Monthly Archives: October 2015

Interview with Scottish polyglot Maureen Millward

Today we’ll interview polyglot Maureen Millward from Scotland. She tells us about her most challenging language, her most used resources and what she thinks about LearnWithOliver.com.

maureen

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I come from Scotland and I did not start learning languages seriously until age 16 because they were taught very badly at school. I enjoyed languages but we had too many students in one class for it to be effective. At age 16, I went to a Spanish class with just 6 students and it suited me much better. I then went on to study Spanish at university, followed by Italian and then Portuguese. I went on to work in the European Finance Industry where I used my Italian and Spanish on a regular basis and I regularly went to both countries on business. I still work within the Finance Industry, but in my free time I tend to focus on learning languages I need for travelling rather than work. I still maintain my level in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese with weekly Skype sessions.

What languages do you speak?

Native English, fluent Spanish, Italian and Portuguese and intermediate Catalan, Norwegian,  French, German and Greek, basic level Gaelic and Arabic. I have just started to learn Chinese.

Do you dream in a foreign language?

Very often, particularly with my fluent languages.

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

Actually I am quite different to other polyglots in the sense that I don’t ever learn constructed languages. I am very busy keeping up my existing languages where I can travel to those countries and speak to people so the constructed languages have never interested me.

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

Usually yes. I always buy a course book with good reviews and I enjoy using websites where I can play word games to help me remember vocabulary. I usually buy a verb and grammar book and then I always try and find a tutor over Skype to help me with speaking skills.

Do you have a favorite language?

I think Italian will always be my favourite because I spent a lot of time working with Italians in both the UK and Italy and I love everything about Italy and the culture and the people made me very welcome.

Which resources do you normally use most?

I use italki tutors several times a week. It’s important for me to keep up my speaking practice. For my fluent languages, I just tend to maintain them by speaking but for the intermediate ones I still work my way through textbooks as well as having tuition on Skype once every 7-10 days. Depending on my level, I may watch videos of news reports and I like the Euro News website because they show a written transcript of the video report.

What do you think of LearnWithOliver.com?

I am enjoying the site and I currently use it for beginners level Chinese. I like the word games and the fact you can customise what comes in your newsletter. It’s also very useful being given the vocabulary in pinyin and Chinese characters with audio. Not all sites offer that and it is important as a beginner in Chinese.

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

I would recommend starting either an online course such as LearnWithOliver.com or a textbook depending on what they prefer. After learning a few words, I would recommend trying to speak as soon as possible to build up confidence. Look on italki for tutors who specialise in teaching beginners.

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

Yes. As well as travelling for my usual holidays, I now travel twice a year to Polyglot Events around the world.

How much time do you spend learning languages per day or per week?

Usually I have about 4 Skype sessions per week so at least once per fortnight for each of my languages. I tend to study for around an hour a day and I do half an hour per language, so I have a schedule spread over the week.

Which language you learned did you find most/least challenging and why?

I would say Greek has been most challenging because it is not like any other language I know already and so memorising vocabulary was harder and the verb conjugations in the past tense are difficult although not impossible!

Any books about language learning you can recommend?

I really enjoyed reading Barry Farber’s book “How to Learn any Language”. I was very privileged to meet him New York a few weeks ago and he is a hyperpolyglot who started learning languages back in the 1940s. I also enjoyed reading “Fluent in Three Months” by Benny Lewis all about his language projects so far and he gives advice on how to succeed with languages.

To learn more about Maureen’s language journey please visit her website and Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

Interview with Don Cristian Ramsey

Today we’ll introduce Don Cristian Ramsey aka “Legend of Polyglot” from Finland who already speaks an impressive number of languages for a 25 year old.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I’m a native Finnish speaker with Finnish and Sri Lankan parents. I have lived in three countries during my lifetime and travelled in quite many countries, mainly in Europe and the American continent. I’m the author of the “Legend of Polyglot” Facebook site and the manager of a DJ (FB: Amourtech). On Legend of Polyglot I record everything about my language learning journey.

This journey began already as a child when we moved to England and Estonia. There I was forced to learn foreign languages just to survive at school, which was quite tough at first. I could say that life taught me my first 5 languages and then the rest of the languages I started learning intentionally.

I’ve got a lower degree in Medicine but I dropped out before graduating in order to fulfill my real destiny and purpose in life. My language learning is an obsession and one part of that is also studying the history of every single country in the world and their culture to understand our world better. Other major passions of mine are sports and learning about technology especially as a tool for my imagination.

I practice my body which I call Taj Mahal, because our body is the temple of our soul, and my body will be the Taj Mahal of all bodies. I’m learning web design, programming, photo and video editing to bring my ideas in life in interesting projects. These aforementioned passions keep me occupied most of my time.

What languages do you speak?

I’ve got 8 languages in which I have experience in speaking, reading and writing nearly a decade in all of them except Portuguese.

Finnish – mother tongue
English – C2 – started learning in 1996
Estonian – C1 – started learning in 1997
Spanish – B2 – started learning in 2007
Swedish – B2 – started learning in 2003
Portuguese – B2 – started learning in 2012
German – B2 – started learning in 1997
Italian – B1 – started learning in 2007

I’ve got 6 languages in which my communicating is restricted and I’m still on a beginner level

French – A2 – started in 2013
Dutch – A1 – started in 2014
Hindi – beginner – started in 2014
Mandarin – beginner – started in 2014
Arabic – beginner – started in 2014
Russian – beginner – started in 2015

What is your definition of fluency?

My definition of fluency is that you’re capable of transmitting your ideas and thoughts to the other person in a certain language. Sometimes you don’t find all the words but in these cases you know how to say them in a different way or ask the native speaker how to say the thing that you want to say. The capability of getting by in almost any situation with the language skills that you have. Nobody is 100% fluent, there are so many words in even your own language that you’re not familiar in, so the important thing is to become a bit more fluent every day.

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

The best and most efficient way for me to learn languages was when I lived abroad and I just had to learn the language in order to communicate with other people. I don’t remember anymore how it happened.

In high school I started learning the first languages with the intentional purpose of learning them, they were Italian and Spanish. After a few courses I forced myself to speak Spanish with a Chilean exchange student. It worked out perfectly, in the end of his exchange I could communicate fluently in Spanish.

Maybe the biggest change in my strategy was in about 2013 or 2014 when I started concentrating quite seriously on language learning. I began using different resources for reading and learning languages. I started reading texts out loud for myself and translating different articles, which I reckoned interesting. Nowadays I sometimes speak to the microphone to hear more clearly my pronunciation in order to correct it and make it sound better. I also write down all the words that I don’t recognize while I read some foreign newspapers for example.

How has speaking multiple changes changed you as a person?

It has definitely given me more self-confidence and trust in myself because I know now that I could go basically anywhere in the world and survive because I got the skills to communicate and the intelligence to solve tricky situations. It’s also quite hard to answer because I’ve been a polyglot already since my early childhood so speaking multiple languages has been actually a part of my identity nearly all of my life. I knew four languages when I was 10 and five already when I was 13. Before high-school I didn’t even think this multilingualism part of myself that much because it’s quite common in my country to know four or five languages because everyone should speak at least the three mandatory languages which are taught in the elementary school and in addition many people take one or two optional languages. So somehow the change hasn’t been that big even though I’ve learned many new languages in the past years.

What keeps you motivated to keep learning?

The moments when you realize that all the hard work was worth it.
The feeling that you get when you’re communicating fluently with people from other countries and you understand each other perfectly.
The ease of life while traveling when you speak the local language and have to handle situations which would be quite hard if you didn’t speak the local language.
The excitement when you understand a new language for the first time when you hear it in a movie or with a real person, you feel like a door has opened to a new world, which was locked before and the walls have vanished around this new exciting world.

Which resources do you normally use most?

I’ve used Duolingo since September 2013. I use it to strengthen my grammar and to learn new vocabulary.
I use occasionally Memrise for languages that aren’t still in Duolingo and for example to learn the scripts of Hindi, Arabic and Chinese.
Readlang is a great new resource which I found recently, I use it to learn more vocabulary.
LearnWithOliver was a great finding and I’m using it to learn Russian initially but I’ll definitely use if for other languages too.
ChineseSkill is a great application, which I use to learn Mandarin. The user interface is so pretty and simple.
I have Complete Mandarin, Arabic and Hindi books to get the basic understanding of the language and I like to learn using a physical book as well.
I also have to mention Google Translate which I use only in languages that I know to remind about the words that I might have forgotten but which I recognize when I see them.

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

When I start learning a language it means that it’s a lifelong commitment. My language learning will continue until I die and I will try to reach as high fluency as possible during my lifetime. The only language that I haven’t continued was Latin, which I learned in high school for one course. I’m not a fan of dead or constructed languages. I will not put effort in learning these and I didn’t even have the intention of studying Latin much further than the basics.

I have the aim of learning ten most widely-spoken languages in the world and become as fluent as possible. Every now and then I’ve tried something in Duolingo, for example Turkish, Irish or Danish. So I haven’t quit any language that I have started seriously learning and the secret of my current language level is the fact that I have continued learning more every single language that I have started in my life.

How much time do you spend learning languages per day or per week?

It depends a lot now when I have school, but I aim to learn at least 1-2 hours per day. When I have more time it’s maybe about 3-4 hours. First I strengthen all the languages which I’ve studied quite long. Then I continue to the new languages with the intention of learning the logic of them as well as possible. I spend more time to learn new languages and the time that I put in learning my fluent languages I try to use it learning new things that I don’t understand yet. It’s important to go out of your comfort zone and search for more complex articles to become more fluent even though it feels quite uncomfortable not to understand what you’re reading or hearing.

Which language you learned did you find most/least challenging and why?

German is really hard grammar-wise, I can communicate in German quite easily but to speak grammatically perfectly is really much more demanding than in Spanish or Swedish for example.
Taking in consideration the script, I would say that Arabic and Mandarin are the hardest. I still have a lot of work in both of these. The hardest languages to pronounce are Russian, Arabic and French. Hindi and Estonian have also some sounds which are a bit hard to pronounce.
The least challenging languages are by far Swedish, Spanish and Dutch. Swedish and Dutch have the easiest grammar that I’ve seen but the fact that I spoke English and German already before learning these both helped me a lot to memorize the vocabulary of these languages. As a learning experience Portuguese was one of the easiest. I started Portuguese in 2012 and I was already fluent in Spanish and Italian, so only after a couple of weeks I could communicate with it. It’s no surprise because about 80% of Portuguese is the same than in Spanish. The hardest part was only to learn the logic how to pronounce the words in Portuguese.

Do you dream in a foreign language?

This is a great question because I have seen dreams in foreign languages for years. I have spoken so many languages in my dreams and many of these dreams I’ve recorded on my dream journal. Always when I’ve heard sentences or words in new languages I have seen dreams where I use them. This happened me at least in Portuguese and Chinese for years ago when I hadn’t even started learning them. Usually in my dreams I’m in a situation where I have to use that particular language that I’m speaking and sometimes everything goes wrong or I realize that I pronounced the sentence so incorrectly, then I wake up and pronounce it correctly.

Words stick quite well into my memory, I will see dreams about new words and sometimes they pop up into my mind and then I repeat them for myself. This repeating and visualizing different situations happens unconsciously nearly every day, so I’m practically repeating foreign words nearly all the time if I’m not occupied with something else.

To learn more about Don Cristian Ramsey, please visit his website and Facebook Page.

Interview with language teacher Christine Konstantinidis

Christine Konstantinidis1

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. What languages do you speak?

I am German and I am a language teacher for several languages (mostly Italian). Besides, I run the blog “Erfolgreiches Sprachenlernen, write the blog for CourseFindersGermany and have a real passion for everything related to languages, learning techniques and time management. I speak German, English, French, Italian and Spanish, and I can translate Latin texts. I have also begun to learn Dutch and Portuguese, but having so many other projects I had to stop learning on a regular basis. This year in April, I published my first book “Sprachen lernen – Tolle Tipps und Tricks”, now it is available in German, I am currently working on the English and the Italian translation.

Sprachenlernen rot klein

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

My strategies are more or less the same. I do not like using classical textbooks and I do not like the separation of learning and life. I think the most successful strategy for me is to integrate my languages into my daily life. I write mails to friends abroad, I have language partners who I speak with on a regular basis, I read books and blogs in my learning language, I listen to podcasts and I watch films and videos. I love computer-based learning, so I use some apps and computer programmes, even for vocabulary. However, this strategy only works for the modern languages, for Latin it is different. Here I have to use a classical textbook and I have to study grammar in a very structured and theoretical way.

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

My strategy has changed a lot over the years, because I use the internet a lot – and ten years ago and even three or five years ago, the possibilities were rather limited. There were almost no blogs, no programmes and no apps. Nobody had a smartphone or a laptop – so my learning has definitely changed considerably.

Do you have a favourite language?

I do not really have a favourite language, but there are preferences that change from time to time depending on my goals. I love Spanish as I have found some very friendly and helpful language partners and a competent and patient teacher from Bolivia. French is also a great language – my language tutor Mathieu has been a good choice – and as my daughter lives near the French border now I can use French quite often.

Are there any language blogs or podcasts you follow closely?

I read many blogs on a regular basis, for example Benny Lewis’ “Fluent in three months”, Olly Richards’s “I will teach you a language”, “Languages around the Globe”, Lena’s “Sprachenlust”, “Sprachheld” and many others.

The same for podcasts. There are so many great podcasts, for example “The Actual Fluency Podcast”, “Creative Language Learning”, “Effortless English”, “English with Kirsty”, “I Will Teach You A Language”, “Real Fast Spanish”.

Which resources do you normally use most?

I use podcasts, blogs, apps and computer programmes. My favourite apps are Memrise, Babbel, HelloTalk and my Spanish verb trainer. I also love my iPod and my tablet (for reading e-books). I follow the Spanish course Fluencia and I love the Italki site. Facebook is a good idea for using a language – you can participate in language groups, you can comment, watch videos, read articles. As I said before I am a computer learner. Other resources are books, films, CDs, newspapers and magazines I buy in the countries themselves – authentic material.

What keeps you motivated to keep learning?

In my opinion, a language does not subsist on the drill and the grammar rules, but on the different cultures and points of view, the sound, the mimic, the gesticulation, the friendships, the culinary pleasures, the music – all these points make a language beautiful! The passion for the language and the country is what counts – and that is the most important condition for successful and motivated learning!

What would you recommend a new language learner? How to get started? And what point would you recommend to read up on grammar?

I would recommend the following strategy:

  1. Start now.

  2. Set a smart, realistic and measurable goal.

  3. Take a positive view of your learning sessions.

  4. Be well organised.

  5. Eliminate disruptive elements

  6. Write a list of activities you like (use the list when lacking motivation).

  7. Write a study plan.

  8. Find out what to learn and where to get information.

  9. Make breaks.

  10. Repeat adequately and variedly.

  11. Change your strategy if your goal changes.

  12. Have fun and do not panic!

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

I think talent is not important. Successful learners are more disciplined, work hard on reaching their goals and are focussed on their priorities. They are patient and use the perfect learning methods. That is why they are successful.

How much time do you spend learning languages per day or per week?

I use all my languages every day, not only during my learning sessions but also in my daily life. Therefore, it is difficult to estimate how much time I spend on learning. In fact, I learn all day long. I am not a big fan of separating learning time and lifetime. You can perfectly combine both.

You know you’re a language nerd when…

You are aware of every single mistake on signposts. You also like reporting the mistakes to your friends and partners. You see a word and try to find ten examples for using it in different contexts and languages. Not to mention the endless grammar points you explain all day long – to everybody who wants to know and who does not!

To learn more about Christine Konstantinidis, please visit her German blog Erfolgreichessprachenlernen.com. To buy her book please click here. 

50 languages and beyond!

Today we’ll interview Zach Krisl who has studied 50 languages at the tender age of sixteen.

Tell us about yourself!

Hello world! My name is Zach Krisl. I’m sixteen years old and I live in the American Midwest. I’ve been seriously studying language since December of 2013. Before that, I had taken roughly a year and a half of Spanish in school, but language wasn’t really important to me. For some reason, I picked up a German book that day in December, and my interest exploded. Within a month I had begun studying around 10 languages, and by now, I’ve at least dabbled in over fifty languages. By no means do I “speak” all of these languages, but I like to say I’m a “practicing polyglot” or a “polyglot in training”.

What languages do you speak?

So, as I said before, I’ve dabbled in over fifty languages, but my top three aside from English would be Spanish, German, and Serbo-Croatian. Over all, I have probably a total of five or six languages I could survive on, but I wouldn’t say I SPEAK them, simply because I learn more every day, and I will always be ABLE to learn more every day.

Do you dream in a foreign language?

Well, it isn’t often, but I have dreamt in foreign languages. Which for me is really surprising, because the languages I DO dream in, are the ones of which I don’t know much. I mean, I’ve heard that if you dream in a language, that it means you’re fluent in said language, but I know for a FACT that that is not true, because I have dreamt in French, Russian, Chinese, etc.… and yet I have trouble speaking Chinese and Russian when I am awake sometimes.

What do you think of constructed languages? Would you be interested in learning one?

Well, I am currently learning two constructed languages, Interlingua and Esperanto. I LOVE the idea of them, but at the same time… they have their downfalls. They’re simple to learn, and the concept of having a “World Language” or a “Universal Language” is great… but as of now, not very practical. Along with this, the other main downfall is that they don’t have a culture. To me, to learn a language is not just to memorize vocab words and work on grammar… but it’s also to have a nice time at a tapas bar in Spain, enjoy Japanese anime, eat some authentic Korean Kimchi, or maybe some Norwegian Lefse or German Rouladen.

Do you always follow the same strategy when learning a new language?

Definitely not. Each language is unique and so no two languages, in my opinion, can be tackled the same way. I use similar techniques for certain languages, but almost never the same. One thing I always try is to learn a third language from a second language. What I mean it that, well, for example. I am learning many Slavic languages, (Serbo-Croatian, Bosnian, Czech, Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, and Slovenian) of these seven, Serbo-Croatian is the one of which I know the most. So, instead of translating from English to Russian, I do Serbian to Russian. I love this technique because it teaches me new vocab while also helping me to remember and retain the same vocab in a different language.

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

Mostly, it’s simply that I’ve been putting more time into it. The first time I attempted to learn a language was when I was in 5th grade. I loved anime at the time, and so I wanted to know what they were ACTUALLY saying on Naruto, rather than having to read the subtitles along the bottom. I eventually found some online resources, but didn’t really know where to go from there. I learned to read Japanese, and learned to pronounce the letters and such. I also learned some basic grammar… that was my mistake I think. That right away I went to grammar, rather than learn vocab first. After that, maybe a year later, I tried to learn Greek, as I loved the Greek myths we were covering in school. This one, I didn’t even get as far as I did with Japanese. I managed to memorize the alphabet in roughly an hour or two, but past that, nada. I didn’t really understand how to learn a language until I took Spanish for the first time in school. I feel that if you learn one language, you learn how to learn, and you then are able to learn others much easier. The first one is always the hardest in my opinion.

Which resources do you normally use the most?

Well, I really enjoy the Memrise app, and also Duolingo. Duolingo is actually what helped me first start out on my German, and from there, I began to work hard with it, and it came naturally from there. I enjoy duolingo and Memrise because they make learning the languages like a game, rather than work. Of course, for me, the work of learning them is fun, but I understand that it isn’t for everyone. Otherwise though, I have never worked really with any of the major language learning programs like Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur, although I have heard both good and bad about both.

What is your definition of fluency?

For me, even if I were to know every word in a language, I wouldn’t consider myself fluent in the language unless I knew everything about its culture too. Because for me, to be fluent means not just being able to count to a million, or being able to get around a city. For me, you need to know about the country, the people, the food, etc. A prime example. I heard a joke in Spanish, and understood every single word, and yet didn’t understand the joke at all. Everyone else was laughing ridiculously, and yet I was left out of it. It turned out to be referencing a children’s show in Mexico, one that they had all seen, but I had not.  These are the things I’m talking about, fluency depends on more than just your amount of known words.

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

Treat yourself like a child. Learn to speak first. Don’t try to start writing right away if it has an alphabet you need to learn. How I so often start it now, is I treat myself like I’m in kindergarten. I learn my colors, how to write my name, body parts, etc. Simple things. I always enjoy learning Head Shoulders Knees and toes also, because I’m just awesome like that. As I was saying, I make sure to get an okay grasp of spoken language before I begin writing. And the other thing, is learn simple things first. Don’t try to learn medical terms in Chinese before you learn your colors, or else you will be so confused. And the final part of this is to try to find someone who can help you. We all need help sometimes, and so finding someone you can talk with and get help from is so important. If you can’t find someone, that’s okay, but I seriously don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have helpers.

How has speaking multiple languages changed you as a person?

If anything, it has probably made me a much creepier person ha-ha. For example, a while back, a friend of mine and I were walking in the store, and I heard someone speaking Swahili around the corner. I nearly ran out of my shoes in an attempt to go and speak to this person, as Swahili is a language I don’t get to speak often. I get to the end of the isle, and with a cry of “KISWAHILI!” I knock over a middle aged woman.  Or one other thing I do that my mom absolutely hates, is when in public I sometimes… well, speak with an accent. I think to myself, “These people don’t know me, and I NEED to improve my German Accent” or I also do French or Russian accents. And so, with that, if I’m with my mom, she calls me either Hans, Pierre, or Vladimir (Yes, I know, the most stereotypical names ever, but oh well). And I agree that it’s kind of weird, but I am NOT insane, and it actually DOES help for when I’m actually speaking these languages, despite the stares I may get in the dairy section.

Do you watch movies to practice your languages?

I do watch some movies in different languages, but much more often I listen to music in different languages and have radio apps for over 20 different countries (Shout out to South Africa. I turned on South African radio at midnight here, which would be 6 am in South Africa, and they’re jamming out to Tupac, whoop whoop). And here, more than likely the manliest thing you’ve ever heard: I can sing “Let it Go” from Frozen in 25 languages. Yay for my masculinity! Next Question!

You know you’re a language nerd when…

You know you’re a language nerd when you specifically MEMORIZE the phrase “One language is never enough” in 50 languages. Or when you have anything in common with me. Like, at all. Though that could also mean you’re: a nerd in general, kind of chubby, incredibly handsome, a genius, straight up charming, an internet freak, or just amazing in general.

Mnemomania

The second guest post from LearnWithOliver.com user Robert Dupuis about memory aids or mnemonics.

When I was a boy Donovan, a Scottish singer and musician, hit the top of the charts with the single Sunshine Superman, in which he promised to use “every trick in the book” to win a woman. At least when learning a language we linguists aren’t very interested in romantic conquests, but we too must use every mental trick to facilitate learning and retention, tricks properly known as mnemonic devices (i.e. memory aids). Wikipedia says that said devices may assist in language learning, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that they not only assist but are crucial to it. And here are a few devices I use:

Related words, i.e. root words, cognates and derivatives. The French verb oublier, “to forget,” is the root word for English oblivious, “unable to remember or unaware of one’s surroundings.” So if you forget oublier, remember this: “I’m oblivious to that word.” Can’t think of the French word for sky? Just look up at your ceiling, do a vowel switch of the root ceil– and you have it: ciel.

Imaginative interpretation. The German words einzig, “only,” can be remembered by “I have only one cigarette;” verscheiden,to pass away,” by imagining a horse that, upon seeing a shadow, shied then died (ver, the prefix of verscheiden, means “to see” in Spanish); sauber, “clean,” and zauber, “magic,” are very similar and remind me of the expression “Cleanliness is godliness,” i.e. “Cleanliness is magic;” unterhalten, “to entertain,” makes me think of a big hand under, i.e. holding, a TV.

Rhyming phrases or ditties. The phrase Juana la rana y el guapo sapo, for example, made it easier for me to learn the Spanish words for “frog,” “handsome,” and “toad.” I tried for days to sing those Spanish words to Let It Be and failed, but they were effective anyway.

Mapping. By mapping I mean the shapes assumed by the same or similar words on a conjugation or declination table. For example, the Spanish verb dormer, “to sleep,” undergoes a spelling change in four of the six present indicative forms, that is in all three singular forms and the final plural form. Seeing the following table may tie up loose mnemonic ends:

(yo) duermo (nosotros) dormimos
(tú) duermes
(vosotros) dormís
(él) duerme (ellos) duermen

See the red L-shape that denotes root spelling changes? Store such shapes in your cognitive memory banks for ready recall in times of need. Tables like this have helped me enormously over the years with every language I’ve studied, but especially with those that commonly do without personal pronouns that unequivocally identify the doer, such as Spanish and Italian. To the beginner learning verb forms may seem extremely difficult. Dormir has about fifty simple forms and another thirty compound forms (the latter are seldom used so don’t despair!) Remember that the longest journey begins with one step.

Words-within-words. I use this devise not so much to remember words but to remember their spellings. The first few times I wrote the German vielleicht, “possibly,” I had to consult the dictionary. Then I spotted the French pronoun elle within it: viELLEicht ― end of uncertainty.

Look at it so: Every single word you meet, in no matter what language, has a hook on top. What tool or device will you use to grab that word and reel it into your mind? Those mentioned above are merely on the tip of the mnemonic iceberg. Use your imagination, let your mind run wild. The mind is a muscle, the most important muscle we have. So keep it in shape. And have fun doing it.

5 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Master English Pronunciation

In today’s guest blog post Jovana from Saundz will explore different ways to master English pronunciation.

Jovana

Learning English pronunciation can be tough, especially for students who do not have a regular contact with native speakers.

Unlike grammar rules and vocabulary items, pronunciation cannot be mastered using books only. Instead, pronunciation practice relies on interactive learning and constant spoken communication, which enables students to start speaking the language more naturally.

Of course, some theory is also involved and it mostly revolves around learning the basics of English phonology. By combining some theoretical knowledge of English sounds with consistent practice, you can significantly improve not only your pronunciation, but overall spoken English skills. Among the most efficient pronunciation learning techniques, the five listed below are essential for students of English, regardless of their current proficiency level.

1. Discover the power of lyrics: listen to the English music.

One of the simplest ways to increase your exposure to natural English is by listening to foreign artists who sing in English. Find a favorite band and keep listening to it on a daily basis to improve your perception of syllable lines and general language melody, as well as enhance overall comprehension skills. Music is one of the most powerful language learning resources and is frequently used by language tutors. Moreover, most polyglots would tell you that it’s precisely through music that they managed to learn a foreign language.

Additionally, this specific experiment revealed that “the extra information provided in music can facilitate language learning. Although they suggest this isn’t a requirement for learning a language, it can help you master pronunciation. Similarly, research from the University of Edinburgh also found that singing is a great way to improve spoken skills:

“We thought we would explore whether there was a benefit and found singing was more much effective, particularly when it came to the spoken language tests,” notes Dr Katie Overy, who supervised the study at the University’s Reid School of Music.

2. Learn the basics of the English phonology to pronounce individual sounds more comfortably.

One of the main challenges for students of English is recognizing the differences between English sounds and the equivalents in their native language. Many students tend to simply replace such sounds with those that come more natural to them, which is why they often retain the foreign accent. This is why they often make mistakes that can cause misunderstandings and uncomfortable situations.

By learning the basics of the English phonology, you will understand the subtle characteristics of specific sounds in order to utter them the way native speakers do. For example, General American has 40 basic sounds, out of which 16 are vowels. This is probably not the number you have in your own language, right?

Even if your language has the same number of sounds, chances are they differ in several key aspects. To understand these differences, you can watch YouTube videos to understand how sounds are pronounced. Rachel’s English features a range of videos that can help you improve this critical skill. With this pronunciation software, on the other hand, you’ll be able to record your pronunciations and compare them with native speakers immediately.

3. Connect to people online to find a language partner.

Communicating with other people in real-life situations is the best way to learn a language. However, many students are unable to find an adequate language partner, which greatly limits their abilities to improve spoken communication.

As one of the aspects of spoken English, pronunciation too should be practiced in pairs. Fortunately, finding an international language partner in the age of global digital communications is easier than ever, which is why every individual should try it.

The language communities such as LiveMocha and iTalki let you find a native speaker with whom you can communicate on a regular basis in exchange for teaching him or her your own language. This can be a great fun because it also enables you to share your thoughts with people who may have similar interests as you. However, if you’re too shy to talk to other people in a foreign language, there’s a great alternative that you can do on your own.

4. Read English books and magazines out loud.

Probably the best technique for those who either prefer self-studying or are too shy to communicate with strangers is reading favorite books out loud. Of course, this also helps you improve your reading comprehension, which is why it should be a habit of every motivated individual. If you turn this into a daily habit, you’ll soon get used to the sound of your own voice in English and thus feel more comfortable speaking in the foreign language.

The best thing about this is that you can start today by grabbing your favorite book and reading specific paragraphs until you get the sense of the average length of the English sentence. Also, you may try combining this approach with listening to audio books to improve your sense of the way English sounds when spoken by native speakers.

5. Set your language goals and find a way to stay motivated.

For many language learners, it will take time until these simple tactics become a habit. However, for the most ambitious ones, this is probably the only way to actually improve pronunciation skills. Therefore, if you truly want to see results, schedule your pronunciation practice at a specific time every day and try to make it a real fun. If you start with boring materials, chances are you’d get sick of practicing within few days. Perhaps you should make a list of topics you’d like to deal with and use different materials that discuss these topics.

This will help you learn more about your interests and will make pronunciation learning more fun. It will make you feel good about your new habit and motivate you to continue with it in future.

One last piece of advice – don’t get lazy. If you truly want to learn English and benefit from what this knowledge offers, you should dedicate some time to practicing. With pronunciation, this is more important than anything, so promise yourself you’ll start now.

About Jovana

Jovana has graduated from English Language studies in 2012 and has been teaching English ever since. She currently works with a team of software developers as a language consultant.

40.000 hours of language learning

Today’s blog post Robert Dupuis – an avid user of LearnWithOliver.com – writes about his fascination of language and his unique view on language learning.

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Forty thousand hours. 40,000. That’s my (conservative) estimate of the total hours I’ve spent working on and with languages. By “working on” and “working with” I mean participating in grammar and conversation classes, studying (at school, home or, imprudently, while driving), reading (books and newspapers, Wikipedia articles and letters, and even instruction manuals), writing and translating, teaching and correcting. And that doesn’t even include the nocturnal sleepless spells during which, for example, I recite German verbs or try to label every object in the room. Even now as I write I’m eyeing a German novel splayed open at the side of my computer. In it I spot a word I don’t know, a strange word which, given the context, has me intrigued. It’s taunting me. It’s driving me crazy! I’m desperately tempted to look it up in one of the hundred dictionaries I have under Favorites but if I do I, immersed in the voluptuous sea of words, may never surface to finish this essay. Why this passion? After all, I’ll never use the vast majority of the fourteen languages that have obsessed me during the last four decades. Why this addiction? This I’ve recently asked myself and these are a few of the answers that, surrounded by a million words up there in the Realm of the Synapses that bounce around like pinballs before falling into syntaxes that hopefully won’t induce snickers, I’ve come up with.

Language fascinates me. It is astounding that we make sounds that express so many thoughts and feelings, some of them very specific. Indeed, I see language as a tree on top of the head which is rooted in the brain, our brain. These roots, thick and twisting and mysterious, grow according to their own organic logic and as they do, the tree grows too. The individual languages are the tree’s branches, the twigs their syntaxes, the leaves their words. A few of these leaves, aged thus susceptible to the winds of change, fall gently to the earth and eventually disappear. New leaves appear from seemingly nowhere, inventions of the mind striving to label, describe, and communicate new things, new things that are themselves inventions of the mind that creates even as it sleeps. Now and then an entire branch falls but, still intact and beautiful, takes eons to disappear. And we are the children that climb this tree. We fight and play, love and hate, flourish and founder, before drifting to the ground to disappear as well. But the tree remains sturdy, tingling and vibrating with life, the indescribable and nameless invention of life, the great miracle.
Knowledge is power. It may not be the power of Obama o Putin but it is undeniably power. Twelve of the fourteen languages I’ve studied are European, nine of which I know fairly to very well. This means that if I ever tour Europe (which I’d love to do), I’ll be able to communicate with most of the people I meet from Greece to the North Pole, from England to Germany. I’ll be able to read menus, order food, and ask where the bathroom is. Why I can stop any passerby on the street and say “Excuse me, if love had feathers and tasted like dog food, then I suggest you wear shoes with your banana pudding.” You know, if I really had the urge. If I never do tour Europe, I’ll still have a foot, maybe both feet, in the cultural door. Language is one of the major constituents of culture, the knowledge of which lets us into the mind and heart of a people. While it’s true that in a rough sketch all of us across the globe seem pretty much the same, it’s also true that the knowledge of language is a zoom lens that allows insight into nuances, colorings, and other details that, all told, increase our appreciation of life. The myriad wonders of existence.

Language learning is simply fun. Of all the activities that have consumed me, I can readily say that language learning, along with playing music and writing, is way up there on the list. Boredom has virtually been non-existent when I’m at it, instead I’m often very excited. Reading and writing a language that holds mysteries are especially exciting. Reading is a Sherlock Holmesian adventure. First I read the pages open to me, the verso and the recto. I use the words I do know to deduce or try to deduce those I don’t. Then I reread them, looking up all the new-to-me words. Then I reread once again, reviewing these new, helping them settle into their new home, while paying close attention to the grammar. Work indeed, but very enjoyable work. I’m in the middle of my first novel in German right now and I, well prepared by my intense study of the last four months, find that I have in fact deduced the meaning of about half of the sought words. “Elementary, my dear Watson!” I scream with each hit, giving my beloved dog a minor heart attack. The misses and the no-ideas? I enjoy learning their meanings and reading their many uses. Writing? Before I write a language I remove the double-billed cap, slip into my Bart Simpson costume, and become a spy. Languages are codes and writing them property is a beautiful if not crucial to clear communication and may just save humanity from some fiend with a foreign accent (Russian? Swahilian? Eskimoan?) To sum up this paragraph: Learning is fun and, to me, language learning is great fun, the ultimate adventure. A journey into the center of the mind.

Language learning also broadens one’s horizon. We linguists constitute an immense international club, and communication with members of our extended family as we help each another improve is not only a great pleasure but puts in practice what’s undoubtedly the most beautiful human trait: the ability to cooperate. Our horizon, already broadened on the borderless Internet, is broadened even further by good will. Speaking of, what is more mind-expanding than reading? Nothing. Of the four language skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) it’s reading that most expands the mind. Literature is created in reflective solitude thus as intimate as thought itself. When we read we are in the author’s mind, in his or past and present, shoes and country, reality and fantasy. Samuel Johnson, the 18th century English lexicographer and man of letters, rhetorically asked if it were possible to not read and be wise. My answer is no. Reading is the key to wisdom. Reading open doors.

We enjoy physical exercise so it’s only logical that we enjoy mental exercise too. In fact, mental exercise is physical, we just can’t see the movement, and even if we had, like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, a removable skull cap, we wouldn’t see movement. But there’s plenty going on down, or up, there. Language study entails memory, gobs and gobs of memory, during the exercise of which millions of synapses are putting on a huge fire works display, billions of nuclear organelles are whirling and spinning as if there’s no tomorrow, and strands of DNA are assembling themselves in accordance with extremely inflexible syntaxes. Doesn’t it feel good, honey? Gee golly Mom, it’s almost orgasmic!

Somebody once told me that learning languages I’d never use was “a complete waste of time,” a philistine thought if there ever was one. At the time I had no ready retort, but I do now: Since “Use it or lose it” is the wisest thing ever said, using it, especially to fathom something as complex as language, is never a waste of time. In fact, applying the mind to language learning seems to me optimally conducive to keeping gray matter in flying colors. Math too, namely algebra. But aren’t languages and algebra connected? I believe so. Both have vocabulary and grammar and in order to use them well we must learn the logic behind them, the logic that connects them as if they constituted an immense spider web. To me however a language’s logic is more complex than that of algebra. In the latter, whose roots are not thick and twisting and mysterious but extend into the brain like welding rods, rules are rules. In languages there are exceptions to many rules, exceptions that are bewildering to the learner ― two examples are irregular verbs and noun plurals ― and require, often demand, a flexible brain. Here’s another reason for learning languages: You never know. When I began serious Spanish studies way back in 1975 (not long after the wheel was discovered on a snow drift-buried tractor in upstate North Dakota), I had no idea that one day I’d have a Latino family, friends and employees with whom I’d speak it every day. We can’t foresee life’s bumps and curves. So the next language I’ll learn is Martianese. You never know.