Category Language Learning

Making language learning fun via YouTube videos

2016-08-25 01.35.41

I don’t write blog posts often as I’m normally busy running the site – but the following topic is quite interesting, so here we go!

While far from being an accomplished polyglot, I do enjoy learning Chinese a lot! Chinese was actually the first language we offered at over 10 years ago.

While I use my own site to improve my Chinese sometimes I feel like doing something else.

Recently I noticed there are a lot of good Chinese movies on YouTube. Often they come with English and Chinese subtitles at the same time. Most of these movies use simplified characters, which might be a problem if you want to concentrate on traditional characters. In any case it’s always good to learn both.

Most of the time I use YouTube but you might also find plenty of material on Youku, Tudou or for instance. These sites might be blocked for overseas users though. But YouTube is just fine if you have problems.

To find movies suitable for language learning use search terms such as “subtitled chinese movies” or “english chinese subtitles”. Once you find a good movie YouTube will often suggest similar movies on the right hand side.

You can choose between a movie or drama series for instance. Each have pros and cons. A drama means you have a lot of content to go through without having to look for new material all the time, but it can get a bit boring having to learn from the same source for a long time. Another problem: Once I was halfway through a Chinese drama when it was suddenly removed from YouTube for copyright reasons.

Once you found something to watch there is a trick to make the learning experience more efficient. On YouTube you can use the following shortcuts to navigate through the videos:

Space or k : Play / Pause
Left arrow : Go back 5 seconds
Right Arrow : Go forward 5 seconds
j : Go back 10 seconds
l : Go forward 10 seconds
f : Full screen
Escape : Exit full screen
0 : Restart video
Numbers 1-9: Jump to different parts of the video (1 = beginning, 5 = mid-section, 9 = near the end)
Up Arrow : Increase volume by 5%
Down Arrow : Decrease volume by 5%
. (period) : Move forward 1 frame (when video is paused)
, (comma) : Move backward 1 frame (when video is paused)

Especially the shortcuts to jump back 5 or 10 seconds are useful as it allows you to re-listen to difficult parts.

There is also the possibility to add subtitles to YouTube via a Chrome extension called “Subtitles For YouTube” by Yash Agarwal. Subtitles are available mostly for Hollywood movies for a lot of different languages. The only problem here is though, that the subtitles are often not in sync with the movie, but it can be adjusted via shortcuts.

Similar plugins or extension should be available for other browser. Just search for “youtube subtitles plugin Firefox”, etc.

Finally the last problem with Chinese is looking up characters you don’t know. After all Chinese doesn’t use Latin letters.

  • The best option is using an app which scans the texts through the smartphone camera and shows you matching Chinese words and its meanings. Personally I use the app from Written Chinese. Pleco has a similar app but seems to have a lower success rate detecting characters. On the other hand one advantage Pleco has is the ability to scan vertical text as well. This is important as Chinese texts can be written vertically or horizontally. Scanning  Chinese characters in books works much better than on a computer screen. Normally it fails if the colour of Chinese subtitles is similar to the background. (white on white for example)
  • Second option is to draw the character into the app mentioned above. This is tricky though, as the stroke order is important and the whole process is quite time-consuming.
  • Finally you can just enter the English translation or the Pinyin into a dictionary and hope that you find the matching Chinese characters.

While I found plenty of Chinese movies with both Chinese and English subtitles, this seems much harder for other languages such as French or Spanish. For these languages I’ve recently downloaded news apps which send me daily push notifications. For French I use the “Le Figaro” app, and for Spanish I recommend “El País”, Finally for German the “Tagesschau” app is pretty good! When you install the app confirm that you want to receive push notifications and you are ready for your daily exercise! Look up words you don’t know and add them to your personal word lists in

Even though watching movies or reading news is a great activity I think it’s still important to use flashcards to learn less common words.

I’d like to draw a comparison with badminton (which I love to play). In badminton you can either have training sessions or play games. Both are equally important. While the training is comparable with the flashcards where you train the same thing over and over again, the games are the equivalent to watching movies or dramas – testing what you’ve learnt. Learning about grammar could be compared to learning about strategies in badminton from a book. Hope that makes sense!

All in all it’s important to do what you enjoy – this ensures you keep learning and improving your language skills!

Hope you enjoyed this blog post, feel free to comment below!

Oliver Antosch

4 Wege mit denen Du Dich automatisch zwingen kannst, eine Fremdsprache zu lernen

Fällt es Dir schwierig Dich zum Sprachenlernen zu motivieren und aufzuraffen?

Jeden Tag nimmst Du es Dir vor, aber wenn es so weit ist, schaffst Du es einfach nicht anzufangen? Irgendwie kommt Facebook, YouTube, der Fernseher oder sonst irgendwas dazwischen?

Das ist auch für mich ein bekanntes Phänomen. Irgendwie fallen einem tausend andere Sachen, die noch machen könnte, anstelle zu lernen.

Es gibt aber eine ganz simple Lösung dafür: Mach Dir Termine. So hast Du gar keine andere Wahl als zu lernen.

Das ist ein bisschen wie früh aufstehen. Wenn Du zur Arbeit musst oder einen Termin hast, schaffst Du es immer (auch wenn es manchmal sehr schwer fällt). Wenn Du das nicht hast, ist es kaum möglich früh aufzustehen.

Hast Du Dir schon mal vorgenommen am Wochenende früh aufzustehen? Das klappt sehr oft nicht.


Mit Terminen zwingst Du Dich ganz einfach zum Sprachenlernen.

Nach diesem Prinzip musst Du auch Dein Lernen gestalten.

Mit Terminen zwingst Du Dich ganz einfach zum Sprachenlernen.

Hier sind 4 Wege, mit denen Du Dein Lernen mit Terminen versehen kannst, damit Du gar keine andere Wahl hast als zu lernen.

1. Feste Termine für Tandemgespräche

Mach Dir über die Woche verteilt mehrere Termine für Tandemgespräche. Optimal sind 3 Tandemgespräche pro Woche, um schnell voranzukommen. Mindestens 1 Termin sollte es aber auf jeden Fall sein.

Hier erfährst Du, wie Du einen Tandempartner findest und optimale Tandemgespräche führst.

Wenn Du einen Termin hast, bist Du deutlich weniger gewillt diesen ausfallen zu lassen als eine Stunde lernen, die Du Dir vorgenommen hast.

Denn Du kannst nicht einfach so nicht erscheinen. Du musst Deinem Tandempartner absagen. Und dafür brauchst Du in der Regel einen guten Grund.

Das ist eine gute Hürde und sorgt dafür, dass Du die meisten Termine wahrnehmen wirst.
Vor allem, wenn Du einen Tandempartner schon länger kennst, wirst Du weniger gewillt sein diesen hängen zu lassen.

Noch besser klappt das mit richtigen Treffen. Ein richtiges Treffen sagst Du nicht so schnell ab.

Am besten ist es wöchentlich immer wieder denselben Termin zu haben. So wird es zur Gewohnheit und Du brauchst Dich nicht immer mit Deinem Tandempartner auf ein Neues abzusprechen.

Vergiss nicht am Ende jedes Tandemgespräches den nächsten Termin zu machen. Sonst gerät es in Vergessenheit.

2. Stammtische / Tandemevents und weitere Veranstaltungen

In den meisten Städten gibt es regelmäßige Veranstaltungen für das Sprachenlernen.
Das können Sprachstammtische sein oder Tandemevents bei denen Teilnehmer entweder auf einer Sprache sprechen oder verschiedene Sprachen miteinander üben.

Mach es Dir zur Gewohnheit zu solchen Veranstaltungen zu gehen.
Verpflichte Dich selbst indem Du im Anschluss allen ankündigst, dass Du beim nächsten Mal kommst.

So fällt es Dir schwerer den Termin am selben Tag abzusagen, wenn Du keine Lust hast. Du hast allen anderen schon versprochen, dass Du kommst.
Lerne auch die Leute näher kennen. So bist Du viel motivierter wiederzukommen.

3. Lerntreffen mit anderen Sprachlernern

In den letzten 2 Punkten hast Du erfahren, wie Du die Sprache regelmäßig sprechen kannst.

Auch wenn das die wichtigste Aktivität beim Sprachenlernen ist, reicht es meistens nicht ganz aus.

Du musst weiterhin die ein oder andere Vokabel lernen (so lernst Du schnell neue Vokabeln und behältst sie dauerhaft), Texte lesen und auch Grammatik lernen. Das alles ist jedoch weniger wichtig als Gespräche zu führen.

Diese ganzen Zusatzaktivitäten zu machen, macht oft wenig Spaß. Und deshalb ist es besonders schwer sich für diese Aktivitäten aufzuraffen.

Eine Alternative ist jemanden zu suchen, der dieselbe Sprache lernt wie Du und dieselben Probleme hat.


Zusammen mit jemanden Lernen macht mehr Spaß und gibt dem Lernen einen etwas mehr verpflichtenden Charakter.

Zusammen mit jemanden Lernen macht mehr Spaß und gibt dem Lernen einen etwas mehr verpflichtenden Charakter.

Trefft euch 1-2 Mal die Woche an einem festen Termin, um zusammen zu lernen.
Z. B. könnt ihr erstmal zusammen Vokabeln lernen und euch dann gegenseitig abfragen.
Ihr könnt euch auch gegenseitig Texte vorlesen oder einen Film oder eine Serie in der Fremdsprache gucken.

Alle Aktivitäten, die Dich weiterbringen aber vielleicht alleine langweilig sind, kannst Du mit Deinem Lernpartner durchführen.

So bist Du motivierter, weil Du einen Mitstreiter hast. Du kannst aber auch weniger einfach Dich rausreden, denn dann müsstest Du Deinem Lernpartner absagen, statt wie üblich es auf morgen zu schieben.

Diese Lernaktivitäten kannst Du natürlich auch alleine ganz einfach zwischendurch ohne zusätzlichen Zeitaufwand durchführen.

Dafür eignet sich am besten Deine tote Zeit, also wenn Du etwas zu tun hast oder unterwegs bist und Dich auf nichts konzentrieren musst. Das kann in der Bahn, im Auto oder beim Putzen sein.

Wenn Du aber Schwierigkeiten hast, Dich in solchen Situationen zu motivieren, dann eignen sich die Treffen mit anderen Sprachlernern.

4. Sprachkurse

Wenn Du große Probleme hast Dich zum Sprachenlernen aufzuraffen, kann ein Sprachkurs eine gute Ergänzung sein.

Du hast einen regelmäßigen wöchentlichen Termin (oder mehrmals wöchentlich) zu dem Du gehen musst.

Es ist einfacher diesen Pflichttermin wahrzunehmen als eben einfach nur eine Stunde lernen, die Du Dir vorgenommen hast.

Achte jedoch darauf, dass mit lediglich einem wöchentlichen Sprachkurs Du nicht besonders weit kommen wirst mit Deinen Sprachkenntnissen.

Wenn Du wirklich eine Fremdsprache lernen willst, ist der Sprachkurs lediglich eine Ergänzung. Das Wichtigste bleibt die Anwendung mit Muttersprachlern.

Fazit: Umgehe ganz einfach Motivationsprobleme mit festen Terminen
Wie Du siehst, kannst Du selbst eine Fremdsprache lernen, wenn Du Schwierigkeiten hast Dich zu motivieren.

Anstelle, dass Du Dich zwingst und zum Lernen aufraffst, machst Du Dir Pflichttermine.
So erhöhst Du die Wahrscheinlichkeit ganz eindeutig, dass Du es schaffst zu lernen.
Versuche aber so wenige Termine wie möglich ausfallen zu lassen.

Wenn Du erstmal anfängst den einen oder anderen Termin abzusagen, wird es immer schwieriger nicht auch den nächsten ausfallen zu lassen.

Du kannst es Dir zur Gewohnheit machen Tandemgespräche zu führen oder zum Sprachkurs zu gehen.

Genauso kannst Du es Dir aber auch zur Gewohnheit machen alles ausfallen zu lassen. Und diese schlechte Gewohnheit fängt an sich breit zu machen, sobald Du den ersten Termin hast ausfallen lassen.


Gabriel ist Sprachenthusiast und Gründer von Fremdsprachen sind seine große Leidenschaft und mittlerweile beherrscht er 6 davon. Auch reist er gerne, vor allem in die Länder, in denen er seine Kenntnisse anwenden kann.


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.

If your have any questions or just need academic help, please do not be confused to contact me by email: or follow me on my Google+, Twitter, Facebook,, LinkedIn.

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


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

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 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 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 To buy her book please click here. 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

40.000 hours of language learning

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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 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 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 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 To buy her books and other products please click here.

Interview with Language Addict Timothy McKeon

Today we feature Timothy McKeon, a herbalist who speaks quite a few languages. Some I haven’t even heard of such as Tok Pisin or Dehong Dai. In his interview he will answer what languages he speaks, his strategies and what keeps him motivated.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Timothy, and I’m a language addict.  Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with languages.  As I grew older this fascination slowly ripened into full-blown obsession with learning languages, learning about languages, comparing languages, listening to languages, breathing languages, etc.  In university I studied linguistics, but my real passion is for the actual process of learning a language, picking it apart, finding patterns, exploring accents, understanding how it all works.  Once I can read a novel and express myself freely in a language, my enthusiasm wanes a bit, and it’s time to move on to the next one.

What languages do you speak?

I speak Irish, English, Spanish, Mandarin, French, and German all more or less fluently.  I can read Latin.  I can have social conversations in Yiddish, Portuguese, Italian, Swedish, Cantonese, Sichuanese, Breton, Hindi, and Dutch and have more basic conversations in Hebrew, Galician, Ladino, Finnish, Bengali, Catalan, Esperanto, Japanese, Scots Gaelic and Shanghainese.  Beyond those, I’ve dabbled in Uyghur, Korean, Tibetan, Tamil, Sanskrit, Pali, Lakota, Halkomelem, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, Tok Pisin, Luxembourgish, Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic, Latvian, Estonian, Taiwanese, Russian, Polish, Guaraní, Xhosa, Telugu, Tamil, Manchu, Arabic, Dehong Dai, Toisanese and Hakka.  It’s out of control.

 Do you dream in a foreign language?

Yes, quite often.  People often say that you know you’re really fluent in a language when you start to dream in it, but I haven’t found that to be true.  I constantly dream in languages I don’t speak very well at all.  I’ll stumble over words and try to work out the proper conjugation or tense all as part of my dream.  Once or twice I’ve had dreams of nothing more than just doing grammar exercises.  I guess that probably means I’m not getting very restful sleep!

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

I really love the idea of constructed languages.  I see it as a form of creative expression using linguistic concepts as the medium, drawing from natural languages (or not) in order to create an entirely new mode of communication. But what really fascinates me is the kind of living culture that develops around constructed languages.  I’ve recently started exploring the world of Esperanto, and it’s amazing to me that there is an Esperanto culture and a set of values that many Esperantists adhere to, i.e. universal understanding, peace, social responsibility.  Zamenhof created Esperanto as a kind of utopian language, and I think it’s really exciting that over 125 years later that same mentality has continued to flourish through this completely artificial language.

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

Well, it is true that the more languages you learn, the easier it becomes to continue learning even more languages.  With that in mind, I would say I tend to tackle language families (or at least language family branches) nowadays rather than just a single language.  I’ve become really interested in how languages relate to each other, so it’s no longer enough to just learn one language in its standard, static form.  I become too curious about what neighboring languages look like or what happens in the different regional dialects of a language, and soon enough I’ve got Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, and Czech books spread out in front of me when all I really wanted was to learn a few things about Polish.  Chinese languages are really great for this kind of exploration because they are all related to and derived from Classical Chinese and are all united under more or less the same written form, but have diverged and developed so distinctly over the centuries.  It’s fascinating.

What is your definition of fluency?

This is a tricky question.  You don’t want to make false claims about your abilities, but you shouldn’t sell yourself short on your accomplishments with language learning either.  Generally, I say if you can live your life in a language comfortably, then you’re fluent.  That means you can make friends, do your job, watch the news, read a book, joke with someone, have a deep conversation, sing a song, consult a psychic, fall in love, etc. – all in said language.

What keeps you motivated to keep learning?

That varies from language to language, but generally it’s something in the arts and culture associated with a language that keeps me going back.  I was recently in Hong Kong, which should provide enough motivation to keep working on Cantonese, but what really got me to spend serious time studying was going to the Cantonese opera.  The poetry, jokes, puns, and overall spectacle of it really inspired me to up my game with Cantonese.  When I hear sean-nós songs in Irish, I feel the urge to turn back to Irish poetry or start reading old stories again.  Kishore Kumar songs from old films get me to crack open my Bengali books.  It’s always something creative that gets me motivated.

Do you watch movies to practice your languages?

I’ll watch movies to keep up languages that I know pretty well, but if I want to practice a language that’s newer or less familiar to me, then trashy TV is the absolute best.  Terrible reality shows like Top Model (from whatever country) or ridiculous soap operas are perfect for improving listening skills.  They tend to be completely predictable, follow a formula, and never introduce particularly complicated concepts – it’s ideal for gaining confidence in listening to and understanding a new language.

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

I do find that some languages just don’t grab me the way others do.  Why am I obsessed with Finnish, while its neighbor Russian just doesn’t hold my interest?  I have no idea.  Past lives…?  Anyway, this sort of arbitrary lack of gravity towards some languages would be the only reason I would stop studying them.  And even then, it’s never really a full stop.

To learn more about Timothy please visit his web site at