Category Archives: Interview

Interview with coach and polyglot Irina Pravet

It’s been a while since the last interview. Today we feature Irina Pravet who is from Romania and currently lives in Finland. 

Irina Fudge

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Irina Pravet and I coach foreigners settling abroad who are looking for a sense of home, as well as people who are learning languages. I was born in Romania and when I was 5, my parents and I moved to Canada – first Montreal, where I learned French, then Toronto, where I perfected my English (today my strongest language). I grew up trilingual and as soon as I had the chance, started learning Spanish and German in school as well. When I was 21, I immigrated to Finland, and I’ve been here ever since. I guess all this moving around between cultures and languages has made me very aware of them, passionate about finding home wherever I am, and ended up shaping my career.

2. What are some peculiarities of Finnish?

I’m so happy you asked this 🙂 Finnish is unlike most other languages (apart from Estonian, and it also shares some similarities with Hungarian) It’s very phonetic and easy to read. Once you learn the alphabet, you can read almost everything. One of the most notable aspect of Finnish is the fact that it doesn’t have any gender or articles (which was a relief after studying German). When people talk about it’s difficulty, they never mention how the lack of gender and articles makes things a lot simpler. Finnish is best known for it’s 15 cases, of which 12 are used actively. 6 of these 12 cases are primarily used to express directions; they are called local cases. Cases are added to the end of a word, and the word is inflected. For example, ‘school’ in Finnish is ‘koulu’. If I say ‘at/in school’ then I add the inessive case (+ssa) onto the end of the word, so ‘at/in school’ becomes ‘koulussa.’ It takes a bit of getting used to the cases because it’s a new way of thinking about things but in the end, it’s very logical. Also, there is no word for please in Finnish. You use the conditional tense for politeness.

3. What is your life in Finland like in comparison to Canada?

It’s hard to say exactly because I left Canada at a transitional period in my life, at the age of 21. So when I think about Canada, it’s hard to separate it from my childhood/adolescence and early adulthood. I joke that I only know how to be an adult in Finland 🙂 I guess the biggest differences are that whenever I have to do something new in Finland, as an adult, I also need to learn some new vocabulary. For example, doing banking and taxes in Finnish involves learning new concepts, but also new words. It makes some of these things feel a bit harder and scarier than they need to be but I try to take small steps forward so as to not let them paralyze me. Otherwise, I would say I live a pretty normal life: I’ve met friends throughout the years, from school, work, and friends of friends. We’re a pretty international and diverse bunch, much like my group of friends in Canada.

4. What are the benefits of a TED appearance? What do you need to do to speak at the conference?

Speaking at TedxOtaniemi was a huge project for me. I didn’t know what all the benefits would be ahead of time but looking back now, I would say that they include getting your name and message out there, and somehow becoming a spokesperson for the message as well. When people are getting to know me professionally, it’s easier to refer them to the Tedx video for them to get a sense of what I stand for and what I believe. Doing the talk was also extremely helpful in that it helped me really verbalize the message I wanted to get out in a very concise format. As the saying goes “If I Am To Speak Ten Minutes, I Need a Week for Preparation; If an Hour, I Am Ready Now”
As for what you need to speak, I would say the #1 prerequisite is passion for a cause/message, #2 courage and #3 perseverance.

5. Do you dream in a foreign language?

I have no idea… I’ve often tried to figure out what language(s) I dream in but I never can remember the actual words; rather I remember their meaning. I assume I dream in English, and if I spend enough time in Romania, I probably start dreaming in Romanian… whichever language I am immersed in.

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

Yes and no. I tend to follow my curiosity and feel my way around the language in different ways, depending whatever gets me excited. It depends whether the language has similarities to other languages I speak or whether it is completely different. Either way, I try as much as possible to hear the language at first and immerse myself in its sounds, and also stay close to people who are speaking it. I have a much harder time motivating myself to learn if I don’t know anyone who speaks the language or have an immediate need to use it.

7. Which resources do you normally use most?

This feels odd to confess but I don’t use much in the way of apps or more modern language-learning resources. I tend to gravitate towards a basic textbook to get me started, find a reliable online dictionary, make my own flashcards and google things from time-to-time when needed. Otherwise, I tend to ask people and work up the courage to use the language and adjust as I go along. I’ve tried language learning apps like Duolingo and Memrise and although they are really fun, I don’t seem to stick to them for very long. That’s just me, I’m old school like that!

8. How has speaking multiple changes changed you as a person?

I did an entire talk on this topic at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin in 2015 (here’s the link) and strongly believe that learning a language will change your life. Not only because it’ll open your eyes to new cultures and people you wouldn’t have met otherwise, but also because it will change the way you see yourself. A language is a medium through which you can express yourself, and every medium has its limitations. So when you step outside the limitations of one language, you’ll be thrown into situations with different societal norms and, if you’re observant and persistent enough, learn to react to situations in completely different ways based on the language spoken. This is a whole new level of mental gymnastics, and the feeling you get when you start to perceive yourself as, for example, someone who can ALSO be ‘reserved’ instead of ‘perpetually loud’ can feel very expansive. It’s like redefining your identity.

9. You know you’re a language nerd when…

… you find yourself explaining how a certain grammar construction isn’t so hard to grasp, and go on to explain why only to be met with wide-eyes stares from those who lost you at a word like ‘adverb’.. it happens.
OR
you’re having lunch with polyglots and they ask you to explain how Finnish cases work with genuine interest, and you ask ‘Are you serious?’ while feeling like you’re dreaming =D

10. What is your single best non-obvious tip for language learning?

As soon as you decide to learn a language, begin to think directly in that language. Even if your mind is blank in the beginning, add to it slowly but surely, and think directly in that language, instead of translating from another one. This is an invaluable skill that takes practice but can be used for learning any language and speaking it fluidly from the beginning.

To learn more about Irina or to see her Tedx talk, please visit Languagecatalyst.com.

Interview with blogger and polyglot Lindsay Dow

The long wait is finally over! Lindsay Dow who runs the blog Lindsay Does Languages reveals her language learning hacks, favourite podcasts and why fluency is a myth!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Lindsay and I run Lindsay Does Languages, a business and blog dedicated to inspiring others to learn languages. My first experience with different languages was in primary school when I went to French Club because we got croissants at the end of term. True story. It gets better – I later started studying Spanish because I wanted to translate Shakira songs. Yup. It didn’t take much to get me hooked and languages soon became part of my everyday life and later my work.

Lindsay Does Languages started by tutoring people privately in their homes and businesses and then expanded online to teach students around the world through tuition on Skype and via online courses. That’s where I am now.

What languages do you speak?

I hate this question! I’m going to answer it more like ‘what languages have you studied?’, which will give a more accurate answer.

In order of when I started studying them: French, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, German, Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese, Korean. I’ve also dabbled teeny tiny bits with loads of other languages including Polish, Danish, and Thai, but this is mostly out of curiosity or travel.

Do you dream in a foreign language?

Occasionally languages will be part of my dreams but I don’t often dream fully in languages other than English.

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

Initially, no. I couldn’t see the benefit and I’m not much of a sci-fi fan, where a number of constructed languages originate from. However, recently, I’ve become interested in Esperanto due to friends that speak the language and finding a couple of old books last summer very cheap! It’s on my list for the year.

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

Ahh, interesting question. There are some things that stick but mostly, I try and improve my strategy with every new language I start. I think this is why I’ve started to study so many languages over the years – I’m determined to keep improving my strategy.

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

Nowadays my study definitely includes more tech and I’m currently focusing on speaking sooner than I used to. I love books, you see, so it was easy for me to get stuck in a reading rut.

Do you have a favorite language?

Nope. Each language is special to me for different reasons. They all have different times of my life, music, memories etc attached to them. But if you’re looking for a one-word answer to the question – Spanish. Spanish was the language that showed me it could be done and that I could learn languages well. So I guess I have a lot to thank Spanish for.

Are there any language blogs or podcasts you follow closely?

There’s this girl, Lindsay Does Languages. She’s pretty cool. I think she also co-hosts a podcast called the Creative Language Learning Podcast. It would be wrong of me not to mention her. 😉

Seriously though, I love listening to the Actual Fluency Podcast as well and reading, among others, Eurolinguiste and Fluent Language.

What is your definition of fluency?

It’s a myth! I think fluency is often put on a pedestal as the ultimate, unreachable end goal with a language, but the truth is if you look at it that way, you’ll never be fluent. For me, fluency is being able to express yourself clearly without many hesitations or stopping completely. You don’t know a word? Mime it! Fluency is half confidence in my opinion.

What is your single best non-obvious tip for language learning?

Ooo, I think it’s all about using the things that are a part of our everyday life for language learning as much as possible. Right now, my current favourite recommendation is Snapchat. It’s great for accountability. Short and sweet language bursts throughout the day! I wrote about it in more detail here (there’s also a free guide you can download and keep forever!)

Check out Lindsay’s website and YouTube channel to learn more!

Interview with language blogger Kris Broholm

Today’s interviewee is Kris Broholm from Actualfluency.com who currently lives in Budapest. He runs a popular language learning blog and has helped me set up our Danish site. His in-depth interview is definitely worth reading!

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Chris Broholm with his irresistible smile!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I grew up in Denmark and lived there most of my life. I started learning English in grade 4 and German in 5. However by 11 my entire inner monologue switched to, probably terrible, English and it’s been that way ever since.

I always enjoyed language classes but a major depression removed all my interest in school and so my results were very disappointing.

Then 2 years ago I discovered the on-line polyglot community and the rest is history.

What languages do you speak?

I tell people I know some: English, Danish, German, Esperanto, Russian and Hungarian.

How do you prepare for an interview, and how do you find new interview partners?

One of my primary philosophies when preparing for an interview is that I don’t want to know a lot about the person I’m interviewing.

This is to make the conversations more valuable to the listeners or viewers who often don’t know much about the person I’m interviewing or their projects.

If I did a lot of research before every interview I’m sure it would decrease the quality of the podcast a lot, because suddenly I would be asking questions based on that information and not from a reactionary point of view.

My favourite way of finding new guests is to simply ask my audience, who would you like to hear from? Most of them say Moses McCormick or Tim Doner – the latter of which I believe will be on this season, but I sometimes get some great suggestions that I hadn’t heard of or thought about.

How much editing is necessary before you publish the interviews?

I want the interviews to be uncensored and unfiltered and so I make a point about telling every guest that once I’ve made the introduction there will be no editing of the conversation itself.

However, that doesn’t mean I can just upload the file directly so I would say each episode takes about 5 to 6 hours to make.

0.5 hour prep and pre-interview chat
1-2 hours interview
1 hour editing the audio for the podcast
1 hour editing the video for YouTube
1 hour uploading, writing and scheduling.

What are the best parts and worst parts of language blogging?

The most amazing part of being a language blogger or content producer for me is when people write me to thank me for my content. I’ve had a fair number over the years and it’s the single most rewarding experience of my entire life.

Especially my content related to depression and fighting back to get out of the proverbial hole so many people find themselves in these days. Just the idea that I, little me, actually managed to help make just one other person’s life better.

On a personal level that’s pretty awesome. To add just one more best part, the accountability that’s built in when you put your language learning on display.

I HAVE to study Hungarian, not just to actually speak it and live here in Budapest, but also so my readers and listeners don’t start to send me emails asking, “hey Kris why are you not doing anything??”

There are very few “bad parts” about being a language blogger. Of course it’s a lot of work upfront where any kind of financial return takes years to build up, but that’s more or less obvious when you start.

In general, as long as you get into a rhythm you’ll grow as a person and hopefully inspire others in the process.

The HARDEST part is for sure to keep consistent. I’ve managed to be more or less consistent with my podcast, but the blog posts have been a bit too sporadic. I hope to change that in 2016.

How is your life in Budapest? What are the pros and cons of living there?

Right now it’s extremely cold. Every day is -5-15 and going out is physically painful. Summer on the other hand was 35-40 every day and way too hot.

So I’ll put the weather on the “cons” side of the argument.

However, Budapest is an amazing place with lots of history, beautiful buildings, cultural offerings, bars, cafés, restaurants and pretty much anything you could ever want.

And it’s very affordable with a very nice tax system for freelancers.

I’m very happy here in the middle of Europe with excellent transport connectivity to the rest of the world and I plan to stay here for the foreseeable future.

What are your long term plans? Do you want to do something outside of blogging in the language field? You mentioned you have a book in the pipeline.

My long term plans are to continue to develop Actual Fluency to the point where it can generate enough income for me to go down in hours on my day job. Then I would look to possibly teaching more Danish, as that is one of my unfair advantages in the world.

Yes I have a vision of a pretty epic book in my head, but for now I can’t share any more details. I recently released a 30-page book where I talk about the right mindset to start learning a language and also share my own language learning story, how it was an escape from depression that motivated me to get into learning languages.

Do you dream in a foreign language?

Well, I live my life through a foreign language so of course my dreams are mostly in English. I have caught myself dreaming in foreign languages before though.

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

I’m relatively fluent in Esperanto and I’m a big fan of the positive effects to your learning it can have to learn a really easy language. Esperanto also comes with a global community of people who you can instantly connect and become friends with.

I’ve learnt all the 120 words of Toki Pona and spent two days trying to speak it and although it is a bit of a silly language I found it had great effects on how I perceived the world and language in general.

I was learning Russian at the time and I was struggling to speak, because Russian is very different from English.

My problem, I discovered through Toki Pona, was that I was not trying to convey the meaning my mind was trying to convey, I was actually trying to translate from English into Russian, which severely impeded my progress.

After learning the Toki Pona word for goodbye “mi tawa” translating directly as “I leave” something clicked and I understood that when we say goodbye, we’re actually conveying the meaning of “I leave” at the most fundamental and rudimentary level this is language.

I’d recommend people spend a day or two learning it as I did, but then after that I would not spend a lot of time on it. I think the value of such a minimalist language is mostly for its creator and the first time you learn it as a learner.

I know some people speak to each other in it during conferences and stuff, but I’m not really interested in that as I don’t see it as a practical language, but more as a philosophical experiment.

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

One of the great things about learning languages is that you can do it in so many different ways using a million different tools.

My strategy is constantly changing but I think the core is simply to engage a lot with the languages and have many lessons with native speakers.

Do you have a favourite language?

Hungarian is my favourite language right now. It’s so different and unique to any other language I’ve ever studied and it sounds awesome too.

What do you think of LearnWithOliver.com?

It’s a good concept. The main problem with spaced repetition learning today is the quality of the courses or decks and the lack of focus on full sentences.

LWO manages to do both and also offer a lot of ways to learn at an affordable price. I’m a fan.

What is your definition of fluency?

Being able to speak to people in the language without significant hesitation. Making mistakes is OK but you can’t take 15 seconds per word 🙂

I think my German is at this level. I have a high understanding, can read books and watch TV in it but when I speak I make mistakes. Also I sometimes have to explain missing words but that’s totally fine too.

What keeps you motivated to keep learning?

I’m trying to find as many avenues of motivation as possible. The primary one is to speak the language, to understand and conduct business in it.

Secondary motivation I get from going to Polyglot events all over the world and meeting up with fellow language learners as much as possible. By seeing people who’re doing much better than me I get super motivated to study on my own languages.

My blog and podcast are also sources of motivation because as I explained earlier if I’m not learning anything it’s very hard to blog about it.

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

My book “Polyglot Beginnings” has a lot of tips and tricks on how to develop the right mindset for a new language learner. I think it’s incredibly important to work on the mindset first to avoid burnout or desperation later.

The other tips is simply to keep going. Sometimes the road to fluency seems incredibly long and impossible, but the only way to fail is to stop learning.

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

I don’t focus a lot on grammar. In most languages you actually don’t even need to worry about it.

For grammar-heavy languages like Hungarian and Russian I try to systematically learn about the various cases and then I consult tables when I have to try and memorise endings or rules.

How has speaking multiple changes changed you as a person?

I’ve developed a thirst to find out more about foreign cultures and in the process also become more open and tolerant. Two years ago I had no idea about Hungarian culture and now I’m living here.

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

Yes for sure. It’s a great way to experience other cultures and to broaden one’s horizon. The Danish fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen once said; “To travel is to live!” and I agree 100%.

How can you know anything about your own life if you don’t know anything else?

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

Yes, I gave up on French on several occasions. First I was very tired of school and just quit the subject. Secondly I was trying to learn at home, but I had not yet found the polyglot community so I had no network, no accountability and no-one to talk to about it.

One day I’ll get back to French.

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

I don’t think talent is very important. We’ve all learnt at least one language so we’re all capable of learning more.

What talent does is speed up the process and allows you to learn more languages faster. Some people might also just be talented at concentration, which is a huge plus for language study.

Do you use mnemonics to learn new words?

I don’t generally, but if there is new information I particularly struggle with (like a tricky word) I will try and make a mnemonic for it.

The argument, which I’ve not yet found an answer for, is: “Is the effect of a mnemonic so strong that it’s worth spending many times the time on each word, rather than simply repeating it more times?”

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

I currently aim for about 1 hour of study time per day, split up into 2-3 sessions. This does not include tutoring sessions or classroom hours.

Unfortunately I sadly reach my goal, but as long as I get a little something done every day I’m happy.

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

I think the first foreign language you try to learn on your own is always going to be the most challenging. You have to learn not only a brand new language, but you also have to teach yourself how to actually learn.

Objectively speaking Hungarian and Russian cause me struggles because they are soooo different than the other languages I know.

Esperanto was extremely easy for me and I think anyone would say the same.

Any books about language learning you can recommend?

I think Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis is a great primer to get rid of most of the limiting beliefs that stop most adults from learning languages.

Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner is a great comprehensive resource. It does focus a lot on Flashcards, so if they are not your cup of tea you will have to skip a lot of the book. If you do enjoy making your own flashcards this book is right up your alley.

Any tips for people who want to start blogging about language learning?

Be very realistic with your reasons for doing it and the time it will take to keep up. I suggest keeping to a very fixed schedule, because there is nothing worse than visiting a blog where the last post is months old.

I’d suggest people do it for their own sake, but also mine. I love to read other bloggers and it really motivates and inspires me to do better in my own language learning and blogging.

But yeah, be realistic that it’s a serious commitment.

To learn more about Kris Broholm please visit his website over at ActualFluency.com.

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.

 

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?

Incredible.

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 BaseLang.com 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.

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.

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.