Archives: December 30, 2015

Interview with LWO user Veronica Perez

Today’s interview is with language learner Veronica Perez who uses LearnWithOliver to learn languages. Even though she isn’t a famous blogger it’s one of the best interviews I’ve read for some time. Definitely worth reading. Enjoy!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I am 38 years old, a graduate of Accountancy, and I speak Filipino, as a native language; English, which is an official language in our country; and Japanese. I started learning Japanese in 2009 and passed N2 in December of 2013. I can’t claim I studied entirely on my own, though I learned only by getting online. I’ll forever be grateful to the authors of the different websites I used, and blogs that I read, not to mention authors of published books on the language. In 2014, I started learning other languages as well. Currently, besides English and Japanese, I’m also learning French, Swedish, Spanish, Korean, Latin, Ancient Greek, Brazilian Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese, Italian, Greek and German. That’s in the order that I started learning them. I started learning German just this October.

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

While learning Japanese, I focused on collecting sentences. After familiarizing myself with its writing system, which took barely a month, I went ahead and read sentences, and only acquired vocabularies in the process. I passed the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) doing just that. Well, I also watched a lot of Japanese movies, anime, TV programs and series, to acquire some listening skills, but I did not actively learn to speak. Eventually, it just happened, though it wasn’t my intention. A lot of reading and watching movies did that.

Since I couldn’t actively use the language, I didn’t personally know any Japanese national, so I had no one to talk to, I started keeping journals in that language. That’s when I noticed that I was utterly lacking in vocabularies. I could understand a great deal but I could not produce the right words to express what I wanted to say. So, when I started learning French, I did it both ways. I still focused on learning sentences but I also coupled it with lots of practice on vocabulary words alone. That’s how I discovered LearnWithOliver, which was then called Antosch & Lin. Its contents were exactly what I felt I needed at the time. A collection of sentences, plus a list of all the vocabularies used in them.

I’ve used electronic flashcards since the very first day and I don’t think I will ever be able to do without them. It’s only how I set up my cards that’s changed over the years. I change them based on what I believe I need at a certain period in my learning. Like, right now, I’m focusing on reading Japanese aloud. With a writing system like theirs, you can actually understand everything you’re reading without actually knowing how to pronounce the words. This is what I’m trying to achieve now, to be able to read Japanese aloud at a decent speed.

Do you have a favorite language?

I couldn’t explain why I kept adding to my list of languages I was learning, besides the fact that I felt it could be done, thanks to our current technology, but when I got to learning German, I thought: This is it! I stopped adding more languages after that. But I have to say this may only be for the time being, because I’ve also wanted to learn Russian. But then, it’s going to take a while before I start doing that. I want to be able to reach a certain level of proficiency in German first, before I start on another language again. Why German? I honestly don’t know. It just felt so right.

Are there any language blogs or podcasts you follow closely?

There’s not a single one I follow closely but I do read a lot of blogs and listen to podcasts. I’m basically everywhere. I read blogs, not just about the languages I’m learning, but about language learning in general. I particularly like those relating about their personal experiences. Since I’m just on my own here, tapping on my keyboard and clicking my mouse, I consider them my classmates in this broad school called language learning. I think this is important, hearing from kindred souls. It helps in keeping my passion for learning aflame. It’s the same with podcasts, I prefer listening to personal ones, like those talking about the traffic and the food they had for lunch. I consider that to be the closest I can get with the language. The reason I’m learning this many languages is I like reading books. Novels, in particular. And I want to be able to read literature in as many languages as possible. But there might also come a time when I would have to speak it, too, and I wouldn’t want to sound like a dramatic novel when I did. That’s why I listen to podcasts, to get the feel of how the language is actually being used in day-to-day conversations.

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

He has to know what he wants to do with the language he wants to learn first. That’s how he’ll be able to know what to do next. Does he want to be able to read in that language? Then, read right away. Does he like watching movies or listening to music? Then, focus on acquiring the listening skills necessary to do that. Does he like to talk, or have someone, in particular, he wants to communicate with in that language? Then, start with everyday conversations. Is it for a job? Then, go towards what that job requires. Once he has the answer to this, the materials he thinks he needs will just present themselves. It’s like magic. When one already knows what he wants, it will come to him. (Stated otherwise, Google will become his best friend.)

I also suggest that he does what he finds enjoyable. When he realizes that he doesn’t like what he’s doing anymore, find something else. When one likes what he’s doing, it starts to feel more like fun, though learning a language demands a great deal of work. It won’t matter where he starts, really. He can start with medical jargon, if that’s what interests him the most. Be it, say, basic, intermediate, or advanced, they will come together, eventually, as long as he keeps going. As long as he learns constantly, he’ll be using the language, even before he realizes he already can.

What keeps you motivated to keep learning?

Understanding words, or phrases, I wouldn’t have understood had I not learned the language. That’s the best motivation for me. The first time I weaned myself off the subtitles, when watching Japanese movies, and still understood what was going on, I was crying the entire time. I did it! Nothing can compare with the joy that brings.

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

When one feels he already has enough vocabularies, to which he can apply these grammar rules on, that’s the time. This will save him a tremendous amount of time. Languages tend to have these exact phrases, with which one expresses certain ideas. If he will keep on digesting sentences, or materials, in the language he’s learning, he’ll naturally be able to acquire and use these phrases. Learning grammar can be likened to polishing your shoes before you wear them. Vocabulary words, and common phrases, are the shoes. It’s grammar that polishes them. You wouldn’t polish a piece of leather and wrap it around your feet, would you?

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

A great deal. But only if it had to be done really fast and effortlessly!

We all have different capabilities. There will always be someone who can do it better than the other, and there’s nothing wrong if we admired that someone. When it comes to one’s own learning, though, what’s important is knowing what will work best for him. One ought to pick that method that he thinks will be most effective for him. If one has the talent, he should embrace it. If not, then, he would just have to exert more effort, and invest more time, to get to where he wanted to go. He will get there, for sure, as long as he stays the course. I know I don’t belong in the talented category but it’s the least of my concerns. It may take me longer than the rest, but I’m getting there, too.

Additionally, to borrow Kató Lomb’s words, “Language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly.” Either way, talent or none, in learning languages, one always wins.

Do you use mnemonics to learn new words?

Yes, but not actively. What usually happens is that I tend to associate them with words from another language. Like, when I learned the (Brazilian) Portuguese word for cigarette butt: bituca. In our language (Filipino), bituka means intestine. I instantly imagined an intestine full of cigarette butts. (He swallowed them, after smoking, because littering harms the environment!) Then, the word stuck. Because I have this tendency, to associate words with another, learning more and more languages works for me, because more and more associations become readily available to me as well. In cases when I couldn’t make any association at all, I’d try picturing the word in my head, say a window, and imagine the word written there. If that still didn’t work, I’d just leave it to the flashcards. After seeing the words multiple times, they stick, anyway.

I’ve read books on mnemonics, and the like. I believe I understood the idea, but I just couldn’t make it work for me. Either I’d forget the mnemonic I came up with, or I’d successfully come up with something really clever, but a full hour had already passed me by. It’s a waste of time for me. I’d rather see more new words than spend my time thinking of mnemonics I just might forget, anyway. I forgot what I thought could help me remember! That’s the worst feeling in the world, so I just go with what comes naturally to me.

What would you say is the hardest language?

One I can’t understand. That would be the hardest language for me. I’m a native Filipino speaker, so I’d say that’s the easiest language, but only because I know it with all my heart and soul. English used to be really difficult for me, when I was still learning it as a young girl in school. Now, though, I can’t say it’s so hard to learn. I thought I’d lose my mind, when I started learning Japanese, but now, I’d say, it’s relatively easy. Relatively? Compared with what? With a language I don’t yet speak. I could go on and on. French is easier than German, because I’ve been learning French for almost two years now. I started German only two months ago. On the other hand, my Spanish is a lot better than my Swedish, though I started learning Swedish six months earlier than Spanish. We (the Filipino language) use(s) a lot of words that have Spanish origin. The association helped a great deal.

What do I consider to be the most difficult among the languages I’m learning now? Latin. But only because LearnWithOliver doesn’t have it yet. It’s the lack of materials that engage me. In other words, though I don’t want to say this, it’s the relatively less amount of time I spend in learning the language that makes it difficult.


6 Great Ways to Learn Writing with Kanji


The most famous and difficult aspect of Japanese writing is kanji. Kanji are the Chinese hieroglyphs which were adapted to the Japanese language. Mostly, Japanese words are written in kanji, but they still sound the same as in hiragana and katakana.

A little more than 2 thousands of hieroglyphs are used in modern Japanese, however, learning each of them individually does not work as well as with the hiragana syllabarium. Due to the great amount, the Kanji requires special memorization methods. In the learning practice, the knowledge and the use of these strategies make the learning process faster, much more efficient and enjoyable for the learner.

An effective strategy for mastering Kanji lies in learning them with new words in a context. Thus we associate each symbol with the contextual information and fix them in our memory. Kanji are used for representing the real words, so you should focus on the vocabulary, rather the characters themselves.

Compare 暑い and 熱い, both hieroglyphs have the same meaning “hot”. However, the first one is used to describe the weather, and the second hieroglyph is used when someone is talking about the temperature of an object or a person.

To memorize Kanji better, you need to keep up a few simple rules, such as:

1. Track the correct writing.

Japanese hieroglyphs contain many strokes and the right order of writing helps not only to remember the Kanji itself, but also helps to recognize it at reading.

For that purpose you may use an online applications, such as:

KanjiQ by Aribada Inc. With KanjiQ you can practice Kanji, repeating their writing by the lines, or train yourself by looking simply at the strokes’ order.

2. Study radicals (keys)

Kanji are not just the characters, the looks of which are absolutely disconnected with the semantic content. A limited set of unique elements, named “radicals”, is used for writing Kanji. 214 of radicals are so-called keys, which are also the meaning-bearers of each hieroglyph.
Hence comes out the second method: learn hieroglyphics, breaking them into groups with the same keys.

The useful applications for that:

Imiwa? This is an interactive online kanji dictionary, which will help to find not only the hieroglyphs’ meaning and reading rules, but also group them according to the number of the strokes. Also, this application allows to search hieroglyphs by the radicals.

Kanji Game. This application is a bit more challenging. In addition to the usual Kanji reading tests, there is a useful game “Is it a real Kanji?”. The application will show you the hieroglyph, and you should have to guess whether it is a true kanji or not.

3. Memorize reading

Another method is based on the learning the “Onyomi” reading. Anyone, who studies Japanese language, knows that the hieroglyphs have 2 ways of reading – a Japanese (kunyomi) and original Chinese – (onyomi).
Japanese words, denoted with hieroglyphs, are not too difficult to remember, but reading in Chinese way, which often consists of a single syllable, might cause more troubles to the learner. Thus, in some cases, it may be easier to split kanji by groups with the same reading.

4. Use Associations

Each character of Kanji is a little picture, a real art. Why not to involve this into the learning process?

For instance:

  • Kanji 休 (a rest) consists of the elements 人 (a human) and 木 (a tree). It turns out that the rest is when a man leans to a tree.
  • Kanji 東 (east) consists of the two elements 木 (a tree) and 日(the Sun), which are fused together. It turns out that the east is where the sun appears from behind trees.

Such mnemonic technique allows you to create persistent images and understand the essence of the kanji, not just memorize its form by heart.

An application, which will help you:
FluentU. This program includes video, pictures and flash cards which provide a persistent association between a word and its meaning.

5. Compose meaningful groups

Another technique to facilitate kanji memorization is compiling personal dictionaries and combining hieroglyphics by their meaning. For example:
母 (mother), 父 (father), 兄 (elder brother), 姊 (elder sister).
赤 (red), 青 (blue), 黒 (black), 白 (white).
野菜 (vegetables), 果物 (fruit), 果実 (berries)

A handy application for you:

Kanji Star. In addition to the routine tests on Kanji memorization and writing, this program can offer you much more. You can choose the hieroglyphics in different categories, such as “fruit”, “vegetable”, “animal”, “color”, etc and focus only on them.
Learn Japanese. This application is designed for beginners. The program contains 800 words and popular phrases, backed by pictures and audio recordings.

6. Use phrases (mnemonics)

This method consists in memorizing phrases or stories, which can remind the hieroglyphic writing. For example:
馬 (horse): “Fondle the horse on its neck, and then on the head, then down to the nose, then on the back, and then to the tail, and the point – the point – the point – the point.” – this process depicts Kanji writing as if it was a picture of an animal.

Or give the name to each stroke in the same order as it is written:
正しい(right): The Vertical, the horizontal, the vertical, the horizontal and two large horizontal lines.


My name is Jennifer Broflowski. I am a freelance writer and experienced content distributor, fond of reading, news and everything connected with our life. At present, I am a staff writer in, which is one of the best essay writing services on the web. Working with its wonderful and professional team, I understood how it is important to be helpful, solve any student problem and draw a confident smile on their faces.

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Spanish in a Month – Interview with Connor Grooms

I met Connor Grooms on a reddit AMA he posted on Twitter and I thought it would be interesting to hear more about his project. He challenged himself to learn Spanish in Medellín (Colombia) in one month and documented everything in a short film.

Tell us more about your project? What tools did you use to make the video? Was it expensive to do?

This past June, I learned Spanish to a conversational level in a month, and shot the film, “Spanish in a Month: A Language Learning Documentary” about it. I spent about 5 hours a day – 3 of which were one-on-one classes, which is by far the most important thing.

I shot the film myself throughout the month, using a Sony Rx100 M3 – a high-end point-and-shoot that has DSLR quality. For a few of the shots, I borrowed my friend’s drone, and for the conversation scenes, I borrowed a different friend’s DSLR.

Aside from equipment cost, it was expensive mostly in time. I reckon it took 2-3 hours of editing per minute of video. Especially as my first time producing something of this length and quality, it was a monster of a project.

What’s it like living in Colombia?


I’ve lived in:
– many different cities in Florida, including Key West, Sarasota, St. Pete, and Gainesville
– Chiang Mai, Thailand
– Saigon, Vietnam
– Athens, Greece
– and now Medellin, Colombia

And I’ve traveled to 35 countries and lived for shorter periods of time in Prague, Cape Town, Bali, and Gold Coast Australia.

Medellin is easily my favorite. I’ve written about this before, but it’s the first place I didn’t have the “itch” to go to a new city after 2 months of being there.

More specifically:

– There are trees everywhere. It’s very green.
– Spanish is 100% necessary if you want any social life.
– Clean and safe. There are dangerous areas, but you know where they are and you don’t go there (just like any major US city). Those parts you wouldn’t want to visit anyway.
– Beautiful women are everywhere.
– Flawless weather. Sunny with a breeze during the day, low 80s (28-30C) during day and cool during the night – mid/high 60s (18C)
– Food is meh, but good ingredients (grass-fed steak, vegetables) are cheap so I cook.
– The music is awesome, and thus the nightlife.

It’s tough to describe exactly why I love this place so much, it’s something about the vibe – and I’m not the only one. Many expats go through the same thing of traveling for awhile and then not wanting to leave once they’ve been to Medellin.

Which resources do you normally use most?

One-on-one tutoring with a native speaker – ideally a professional teacher for the majority of the hours, as they are much better at explaining things, knowing how many mistakes (and which mistakes) to point out, how to keep conversations rolling, all of which are very important when learning a language. For finding these teachers, I’d recommend for Spanish learners, and italki for every other language.

I also use Anki SRS for flashcards.

What keeps you motivated to keep learning?

One of the most enjoyable feelings is when you are good at something. So every time you can handle a “difficult” conversation or situation in a foreign language, that feels awesome.

And when you can’t handle it, well… you want to be able to.

If I wasn’t living in a Spanish-speaking country where I need it though, I imagine it would be harder to maintain motivation.

What languages do you speak?

English and Spanish.

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

I’m glad to call Benny Lewis a friend, and he’s probably the most accomplished – but I’m probably most impressed by Idahosa Ness of the Mimic Method. He sounds straight-up native in all of his languages.

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

Ironically, I travel less. I went to Medellin to learn Spanish, fell in love with the city, and now spend most of my time there. Whereas before, I was changing cities every 2-3 months or more.

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

I operate in bursts. So, when I learned Spanish, I spent 4-6+ hours a day on it. After a one-month sprint, I had achieved the level I was hoping for, and stopped studying altogether, just keeping it on maintenance. When I want to improve, I’ll generally spend a lot of time per day for a few weeks as it’s the focus of my life, and then go back to maintaining that level.

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

Start by getting the very basics down. Like, “I, he, you, his apple, It is an apple”. Once you have that down – the super basics – get a one-on-one teacher and spend as much time as you can with them.

I’d also recommend vocab training with something like Anki, and phonetic sound training for your accent/listening, but the most important thing by far is the one-on-one speaking with a native (again, ideally a teacher).

Do you watch movies to practice your languages?

No. I barely consume any entertainment in English either, though.

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

I’ve only learned one, but when I learn my next language, it will definitely be in the exact same way.

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

For me, it’s about being able to communicate with people in their native language, when I’m in their country. I’d never be interested in learning something like Esperanto, for instance.

Its uses as an accelerator for learning other languages is intriguing, but I wouldn’t do it myself.

Tell us more about your company BaseLang.

BaseLang came about three weeks or so after the “month of Spanish”. My tutor, who actually ran a similar company teaching English to Spanish speakers and taught me as therapy to get away from the office, was starting it – and he wanted me to co-found it with him.

BaseLang offers unlimited one-on-one Spanish tutoring with professional teachers, for $99 a month.

We also have our own apps, which include livechat to ask smaller questions or translations to a teacher, and flashcards that align with our curriculum. Students can use the service in “sand-box mode”, and just use us for the tutoring, or they can follow our curriculum, which focuses on communication first, academic perfection second – so that people can actually have conversations quickly. We cut out the irrelevant things (like the weather) and focus on what you need every day (giving directions, foundational vocabulary and flexible grammar).

You can watch his documentary on YouTube. To learn more about Connor’s company Baselang which is launching in January 2015 please click here.

How a Polyglot Can Help Us Become Better Language Teachers

“You’re so young! You have so many years ahead to learn more languages!”

~ 86-year-old Kato Lomb to her 54-year-old friend

I bet you heard the name of Kató Lomb.

If no, shame of you.

The chemist who spoke 16 languages fluently. One of the first simultaneous interpreters in the world. The author of the bestselling book How I Learn Languages.

And a polyglot who will help you (and me) become a better language teacher.

She managed to learn so many languages in times when there was no Skype, no online tutors (Gosh, I would be unemployed there!), no CDs with voices from native speakers…

Her ten commandments of language learning are worth remembering for students. But it’s interesting to note that teachers can consider these tips from Kató Lomb a method to improve teaching techniques, ease the process of language learning for their students, and become successful online educators.

1. Learn a language every day

How it can help a teacher: If you don’t teach every day, make sure to break homework into small tasks for your students to spend 10-15 daily on completing it. It can be reading a text, learning new words, repeating them, listening to a song in the target language and making a vocabulary of unknown words from it, etc.

Don’t give a time-consuming homework. Your students will learn everything by all means, but they are more likely to forget this “everything” once you give the next homework to them.

2. Create a lesson algorithm

How it can help a teacher: Sometimes, even your earnest pupils lose a desire to learn languages. So, the best decision is creating a lesson algorithm that would let them take a little break and motivate them to continue learning.

Do not force students to spend hours learning new words or doing exercises. If you see them bored or demotivated, listen to some music in a class, or discuss something interesting with them. It will take 5-10 minutes and not harm your time management, so you will back to the lesson with a clear conscience.

3. Remember the context

How it can help a teacher: We all know that context is everything, and it’s much easier to learn collocations, not separate words. So, always give your students new phrases to memorize.

For example, the expression “strong wind” will help them remember two words at once, and one will automatically recall the second one in their memory.

4. Write in and use ready phrases

How it can help a teacher: When you learn new words and phrases with your students, ask them to write them in. First of all, it will help them remember faster and better; secondly, it can make them love writing; and thirdly, it makes students able to use those phrases whenever they can, as they will always carry those words with them.

Encourage students to use written data in dialogues. It’s a proven technique that will allow to learn more collocations on different topics.

5. Translate everything you see

How it can help a teacher: I bet you used this trick! When you mentally translate everything you see – the titles of articles in newspapers, advertisements, etc. – you train your brain by memorizing new language units and associating them with visuals you see in billboards, for example.

Try the same with your students. Give them a task to translate every text sign they will see on their road to school. Ask to share the results with classmates.

6. Learn by heart

How it can help a teacher: Simple as that. Learning by heart is the first and most common task all teachers give their students. And nothing seems tricky here, but…

Ask your students to learn ONLY the phrases that are checked to be correct. Be the first one who will check them; otherwise, they might confuse students and cause a misunderstanding that leads to disappointments, motivation loss, and more.

7. Learn in the first person

How it can help a teacher: Ready phrases and idioms are better to learn in the first person, as we image them with the help of associations.

Thus, give your students a task to put new phrases into the first person, creating sentences or monologs with a collocation, phrasal verb, or idiom.

8. Communicate

How it can help a teacher: Your students will never learn a language if you are the only person they are listening. And your students will never speak a target language if their only activity is doing exercises in laptops or textbooks.

Engage different activities in your classroom: watch and discuss movies, listen to music, read books, talk to each other. Communication is the key factor for language learning, so don’t miss a chance to organize a chat with native speakers for your students.

9. Make mistakes

How it can help a teacher: Let students see it’s okay to make mistakes. Discuss the most common mistakes every language learner makes and help them understand how to avoid them.

Teach students to check everything they do, correct mistakes, and learn from them. All in all, the person who never makes a mistake will never make anything.

10. Never doubt

How it can help a teacher: Encourage your students that no matter what – they will learn the target language. And make no doubt about them.

Nothing is worse for students than a teacher who doesn’t believe in them.

So, use a personal approach toward your every mentee to understand what is the best technique to learn languages with them, and take it away!

Kató Lomb was able to learn 16 languages alone! So, I believe you can become the best teacher for your students and learn at least one foreign language with them.


About the author:

Lesley Vos is a private educator and online tutor. She teaches a group of ESL students in Skype, and she is passionate about blogging and writing. Lesley contributes content and shares her writing experience with readers of many websites on education, including Learning Advisor, Touro’s Online Education Blog, Bid4Papers Blog, and others. You are always welcome to follow her on Twitter at @LesleyVos.