Monthly Archives: September 2015

Interview with Kerstin Cable

Today’s interview partner is Kerstin Cable (née Hammes). A well-known language blogger from Germany who lives in Lancaster, UK. She’ll discuss her typical day, when to start learning grammar and her new product.

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Hi Kerstin, tell us about yourself. When did you get interested in learning languages?

Languages have always held a strong fascination for me, right from my first encounters. I remember snippets like the time we sang a Hebrew song in Kindergarten, or how I used to get very involved in the Telekolleg Englisch TV series (now it looks like the most retro thing in the world, but at the time I loved it…and actually still do).

How does your typical day look like as a language blogger?

I split my time between teaching German online, writing articles for Fluent and other publications and working on new projects for language learners and language teachers. There isn’t a typical day, though I do know that my Mondays are productive and my Fridays feature lessons. Generally, I try to break up the time spent on the computer in my home office with a bit of a break. My favourite apps for organising myself are Todoist, Trello and Mailbox.

What is your main motivation to give lessons to students?

I want to watch people learn and follow their development, keep them motivated, coach them through the dips and help them aspire to get better at language learning! Teaching is about spreading the word and being an independent language teacher helps me spread a very special message about individuality. You don’t have to learn languages in school, you don’t have to believe what people tell you about cut-off ages or “communicative methods”, you can choose your own way.

As a result of this philosophy, my lessons are highly individual and focus on giving the students clear results. There’s no standard curriculum, instead this is about a real and lasting experience.

Why do you run the blog?

The blog at Fluentlanguage.co.uk is what keeps the site alive – to me it’s the heart of the page! Through my blog and podcast I can share the full story and give away so much advice and support to language learners all over the world. I like writing about language and travel, and the comments get me excited.

Do you read any language discussion forums such as the HTLAL? Can you recommend any?

I read Reddit sometimes, the /r/languagelearning discussions are often interesting.

And what point would you recommend to read up on grammar?

Reading up on grammar right from Day 1 is not for everyone, although I admit that I catch myself doing it and enjoying it too. It’s not about what other people tell you to do, it’s about what you love doing. For me, grammar has a place in language learning that occupies the space where all answers to “why is it like this?” should come from. So grammar can help you from the start because it cuts out big mistakes, but there’s no point in teaching grammar only or overwhelming yourself. I’d cover word order quite early on, but leave everything else up to the student.

I think the most difficult part is keeping language learning fun. Any tips on that?

Maybe the computer focus of my work is part of the reason why I often like to study languages away from the computer. I use books and sometimes watch films, but my focus is always supported by a notebook using pen and paper. The key is that language must not be made up of vocab lists and grammar lessons taught by a dusty person at a chalkboard. Language lives in other countries, so involving travel and culture is the key. No one needs to be told how to find fun resources, so my advice is to go for it and follow your instincts, but keep that notebook handy and repeat much more than you thought you needed.

What is your favorite German-English dictionary? I remember Olly Richard said you recommended LEO to him. Personally I prefer dict.cc which has a large pool of words.

I definitely love LEO above all the other online dictionaries, with Beolingus coming a close second. Perhaps that’s because I’m a native German speaker and often look up words from German or into German. The LEO mobile app is a fab resource, too, and all of it is free. These are the best for learning German in my eyes, and the beauty of LEO is that it was developed by Germans and contains a large amount of forum additions for even difficult terms. For translators, the term base at ProZ is also an amazing resource.

While I personally haven’t looked at dict.cc many times, I think it’s up there with Word Reference as a great resource for English speakers learning other languages.

What is your view on flashcards. It seems that some language bloggers hate them while others are big fans.

I have seen some really excellent flashcards and have been studying Welsh with a deck myself, and enjoyed it lots. Flashcards aren’t my instant choice but they’re a key component for the dry part of language learning: the memorization and repetition of vocabulary words. For me, handwritten lists come first and flashcards become the thing I stick to the mirror when I really need repetition all the time for words that are difficult to remember.

My advice is not to do what I do, but to go and discover your best method. The question you should ask yourself as a learner is not “does this work?” but “am I remembering what’s on the cards”?

Tell us about your new product you’ve just released.

Gladly! I always work on new language learning projects and this year I released a course that is aimed at helping learners gain the confidence to speak German like a native. It’s not about strategies or building your courage, instead this one goes right down to the nitty-gritty of pronunciation and speaking. My belief is that you’ll feel ready to speak your language when you know you’re saying words correctly. The course will eliminate that worry of sounding like an idiot! German learners should definitely check it out at here.

To learn more about Kerstin Cable please visit her website at Fluentlanguage.co.uk. To buy her books and other products please click here.

Interview with Language Addict Timothy McKeon

Today we feature Timothy McKeon, a herbalist who speaks quite a few languages. Some I haven’t even heard of such as Tok Pisin or Dehong Dai. In his interview he will answer what languages he speaks, his strategies and what keeps him motivated.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Timothy, and I’m a language addict.  Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with languages.  As I grew older this fascination slowly ripened into full-blown obsession with learning languages, learning about languages, comparing languages, listening to languages, breathing languages, etc.  In university I studied linguistics, but my real passion is for the actual process of learning a language, picking it apart, finding patterns, exploring accents, understanding how it all works.  Once I can read a novel and express myself freely in a language, my enthusiasm wanes a bit, and it’s time to move on to the next one.

What languages do you speak?

I speak Irish, English, Spanish, Mandarin, French, and German all more or less fluently.  I can read Latin.  I can have social conversations in Yiddish, Portuguese, Italian, Swedish, Cantonese, Sichuanese, Breton, Hindi, and Dutch and have more basic conversations in Hebrew, Galician, Ladino, Finnish, Bengali, Catalan, Esperanto, Japanese, Scots Gaelic and Shanghainese.  Beyond those, I’ve dabbled in Uyghur, Korean, Tibetan, Tamil, Sanskrit, Pali, Lakota, Halkomelem, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, Tok Pisin, Luxembourgish, Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic, Latvian, Estonian, Taiwanese, Russian, Polish, Guaraní, Xhosa, Telugu, Tamil, Manchu, Arabic, Dehong Dai, Toisanese and Hakka.  It’s out of control.

 Do you dream in a foreign language?

Yes, quite often.  People often say that you know you’re really fluent in a language when you start to dream in it, but I haven’t found that to be true.  I constantly dream in languages I don’t speak very well at all.  I’ll stumble over words and try to work out the proper conjugation or tense all as part of my dream.  Once or twice I’ve had dreams of nothing more than just doing grammar exercises.  I guess that probably means I’m not getting very restful sleep!

What do you think of constructed languages? Would you be interested to learn one?

I really love the idea of constructed languages.  I see it as a form of creative expression using linguistic concepts as the medium, drawing from natural languages (or not) in order to create an entirely new mode of communication. But what really fascinates me is the kind of living culture that develops around constructed languages.  I’ve recently started exploring the world of Esperanto, and it’s amazing to me that there is an Esperanto culture and a set of values that many Esperantists adhere to, i.e. universal understanding, peace, social responsibility.  Zamenhof created Esperanto as a kind of utopian language, and I think it’s really exciting that over 125 years later that same mentality has continued to flourish through this completely artificial language.

How has your strategy to learn new languages changed over the years?

Well, it is true that the more languages you learn, the easier it becomes to continue learning even more languages.  With that in mind, I would say I tend to tackle language families (or at least language family branches) nowadays rather than just a single language.  I’ve become really interested in how languages relate to each other, so it’s no longer enough to just learn one language in its standard, static form.  I become too curious about what neighboring languages look like or what happens in the different regional dialects of a language, and soon enough I’ve got Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, and Czech books spread out in front of me when all I really wanted was to learn a few things about Polish.  Chinese languages are really great for this kind of exploration because they are all related to and derived from Classical Chinese and are all united under more or less the same written form, but have diverged and developed so distinctly over the centuries.  It’s fascinating.

What is your definition of fluency?

This is a tricky question.  You don’t want to make false claims about your abilities, but you shouldn’t sell yourself short on your accomplishments with language learning either.  Generally, I say if you can live your life in a language comfortably, then you’re fluent.  That means you can make friends, do your job, watch the news, read a book, joke with someone, have a deep conversation, sing a song, consult a psychic, fall in love, etc. – all in said language.

What keeps you motivated to keep learning?

That varies from language to language, but generally it’s something in the arts and culture associated with a language that keeps me going back.  I was recently in Hong Kong, which should provide enough motivation to keep working on Cantonese, but what really got me to spend serious time studying was going to the Cantonese opera.  The poetry, jokes, puns, and overall spectacle of it really inspired me to up my game with Cantonese.  When I hear sean-nós songs in Irish, I feel the urge to turn back to Irish poetry or start reading old stories again.  Kishore Kumar songs from old films get me to crack open my Bengali books.  It’s always something creative that gets me motivated.

Do you watch movies to practice your languages?

I’ll watch movies to keep up languages that I know pretty well, but if I want to practice a language that’s newer or less familiar to me, then trashy TV is the absolute best.  Terrible reality shows like Top Model (from whatever country) or ridiculous soap operas are perfect for improving listening skills.  They tend to be completely predictable, follow a formula, and never introduce particularly complicated concepts – it’s ideal for gaining confidence in listening to and understanding a new language.

Have you ever started a new language and then given up for some reason?

I do find that some languages just don’t grab me the way others do.  Why am I obsessed with Finnish, while its neighbor Russian just doesn’t hold my interest?  I have no idea.  Past lives…?  Anyway, this sort of arbitrary lack of gravity towards some languages would be the only reason I would stop studying them.  And even then, it’s never really a full stop.

To learn more about Timothy please visit his web site at https://collectanealinguistica.wordpress.com/.

Polyglot Marlon Couto Ribeiro interview

In today’s interview blog post Brazilian polyglot Marlon Couto Ribeiro – a user of LearnWithOliver.com – tells us all about his language learning ventures.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I’m a 28-year-old Brazilian (and I will turn 29 on September 22nd!), who has been living in Poland for three years and a half now. I definitely have a thing about learning! I have studied languages since my childhood, when I used to have fun playing Japanese videogames. I would flick through dictionaries and grammar books as well. I`m graduated from the Translation Studies Department at the University of Brasilia. Besides working as a foreign language teacher, together with great Polish polyglot Konrad Jerzak vel Dobosz I have started to organize workshops on language learning techniques in Poland.

What do you think of constructed languages? Would you be interested to learn one?

Since I’m a language mad, so I have to confess I cherish conlangs. I have created my own conlang, which is called Yuelami (yoo-lah-MEE). I use it for personal purposes and I can say I speak fluently a bunch of sentences in it. I communicate in Esperanto too, which is far more than just a constructed language. There is a huge international community that supports it and gives it life, making it a useful tool to connect people.

How has your strategy to learn new languages changed over the years?

Well, in the beginning, I didn’t have the slightest idea about how to learn a language. Therefore, as I tried on many techniques (from struggling with flashcards to speaking in front of the mirror, from recording myself to keeping a journal), I have gradually found out the best way for me to retain information.

Which resources do you normally use most?

I just love to use websites, like learnwitholiver.com, duolingo.com, busuu.com, livemocha.com, fluentu.com, mypolyglot.com, lyricstraining.com, lang-8.com, italki.com, tatoeba.org. Besides, I often visit Youtube to watch or listen to lessons prepared by native speakers. In addition, Assimil and Pimsleur series rank among the courses I frequently resort to.

What do you think of LearnWithOliver.com?

I do appreciate it, because your attitude towards language teaching matches with I think about effective learning. One should focus on sentences rather than on single words lacking a context. We can find interesting dialogues and funny sentences sometimes. It is always a pleasure to open my mail box and to see your message with a daily drop of knowledge.

What keeps you motivated to keep learning?

I have incorporated most languages I have been learning in my everyday life. I have moved from Brazil to Poland. My wife is Hungarian polyglot Anikó Couto-Szalay. We talk on a daily basis in Hungarian, Polish, English, Spanish, Portuguese and sometimes in French (she has recently got down to it). Furthermore, I teach Japanese and attend the local Esperanto club meetings. I write emails and messages to foreign friends. My facebook profile is in Serbian and I read news in German, for example.  From time to time I have internet conversations in those languages.

What would you recommend a new language learner? How to get started?

I recommend to pick a scrap of paper and to make a list of the reasons why you should learn a given language and why not. Write down the advantages you may benefit from learning it and set up short-term goals. Next step is looking for materials which fits your learning style. They may be textbooks, videos, audios, podcasts for beginners. Read about other polyglots’ experiences and watch their videos, listen to their podcasts as well. This way you will be abreast about learning techniques. Understand what works with you and what doesn’t.

Any books about language learning you can recommend?

Sekrety Poliglotów (it is in Polish, but we will soon translate into English), Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis, How I learned languages by Lomb Kató, Fluent Forever: How to learn any language fast and never forget it by Gabriel Wyner, Fluency made achievable by Kerstin Hammes and Language is music by Susanna Zaraysky.

To learn more about Marlon please visit his site Sekretypoliglotow.pl (in Polish).

Polyglot Nathalia interview

In today’s interview blog post Portuguese polyglot Nathalia from PolyglotNerd.com tells us about her language learning strategies.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I’m a Brazilian girl who always loved foreign cultures, travel and languages. When I was a child I collected news from others countries. My dream country was Spain, therefore, Spanish was the first language I learned, I studied it when I was 13 in a language school. The second language I learned was English, when I was about 18. I watched endless hours of American television and somehow I ended up learning. After that, I stopped learning languages due study and work. About 3 years ago I started to learn French and I decided to really dedicate myself to my blog, as a way to motivate myself.

What languages do you speak?

My native language is Portuguese, as I said I speak English, Spanish and French. Right now, I’m studying German.

Do you dream in a foreign language?

I used to dream in English before, but not anymore. In rare occasions I dream in Spanish or French, this happens usually when I study the language for more than 4 hours or when I’m living in a foreign country.

What do you think of constructed languages? Would you be interested to learn one?

I think they’re great idea. I’d like to learn Esperanto; I heard that it is an easy language to learn and that learning it can help to learn others languages. But, I have two reasons to not learning it immediately: first, there is no real culture linked to Esperanto; second, I have a long list of languages I’d like to learn and Esperanto is not a priority.

When you learn a new language do you always follow the same strategy?

My first two languages I learned in very different ways. Spanish in a language school and English watching movies. But, I believe that the two most important things that help me with these languages were: emotional connection and making them part of my life. With French I studied alone, without contact with French people and without an emotional connection with the language, therefore iit took me a long time to feel comfortable speaking to a French person. But, I’m trying to learn with my mistakes, I don’t have a perfect strategy, but I follow some guidelines I created to myself: first I learn the pronunciation, after that I try to acquire vocabulary. I always listen it a lot and later I’ll try to speak with a patience native speaker.

Do you have a favorite language?

For me, languages have personalities, there is no language I’d use in all situations. Probably, my favorite language is Spanish. I love to listen to music in Spanish, for me Spanish sounds more emotional. I also love the rhythm, it’s perfect to dance. English for me is a practical language, every time I search for an information, I do that in English. If I’m speaking to a foreigner, no matter the nationality, I’ll speak in English. French for me is a “special” language, only to be use in special occasions or important discussions, it’s full of culture and personality.

What would you recommend a new language learner? How to get started?

First, choose one or two methods, you don’t need 10.000 materials. Don’t give up, at the beginning I always have a feeling I’ll never be able to understand anything. And, start by the pronunciation, it’s the hardest thing to correct later. Also, forget the grammar, you can check it later.

How has speaking multiple changes changed you as a person?

I’m a shy and reserved person, so I’m very quite person. But, to speak a language, well, it’s obvious, you have to speak. So, learning a language made me a “less shy” person, that’s the first thing. The second thing, made me more open and tolerant to different people and cultures. I have a feeling that I’m more tolerant when I visit a country or meet foreign people than some monolinguals.

Do you travel more now since you’ve learned a lot of languages?

This is the story of my first travel: I did one semester in a English language school in Brazil, and for me was a waste of time, and that was exactly what I told my father. So, I convinced him that, instead of paying me a language school for years, I’d save the money to spend one summer in US, so I did it for 2 years.

The result: Two years later, I was in US, I had a J-1 visa, that allow me to work in US during that summer and was perfect. The money I saved helped me to get there and my small salary helped me to cover the expenses while I was there. And, of course, I practiced English.

Also, recently, I spent 2 months in France, only studying, I believe that without this, French would never stuck in my head. So, yes, I travel more and I use language learning as a good excuse.

Do you watch movies to practice your languages?

As I learned English watching TV, I always say that it’s possible to learn a language with the help of movies. I believe that after the A1 level we should start to use movies in the learning process. It’s a good way to test your knowledge and to see how the language works in a real situation. Nevertheless, just watching movies won’t make you a language expert. I have a method for watching: first, I’ll watch the movie only for entertainment; then I’ll look for the original subtitles and watch it. If there is any unknown word, I’ll take a note (usually I print the subtitles). After that, I extract the audio and listen to the audio, if the audio is difficult I’ll read along, if is easy I’ll only hear. That helps me a lot.

Have you ever started a new language and then given up for some reason?

Yes, Japanese. I started when was in University and gave up. I don’t remember the exact reason, probably lack of focus. But, having the perspective I have today, is something I regret. I plan to study it again, someday.

To learn more about Nathalia please visit her blog PolyglotNerd.com. 

Ellen Jovin Interview & Polyglot Conference

In today’s interview blog post Ellen Jovin tells us about the upcoming polyglot conference in NY she’s co-organizing with Richard Simcott and Alex Rawlings and about her language learning methods. 

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Tell us more about the Polyglot Conference in NYC? How much work is involved in organizing it?

Polyglot Conference NYC 2015 will bring hundreds of linguaphiles — polyglots, linguists, language enthusiasts — together in the world’s most multilingual city to hear some wonderful speakers and hang out and talk and network with one another. It will be held at the SVA Theatre in Chelsea, which is a bustling neighborhood in Manhattan full of restaurants, bars, varied architecture, and one of my favorite places to take visitors, High Line Park. The dates are October 10 and 11, but there will be various activities before and after, as many people are arriving early and/or leaving late. I am beside myself with excitement. It’s a lot of work to organize, but in my view gracious hosts are not supposed to make a point of that!

Who is organizing it?

I am working with English polyglot Richard Simcott, who originated this conference series in Europe, and Alex Rawlings, another English polyglot, who worked with Richard on the most recent Polyglot Conference in Novi Sad, Serbia. There have been two in Europe already, so this will be the third, and I joined Richard and Alex in order to bring this event to the U.S. for the first time. Both are truly impressive polyglots, and good, thoughtful people as well, so it has been a joy and an honor to work with them.

Is it the first time you organize something like that?

This is old hat for Richard and Alex. As for me, I am accustomed to organizing events for Syntaxis, a business I have had with my husband for 15 years. Those events are smaller, but they are nonetheless language-related undertakings in Manhattan requiring some similar kinds of preparatory activities.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I am a linguaphile. I am attracted to language. I cannot help it; it is hardwired into me. I studied languages in college, then returned to them as an adult. Everything I have done in my adult life — teaching, writing, etc. — has revolved around my love of language, whether my native language or foreign ones.

What languages do you speak?

I do my best work in English. But I also speak Spanish, German, French, Italian, varying degrees of Portuguese depending on when I last examined it, and bits and pieces of a bunch of others. Right now I am reviewing previously completed lessons in Polish, Russian, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, and a few other languages.

Do you dream in a foreign language?

Sometimes. Last night I dreamt that I missed a flight from Paris to JFK, and in the dream I was on a cell phone on the streets of Paris in the pouring rain, trying to negotiate a new flight in French so I could get back to New York.

What do you think of constructed languages? Would you be interested to learn one?

I am less interested in constructed languages than in the people who construct them. I find some of the conlangers fascinating — incredibly creative and knowledgeable linguistically. It’s fun to hear them talk. I like reading the posts in the conlang groups. Half the time I can’t even understand what they’re talking about. It’s fantastic.

When you learn a new language do you always follow the same strategy?

More or less. I like to start with audio lessons, then quickly jump in with the writing system and grammar after I get a basic feel for a language’s oral qualities and structural features. I am unusually fond of grammar, I would say. I love doing grammar exercises. I love conjugating verbs. I hate not knowing how a language is put together.

How has your strategy to learn new languages changed over the years?

I don’t think it has changed all that much. I am pretty stubborn and I know what I like.

Do you have a favorite language?

I really love Italian. There are so many ways to say “the.” And Italian feels good in my mouth when I am pronouncing it. I am feeling very fond of Levantine Arabic right now, too.

Which resources do you normally use most?

Pimsleur, grammar books, Memrise.

What do you think of LearnWithOliver.com?

Are you fishing for compliments? You already know I really like it. It is carefully edited and responsible, and I dig that. I have used it for a whole bunch of languages.

What is your definition of fluency?

Fluency has arrived when I can express a large percentage of the things I want to say in a language — even if they don’t always come out beautifully. The important thing is being competent enough to reroute into another way of wording something if I get stuck.

What keeps you motivated to keep learning?

It is intensely pleasurable to me.

Which language do you think is the most romantic?

I am not romantic, so I don’t care about which language is the most romantic. I just like expressing myself.

And what point would you recommend reading up on grammar?

This is a personal choice. I like to start in on grammar very early on. If you hate grammar, then I wouldn’t recommend doing that. Whatever you use, you will make less progress if you don’t actually like it, so it is important to reconsider your materials if they aren’t working for you. Language is not a one-size-fits-all undertaking.

Who do you think is the most accomplished polyglot you’ve met?

I have a few in mind, but I cannot know the answer to this question, because I do not at present have the skills to test the most accomplished polyglots I’ve met. They know too much. Fortunately, I am not concerned about who the most accomplished one is. I just really dig being around people who like language.

How important do you think talent is when learning a language?

I have noticed that many people hate talking about talent. I don’t get that. I am not very good at yoga. So what? That doesn’t mean I can’t do yoga, or that I can’t improve at yoga, or that I can’t benefit from yoga, or that I can’t enjoy yoga. It just means you will not see me on the stage at the national championships.

Do you use mnemonics to learn new words?

Only when I’m really desperate and simply can’t remember a word no matter what I do. I am otherwise not into mnemonics. I do like saying that word though. Mnemonics. Mnemonics. Mnemonics. It’s cool!

To learn more about Ellen Jovin please visit her blog “Words & Worlds of New York”. To get more information about the upcoming polyglot conference in New York please click here.