

The shared cosmic link to that Latin American country has many layers. Ashland’s father helped in the “de-Nazification” of Germany after World War II, where he met and married Ashland’s mother and they lived there during Ashland’s childhood.

Argentina became a cultural highway for Germans as World War II wound down and expatriates sought a welcome political climate, and they found it in Peronist Argentina.

O’Brian, a retired attorney and corporate consultant, found himself similarly drawn to that post-WWII cultural highway, teaching Japanese and other foreign merchants how to succeed in business in that and other Latin American countries.

The Chinese addition to the study guide line is a reflection of another cultural phenomenon, as alleged Chinese mobsters increasingly gain strongholds in those nations. They assist their countrymen in emigrating to South America in hope of ultimately completing the leap to the United States. Many never make it to the U.S. shores, but remain in what is tantamount to slavery under the threat of a person’s entire family being beheaded should the individual fail to comply along the way.

“There is so much going on in the world that average Americans are unaware of, but it will touch them if they are not prepared as the global economy unfolds,” Ashland said.

In addition to giving the books to schools and nonprofits, she will distribute the books through her free tango classes presented at 5:30 p.m. the last Friday of the month at YMCA in Suntree, and at 5 p.m. every Sunday at Neptune Bar in Satellite Beach.

“Learning to speak these languages directly will put the power in your hands, and that is Robert’s dream that I also see the need for wholeheartedly.”

For more information or to request books for nonprofits and schools, call 314-775-4086. Books are available for purchase or as an e-book at, using the author’s name and title. VV

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