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.