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.
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.