Category Archives: Language Learning

Polyglot Marlon Couto Ribeiro interview

In today’s interview blog post Brazilian polyglot Marlon Couto Ribeiro – a user of – tells us all about his language learning ventures.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I’m a 28-year-old Brazilian (and I will turn 29 on September 22nd!), who has been living in Poland for three years and a half now. I definitely have a thing about learning! I have studied languages since my childhood, when I used to have fun playing Japanese videogames. I would flick through dictionaries and grammar books as well. I`m graduated from the Translation Studies Department at the University of Brasilia. Besides working as a foreign language teacher, together with great Polish polyglot Konrad Jerzak vel Dobosz I have started to organize workshops on language learning techniques in Poland.

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

Since I’m a language mad, so I have to confess I cherish conlangs. I have created my own conlang, which is called Yuelami (yoo-lah-MEE). I use it for personal purposes and I can say I speak fluently a bunch of sentences in it. I communicate in Esperanto too, which is far more than just a constructed language. There is a huge international community that supports it and gives it life, making it a useful tool to connect people.

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

Well, in the beginning, I didn’t have the slightest idea about how to learn a language. Therefore, as I tried on many techniques (from struggling with flashcards to speaking in front of the mirror, from recording myself to keeping a journal), I have gradually found out the best way for me to retain information.

Which resources do you normally use most?

I just love to use websites, like,,,,,,,,, Besides, I often visit Youtube to watch or listen to lessons prepared by native speakers. In addition, Assimil and Pimsleur series rank among the courses I frequently resort to.

What do you think of

I do appreciate it, because your attitude towards language teaching matches with I think about effective learning. One should focus on sentences rather than on single words lacking a context. We can find interesting dialogues and funny sentences sometimes. It is always a pleasure to open my mail box and to see your message with a daily drop of knowledge.

What keeps you motivated to keep learning?

I have incorporated most languages I have been learning in my everyday life. I have moved from Brazil to Poland. My wife is Hungarian polyglot Anikó Couto-Szalay. We talk on a daily basis in Hungarian, Polish, English, Spanish, Portuguese and sometimes in French (she has recently got down to it). Furthermore, I teach Japanese and attend the local Esperanto club meetings. I write emails and messages to foreign friends. My facebook profile is in Serbian and I read news in German, for example.  From time to time I have internet conversations in those languages.

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

I recommend to pick a scrap of paper and to make a list of the reasons why you should learn a given language and why not. Write down the advantages you may benefit from learning it and set up short-term goals. Next step is looking for materials which fits your learning style. They may be textbooks, videos, audios, podcasts for beginners. Read about other polyglots’ experiences and watch their videos, listen to their podcasts as well. This way you will be abreast about learning techniques. Understand what works with you and what doesn’t.

Any books about language learning you can recommend?

Sekrety Poliglotów (it is in Polish, but we will soon translate into English), Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis, How I learned languages by Lomb Kató, Fluent Forever: How to learn any language fast and never forget it by Gabriel Wyner, Fluency made achievable by Kerstin Hammes and Language is music by Susanna Zaraysky.

To learn more about Marlon please visit his site (in Polish).

Polyglot Nathalia interview

In today’s interview blog post Portuguese polyglot Nathalia from tells us about her language learning strategies.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I’m a Brazilian girl who always loved foreign cultures, travel and languages. When I was a child I collected news from others countries. My dream country was Spain, therefore, Spanish was the first language I learned, I studied it when I was 13 in a language school. The second language I learned was English, when I was about 18. I watched endless hours of American television and somehow I ended up learning. After that, I stopped learning languages due study and work. About 3 years ago I started to learn French and I decided to really dedicate myself to my blog, as a way to motivate myself.

What languages do you speak?

My native language is Portuguese, as I said I speak English, Spanish and French. Right now, I’m studying German.

Do you dream in a foreign language?

I used to dream in English before, but not anymore. In rare occasions I dream in Spanish or French, this happens usually when I study the language for more than 4 hours or when I’m living in a foreign country.

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

I think they’re great idea. I’d like to learn Esperanto; I heard that it is an easy language to learn and that learning it can help to learn others languages. But, I have two reasons to not learning it immediately: first, there is no real culture linked to Esperanto; second, I have a long list of languages I’d like to learn and Esperanto is not a priority.

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

My first two languages I learned in very different ways. Spanish in a language school and English watching movies. But, I believe that the two most important things that help me with these languages were: emotional connection and making them part of my life. With French I studied alone, without contact with French people and without an emotional connection with the language, therefore iit took me a long time to feel comfortable speaking to a French person. But, I’m trying to learn with my mistakes, I don’t have a perfect strategy, but I follow some guidelines I created to myself: first I learn the pronunciation, after that I try to acquire vocabulary. I always listen it a lot and later I’ll try to speak with a patience native speaker.

Do you have a favorite language?

For me, languages have personalities, there is no language I’d use in all situations. Probably, my favorite language is Spanish. I love to listen to music in Spanish, for me Spanish sounds more emotional. I also love the rhythm, it’s perfect to dance. English for me is a practical language, every time I search for an information, I do that in English. If I’m speaking to a foreigner, no matter the nationality, I’ll speak in English. French for me is a “special” language, only to be use in special occasions or important discussions, it’s full of culture and personality.

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

First, choose one or two methods, you don’t need 10.000 materials. Don’t give up, at the beginning I always have a feeling I’ll never be able to understand anything. And, start by the pronunciation, it’s the hardest thing to correct later. Also, forget the grammar, you can check it later.

How has speaking multiple changes changed you as a person?

I’m a shy and reserved person, so I’m very quite person. But, to speak a language, well, it’s obvious, you have to speak. So, learning a language made me a “less shy” person, that’s the first thing. The second thing, made me more open and tolerant to different people and cultures. I have a feeling that I’m more tolerant when I visit a country or meet foreign people than some monolinguals.

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

This is the story of my first travel: I did one semester in a English language school in Brazil, and for me was a waste of time, and that was exactly what I told my father. So, I convinced him that, instead of paying me a language school for years, I’d save the money to spend one summer in US, so I did it for 2 years.

The result: Two years later, I was in US, I had a J-1 visa, that allow me to work in US during that summer and was perfect. The money I saved helped me to get there and my small salary helped me to cover the expenses while I was there. And, of course, I practiced English.

Also, recently, I spent 2 months in France, only studying, I believe that without this, French would never stuck in my head. So, yes, I travel more and I use language learning as a good excuse.

Do you watch movies to practice your languages?

As I learned English watching TV, I always say that it’s possible to learn a language with the help of movies. I believe that after the A1 level we should start to use movies in the learning process. It’s a good way to test your knowledge and to see how the language works in a real situation. Nevertheless, just watching movies won’t make you a language expert. I have a method for watching: first, I’ll watch the movie only for entertainment; then I’ll look for the original subtitles and watch it. If there is any unknown word, I’ll take a note (usually I print the subtitles). After that, I extract the audio and listen to the audio, if the audio is difficult I’ll read along, if is easy I’ll only hear. That helps me a lot.

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

Yes, Japanese. I started when was in University and gave up. I don’t remember the exact reason, probably lack of focus. But, having the perspective I have today, is something I regret. I plan to study it again, someday.

To learn more about Nathalia please visit her blog 

Ellen Jovin Interview & Polyglot Conference

In today’s interview blog post Ellen Jovin tells us about the upcoming polyglot conference in NY she’s co-organizing with Richard Simcott and Alex Rawlings and about her language learning methods. 


Tell us more about the Polyglot Conference in NYC? How much work is involved in organizing it?

Polyglot Conference NYC 2015 will bring hundreds of linguaphiles — polyglots, linguists, language enthusiasts — together in the world’s most multilingual city to hear some wonderful speakers and hang out and talk and network with one another. It will be held at the SVA Theatre in Chelsea, which is a bustling neighborhood in Manhattan full of restaurants, bars, varied architecture, and one of my favorite places to take visitors, High Line Park. The dates are October 10 and 11, but there will be various activities before and after, as many people are arriving early and/or leaving late. I am beside myself with excitement. It’s a lot of work to organize, but in my view gracious hosts are not supposed to make a point of that!

Who is organizing it?

I am working with English polyglot Richard Simcott, who originated this conference series in Europe, and Alex Rawlings, another English polyglot, who worked with Richard on the most recent Polyglot Conference in Novi Sad, Serbia. There have been two in Europe already, so this will be the third, and I joined Richard and Alex in order to bring this event to the U.S. for the first time. Both are truly impressive polyglots, and good, thoughtful people as well, so it has been a joy and an honor to work with them.

Is it the first time you organize something like that?

This is old hat for Richard and Alex. As for me, I am accustomed to organizing events for Syntaxis, a business I have had with my husband for 15 years. Those events are smaller, but they are nonetheless language-related undertakings in Manhattan requiring some similar kinds of preparatory activities.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I am a linguaphile. I am attracted to language. I cannot help it; it is hardwired into me. I studied languages in college, then returned to them as an adult. Everything I have done in my adult life — teaching, writing, etc. — has revolved around my love of language, whether my native language or foreign ones.

What languages do you speak?

I do my best work in English. But I also speak Spanish, German, French, Italian, varying degrees of Portuguese depending on when I last examined it, and bits and pieces of a bunch of others. Right now I am reviewing previously completed lessons in Polish, Russian, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, and a few other languages.

Do you dream in a foreign language?

Sometimes. Last night I dreamt that I missed a flight from Paris to JFK, and in the dream I was on a cell phone on the streets of Paris in the pouring rain, trying to negotiate a new flight in French so I could get back to New York.

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

I am less interested in constructed languages than in the people who construct them. I find some of the conlangers fascinating — incredibly creative and knowledgeable linguistically. It’s fun to hear them talk. I like reading the posts in the conlang groups. Half the time I can’t even understand what they’re talking about. It’s fantastic.

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

More or less. I like to start with audio lessons, then quickly jump in with the writing system and grammar after I get a basic feel for a language’s oral qualities and structural features. I am unusually fond of grammar, I would say. I love doing grammar exercises. I love conjugating verbs. I hate not knowing how a language is put together.

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

I don’t think it has changed all that much. I am pretty stubborn and I know what I like.

Do you have a favorite language?

I really love Italian. There are so many ways to say “the.” And Italian feels good in my mouth when I am pronouncing it. I am feeling very fond of Levantine Arabic right now, too.

Which resources do you normally use most?

Pimsleur, grammar books, Memrise.

What do you think of

Are you fishing for compliments? You already know I really like it. It is carefully edited and responsible, and I dig that. I have used it for a whole bunch of languages.

What is your definition of fluency?

Fluency has arrived when I can express a large percentage of the things I want to say in a language — even if they don’t always come out beautifully. The important thing is being competent enough to reroute into another way of wording something if I get stuck.

What keeps you motivated to keep learning?

It is intensely pleasurable to me.

Which language do you think is the most romantic?

I am not romantic, so I don’t care about which language is the most romantic. I just like expressing myself.

And what point would you recommend reading up on grammar?

This is a personal choice. I like to start in on grammar very early on. If you hate grammar, then I wouldn’t recommend doing that. Whatever you use, you will make less progress if you don’t actually like it, so it is important to reconsider your materials if they aren’t working for you. Language is not a one-size-fits-all undertaking.

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

I have a few in mind, but I cannot know the answer to this question, because I do not at present have the skills to test the most accomplished polyglots I’ve met. They know too much. Fortunately, I am not concerned about who the most accomplished one is. I just really dig being around people who like language.

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

I have noticed that many people hate talking about talent. I don’t get that. I am not very good at yoga. So what? That doesn’t mean I can’t do yoga, or that I can’t improve at yoga, or that I can’t benefit from yoga, or that I can’t enjoy yoga. It just means you will not see me on the stage at the national championships.

Do you use mnemonics to learn new words?

Only when I’m really desperate and simply can’t remember a word no matter what I do. I am otherwise not into mnemonics. I do like saying that word though. Mnemonics. Mnemonics. Mnemonics. It’s cool!

To learn more about Ellen Jovin please visit her blog “Words & Worlds of New York”. To get more information about the upcoming polyglot conference in New York please click here.

Flashcards in the Digital Age: A Comparison of Anki & LearnWithOliver

Today’s guest post is from Paul. He teaches English in Argentina and works for Language Trainers, which offers personalized course packages to individuals and groups. He approached me about a guest post and I suggested a comparison of Anki and our website. As I would be biased it’s perfect for a third party to compare both sites. Anyways here we go:

Flashcards are a classic vocabulary-building tool that language learners have been using for ages. Nowadays, far from their paper-based origins, flashcards are now available on a variety of digital platforms, and offer high-tech algorithms to help you learn new foreign-language vocabulary as fast as possible.

Two popular choices for language learners are Anki and Learn with Oliver, the latter of which is produced by the language-learning gurus at Antosch & Lin. Both of these services use spaced repetition, which means that they present vocabulary at specific intervals based on how well you know the word. For example, if you know a given vocabulary item very well, it may be shown to you once a week or once a month; conversely, if you continually forget a specific word or phrase, it will be presented to you more frequently until you memorize it. This way, you spend more time reviewing the words you actually need to remember, whereas words you already understand well are presented only now and then so that they don’t slip from your memory.

Despite sharing a similar basic idea, Anki and Learn with Oliver are quite different, largely due to the fact that Learn with Oliver is specifically designed by and for language learners, whereas Anki can be used for a variety of purposes. Both are valuable learning tools, but for the serious student, Learn with Oliver provides some key features that Anki lacks, and will help you learn new vocabulary faster than ever before.


Anki is an app that you can use on your computer or smartphone. The idea itself is simple: it’s a basic, user-friendly version of digital flashcards which can be used for any type of information. What’s impressive and interesting about Anki is not the flashcards themselves, but rather the algorithm going on in the background which decides when to show the cards to you.

Here’s how it works: you create a “deck” of flashcards (for language learners, this will consist of foreign-language vocabulary). You can download decks that other users have created for your language, or you can create your own decks with words that you come across in your daily foreign-language adventures. This is particularly useful if you’re reading a foreign-language book and want to remember some of the unfamiliar words and phrases that you encounter.


Then, you can review the cards in your deck whenever you’d like. Depending on how easy it is for you to recall the word, Anki will show it to you again at differing time intervals. If you had no idea what the word meant, it will show you in the next couple minutes; if you were super confident about it, it will show you in a few days. The time intervals are decided by your own judgment as well as your answering history, so if you’ve repeatedly forgotten a word, Anki will present that flashcard to you more frequently.

And that’s basically it! Perhaps its simplicity is one of the reasons why Anki is so popular among language learners; it’s incredibly easy to use. In fact, its shortcomings only become apparent when compared to a similar flashcard service that’s specifically tailored to the needs and goals of language students.

Learn with Oliver

Enter Learn with Oliver. As mentioned above, Learn with Oliver is designed by and for language learners, and this is clear from the start. At its core, Learn with Oliver is conceptually similar to Anki: it offers flashcards that utilize spaced repetition. However, flashcards only scratches the surface of what Learn with Oliver offers. Several other reviewers have described Learn with Oliver as “flashcards on steroids”, and this turns out to be quite an apt description.

 First off, Learn with Oliver comes with pre-loaded decks of flashcards that have thousands of items each. Of course, like Anki, you also have the option of adding your own words to the mix. Unlike Anki, however, these decks are highly customizable: you can set your vocabulary level, turn off English translations, see real-life example sentences that contain the word, view images of the word, see possible derivations and conjugations of the word, and remove cards from the deck when you don’t need to review them.


My favorite feature about Learn with Oliver is that all flashcards include an audio component (in Anki, only a handful of decks come with audio), which are pronounced by native speakers. Therefore, you can listen to the word or sentence that you see on the flashcard, which is an excellent way to associate the text and pronunciation in your brain.


 Further, there are a plethora of other language-learning features aside from the flashcards themselves. After reviewing a deck (or two), you can assess your skills with an interactive test. There are language-learning games in which you can save your high scores and compete with yourself. There are writing exercises in which you read sentences (which are also pronounced by native speakers), and are later called on to provide a translation of them. It’s possible to spend hours simply navigating the diverse array of features that Learn with Oliver offers.


Finally, Learn with Oliver gives language learners some gentle incentive to keep their language skills sharp in the form of a daily newsletter. Unlike most newsletters, which are either ignored or end up in your Spam folder, the daily email from Learn with Oliver is a language learner’s treasure trove. It contains several vocabulary items and sentences (including word-by-word breakdowns of each one), and even has an essay-writing exercise for the brave. Best of all, you can customize the newsletter to send you just a few daily words, or up to 100, if you’re an extremely ambitious learner.

Ultimately, both Anki and Learn with Oliver are valuable tools for language learners: spaced repetition works! Pragmatists who seek a very basic flashcard system sans bells and whistles will gravitate towards Anki, which is basically as simple as it gets. But language learners who are looking to maximize as much information as possible from their flashcards — those who seek “flashcards on steroids” — will surely appreciate Learn with Oliver’s vast offerings, which come with useful, actionable, and extremely comprehensive language-learning tools.

Language learners: Have you used Anki? What about Learn with Oliver? What are your impressions of each? Leave a comment!

If you want to know more about Paul visit their Facebook page or check out their free language level tests.

5 Ways to Make Music a Part of Your Language Learning

Today’s guest post is from Shannon Kennedy. She is the blogger/language lover/adventurer behind Eurolinguiste. She is a musician first, but an avid language learner at heart. She speaks French and English fluently and is currently working towards fluency in Mandarin and Croatian. You can learn more about her and her language learning strategies of at Eurolinguiste.

Great music is that which penetrates the ear with facility and leaves the memory with difficulty.” – Sir Thomas Beechem

Why is it that we can recall almost every word to a song when it pops up on the radio as we’re driving, even when it’s been years since we’ve heard it? What is it about music that enables us to remember moments, events, and words that are only evoked when hearing a song? But more importantly as language learners, how can we harness that power and apply it to our studies?

Since its invention, music has been used as a way to teach, to keep records, to communicate and to entertain. It has long played its role in boosting memorization. So why not use this excellent memorization tool to help you with the vocabulary and grammar of the language that you’re learning?

Here are a few ways to utilize music to improve your language study:

1. Learn the lyrics to foreign language songs.

Take a moment to peruse YouTube or TuneIn to find music that you like in your desired language. The desire to learn to sing along is a must! Using music as a language learning tool is more effective if you’re enjoying yourself. A quick way to find music in your target language is to search one of the big record labels for their branch in the country that speaks the language you’re learning (i.e. Universal France, Universal Taiwan) or even Vevo France, Vevo Japan, or Vevo Russia.

I’ve also started to collect songs in the languages I’m learning on Youtube, so if you’re learning French, Croatian, Mandarin, Japanese, or Italian, you might find something that you like there.

Once you’ve found a song or two that you enjoy here are the next steps:

First, learn the words in the foreign language. Look them up online by searching for the lyrics of the song. To help get you started, here are the words for lyrics in several different languages:

  • French – les paroles
  • Spanish – letras de una canción
  • Italian – testo/parole della canzone
  • German – liedtext
  • Mandarin – ge1 ci2 - 歌词
  • Russian – slova dlya pesni

This is one of my favorite sites for transcriptions AND translations of foreign language songs.

Second, translate them into your native language. You can just paste them into Google Translate if you like, but you definitely get bonus points if you make an effort to translate what you can on your own first!

Third, memorize them and sing along! It helps with pronunciation. You’ll also pick up expressions and words that you won’t find in a textbook!

2. Set the vocabulary and sentences you’re trying to learn to the melody of one of your favorite songs.

This is a really great and proven way to help you memorize different words or phrases that you’re trying to learn. When I think of this method, I am often reminded of the episode of “How I Met Your Mother” where one of the characters forgets something important:

Traditions such as oral storytelling were maintained by performing stories in poetic and musical forms to aid the passing down of histories and stories. These stories were often performed in their poetic and musical forms because the rhythmic and melodic patterns helped those telling the stories remember them.

Music can really stick with you – that’s why you can remember the lyrics to songs years after you’ve heard them last. Applying this to language can definitely help you improve your ability to recall words.

One of the best ways to get the most out of this method is to create songs using groups of related words – colors, modes of transportation, directions, numbers, and so on. Using a random list of unrelated words may be harder to remember, even as a song, so it’s best to use several different melodies to memorize multiple lists of words.

But they don’t have to be difficult songs! They can be melodies from your childhood or the chorus of your favorite song. You can definitely get creative.

3. Listen to a set playlist while you’re studying a language.

Scientifically, music helps break information down into patterns and cues that allow us to better remember. But it isn’t just words that music allows us to remember – it’s also events. So turn your study sessions into memorable events by using a set playlist.

Using a specific music playlist as a background to our study can actually help trigger memories that surround previous study sessions, which in turn, help make your current study session more productive.

4. Use songs to practice dictation.

Songs are relatively short – usually about three to four minutes long. They often have repetitive passages too, which makes them great practice for transcription. Choose a song and get your pen and paper ready. As you listen, write down the words.

Be patient using this method! Don’t be afraid to rewind the track as many times as you need. Try to jot down the lyrics as accurately as possible, then look them up online to see how close you are.

5. Find songs you already know in your native language that have been translated into your target language (or translate them yourself).

Children’s songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and the theme from Sesame Street, or even holiday songs like “Frosty the Snowman”,  already exist in many languages and are a great starting point. They’re often quite short and simple and so learning them is an easy task. Plus you’ll very likely pick up new vocabulary!

How do you use music to improve your language study? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Further Reading:

Do Musicians Make Better Language Learners? on The Guardian

Music is Linguist’s Best Friend on Eurolinguiste

You can find Shannon Kennedy on: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube

Language Learning tips from polyglot Michael McCavish

A few weeks ago I talked to one of our users (Michael McCavish) about language learning. When I heard he speaks 7 languages, I asked whether he would be interested to write a guest post for us and he delivered! Here is Michael’s take on language learning:
I have never really thought of my ability to speak 7 languages as in any way extraordinary. I know there are many polyglots who can speak many more. I am the founder of Michael’s English School in Osaka, Japan. Many of my students ask me the secret of learning foreign languages and this has helped to formulate my ideas on the subject. I am happy to share my thoughts on language learning and hope that they may be helpful to others who might be considering learning another language or two.
Nature versus Nurture
“You are lucky you are just good at languages.” “I am no good at languages.” “My memory sucks!” These are the sort of comments that I hear day in, day out.
If you think you are bad at languages, let me put your mind at ease: you aren’t! The first thing that you need to do is change your internal dialogue. Get rid of that nasty little voice in your head that tells you that you are bad at something. It quite simply isn’t true. The first thing to do is make yourself aware that you have an astounding piece of equipment, namely your brain. Remind yourself that your brain contains between 100 and 500 trillion synaptic connections, that it is dealing with possibly millions of pieces of information every second, and that YOUR brain differs very little from Einstein’s brain or the brain of Sir John Bowring, once Governor of Hong Kong, a polyglot who could speak 100 languages and was said to “know” 200!!!
So now that you are in a positive state of mind about your equipment, you can now do what I do when I decide to tackle a new language.
The first question I ask myself is, “Why do I want to learn this language?” One of the most important things about learning anything is desire. As a young boy at school, I had no interest in French. I distinctly remember getting 8% in a French exam. It was not until my parents bought a place in the South of France, where there were a lot of very beautiful French women, that my interest in French rocketed… along with my abilities!
Sure, if you have children, start them young, but you can learn a language at any age
Now, I would say that it is true that a stimulating early childhood, possibly one in which your parents are of different nationalities, will cause neurological pathways to form which help you to learn languages. In my case my father was British and my mother Dutch, so by the age of four, I was already bilingual. I believe firmly, however, that these neurological pathways can also easily be formed in later life simply through application.
Many polyglots are the result of circumstance. As educators will tell you, circumstance usually leads to a need and a desire to learn how to equip yourself to deal with whatever environment you find yourself in.
In my case, my parents spoke English and Dutch, we had a house in France, I had some very close German friends, I worked for some years in Portugal before moving to Japan, and my wife is Belarussian. Voila! Simple!
During the course of learning these languages and teaching languages, I have developed tricks, which help me. Yes, I use mnemonics, yes, I use loci, or a memory palace. Mine has 104 rooms with two wings, equivalent to two decks of playing cards. But these are just useful for vocab building. In brief, just as described by Anthony Metivier, I basically take a new word that I want to learn. I convert it into something that it may sound like or make a note that it is similar to a word that I know in another language, frequently making a ridiculous connection, and then I place it in a room in my mental memory palace. There is so much info out there on mnemonics and memory palaces that I will not go into it.
Modern Tools and Antosch and Lin’s website
As a teacher and a learner I am always looking to upgrade my techniques. In a modern age, we may use modern techniques. Books are good but they do not help with pronunciation. As I said before, we have an incredible piece of equipment in the brain. It is very important to bombard the brain with thousands of spoken sentences. The brain will automatically scramble everything up and later be able to use a bit from this sentence and a bit from that sentence, as it requires. Repetition is very important. I break down what I want to learn into chunks. It is very important to take a rest from studying approximately every 25 minutes. I believe this helps the brain to really absorb the material.
I was incredibly happy when I found the Antosch and Lin site. It was exactly what I was looking for. I use the pronunciation function. I record chunks on my iPhone and then replay those chunks frequently. Sometimes I choose chunks from the site that are theme-related. Sometimes I chose chunks that are level-related. I also use the site these days to refresh languages that I already know.
I think it was Nietzche who said something along the lines that “Life is about creating good habits and avoiding bad habits.” I wholeheartedly agree!
The walk from my house in Japan to the dojo where I practice Aikido takes about 25 minutes. So every day, I listen to 25 minutes of pre recorded sentences from the Antosch and Lin website. This has really helped me to tackle Russian. THEN I try to recall it. Far better to recall a small chunk of info than to wade through a lot of information, which you cannot recall 20 minutes later!!!
Further to the idea of forming good habits with regard to language learning:
  1. Personally, I do not smoke or drink alcohol. I sincerely believe that both damage the brain. It is akin to keeping your amazing equipment in good working order.
  2. Exercise is very important. A good walk outside is sufficient. Oxygen is vital.
  3. Declutter your life and set clear goals. I am fond of Zen and I always liked the idea that Einstein had several sets of the same clothing so as not to clutter his mind with what he felt were trivialities. You will not find me dressed in anything other than blues and whites. (I have to admit though that trivia can be fun. I also find that music after learning helps memory somehow!)
 Parents should help their children to form good habits
I am thankful for my parents. My father was an educator. He taught me that learning was fun. He introduced me to various ideas; he often told me, “we are what we eat”, “a healthy body is a healthy mind”, “by night a man, by day a man”, etc. It was he who first gave me the desire to learn, who first introduced me to the power of the brain and who taught me simple mnemonics to remember school tasks. To this day, I still remember him teaching me, “Three old Angels, Sitting On High, Chatting About Heaven” as a way of remembering tangent is opposite over adjacent, sine is opposite over hypotenuse, cosine is adjacent over hypotenuse. With these foundations, it was easy to start to use mnemonics for language learning.
My mother was Dutch. Not only was she keen that I should know her language but she was also a linguistic role model for me as she was also fluent in English, German and French.
  1. Yes, forming early neurological pathways helps but we can form them at any time.
  2. Be positive. Believe you can learn.
  3. Find out how many total immersion hours are suggested to become fluent in your chosen language and just get on with it!
  4. Foster a desire to learn.
  5. Use mnemonics and any other memory aiding techniques that you can find out about.
  6. Repetition is good along with periods of rest every 25 minutes. Use music to relax. Recall is vital.
  7. Use modern technology like the Antosch and Lin website to do repetitive pronunciation practice. This gives your brain vital speech patterns to mimic.
In conclusion I always tell my students: Watch movies, listen to songs, speak, read and ENJOY!

Don’t talk to me in English

Olly Richards from wrote an interesting blog post about the problem of people answering back in English instead of the language you are learning.

So you want to practise a language but they answer back in English. What do you do?

Here is a short summary:

Strategy 1: Pretend you don’t speak English or pretend you speak it poorly.

Strategy 2: Explain to the person that you want to practise their language and ask them not to speak English.

Strategy 3: Go to a place where they don’t speak English, such as in rural areas.

Click here to read the complete post from Olly Richards.

10 tips how you can easily remember new words

In today’s guest post, Yohana Petrovic explains how to easily remember new words.

Are you learning a new language? Or maybe just working on improving your vocabulary?

Did you stumble across a new word while reading the other night and want to remember it?

We are all always trying to remember things. Those of us who love writing are even more likely to try to learn and remember new words, whether they are in our own language or in a language that is foreign to us.

Would you like to be able to have much better recall of all new words that you are learning? Then, here are ten tips to help you out.

1. Tie New Words to Old Words in Your Memory

Let’s say that you want to remember that the word “polyglot”. First you look it up in your dictionary or type it into a search engine. You will find that the definition is “knowing or using several languages” (at least, that is the definition according to the online Oxford Dictionary). So to remember what “polyglot” means, you could link it to a word with a similar definition such as the word “multilingual”. You can find more information here.

2. Match Your New Words to Pictures in Your Mind

This time let’s take the word “vex” as an example. You just read it in Pride and Prejudice and looked it up in your dictionary. So you know that the word “vex” means “to cause someone to feel annoyed, frustrated, or worried.” How are you going to remember this new meaning? Well, what happens when you feel annoyed, frustrated, or worried? Do you get a headache? Do your brows furrow? Now, imagine a stick figure. A cartoonist would draw x’s for the person’s eyes. “Vex” sounds like “x”. So to remember “vex”, just imagine an annoyed, frustrated, or worried cartoon character with x’s in place of its eyes and eyebrows.

3. Display Your Words Around Your House

One of the best ways to learn a new word is to constantly look at it, think about it, and bring to mind what it means. A good way to do this is to put words around your house. Now, don’t just put your words that you are trying to learn in random places. Are you trying to learn the phrase “J’adore”? (It is French for “I love”.) Then, put it near something that you love.

4. Use Acronyms

What is an acronym? It is where you form a new word from the first letters of several other words. For example, let’s say you are trying to remember the words “wily,” “odious,” “rancorous,” “decorous,” and “systemic.” How can you link these random words so that you can remember them? Well, the first letter of each word, put together, spells “WORDS.” This is an excellent way for you to remember several new words at once rather than remembering the meaning of new words.

5. Try Connecting Each Word In Your Mind With a Number

Let’s say that you need to remember three different new French vocabulary words that form a sentence when put together. These words are “J’adore le chocolat.” But you keep switching up the order. So, you need to attach each word to a number so that you can remember them as a sentence. Use either picture or auditory devices to link “j’adore” with “1”, “le” with “2”, and “chocolat” with “3”. This way you can remember each word in its proper order.

6. Make an Acrostic Sentence With Your Words

Did you ever take music lessons? If you did, then you remember having to learn the names of the lines of the treble clef. To remember them, you probably learned the phrase “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” The first letter of each word corresponds to the name of one of the lines of the treble clef. You can use this device to remember practically any word, phrase, or letter. You can find more information at this website.

7. Discuss Your New Words With Someone Else

Have you ever found that you understand a concept, a philosophy, or any other idea better if you explain it to someone and then discuss it with them? Not only is this a fun process, it is a proven memory device.

8. Make Flashcards

This step is pretty self-explanatory. If you are trying to learn a new word, one good way of remembering both it and its meaning is by turning them into flash cards. Put the word on one side of the flash card and the meaning on the flip side.

9. Use Your New Words in Sentences

One of the best ways of remember either a new word or the meaning of a new word or both is to use the word in a sentence. This way you can remember the word and, by the context of the sentence, what the word means.

10. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

One of the best, most time tested ways to remember something is to keep repeating it over and over again. Whether you are trying to learn a foreign language or just a new vocabulary word, you end up having to repeat, repeat, repeat it to learn it.

Yohana Petrovic is a writer and educator. Yohana has 10 years experience in educating and now she is a proofreader at You can reach her on Facebook or on Twitter: @YohanaPetrovic

Comparing digital and paper-based flashcards

I recently gave an interview for Kerstin Hammes’ book. In her book I discuss pros and cons of paper and electronic flashcards. In the book I only discuss this in a short version so I wanted to do this more in detail on this blog.

Since one of the main features of Antosch & Lin’s courses are electronic flashcards it’s no secret that I do prefer electronic flashcards to paper based flashcards.

Here are the advantages of digital flashcards:

– You can actually listen to the words on the card and there is no way to learn a language without listening a lot. Theoretically it would be possible to write down the pronunciation or romanisation of the word but it’s not the same. If you listen to the word it will stick better in your mind.

– Another great feature of a modern system is that new and old cards are shown to you automatically. You do not have to organize the cards shown to you. You simply tell the system when you want to see the card again and it will arrange the order for you.

– A good system will also allow you to choose the level of new cards. For instance you let the system know you are an advanced user and therefore only advanced words are shown to you. Our system will also let you know various statistics about the card, such as when was the last time the card was shown to you and how often in total. Not absolutely necessary but still a nice feature.

– If you want to practice on a train or a bus you can use your mobile phone. Taking a big box of paper flashcards would just not be practical.

– Our electronic flashcards offer related words, compound words and example sentences for the words you are learning. This is a decisive factor if you learn new words. Learning words without context should be avoided.

– If you are a serious language learner you will have to write thousands of paper flashcards. This seems really a lot of work to me. There is also the problem of writing it down incorrectly. On our website where you can enter your own flashcards and I see users getting the spelling and/or the translation is wrong all the time.

– Digital flashcards also allow you to practice the words in various exercises, such as where you have to enter the words, or multiple choice or sound-based exercises. The best way would be to combine all those exercises.

– Another thing I like about digital systems is that you can track your progress. If you see on a line chart how you get better and better it can give you a necessary boost to keep going, and motivation is everything in language learning.

– A electronic flashcard system will also allow you to share you cards easily. This is not possible with physical cards.

– Electronic cards can be shown automatically to you. You can just lean back, iron your shirt, do exercise, etc and words are shown to you every x seconds.

– Last but not least they are more environmentally friendly as it saves paper.

So what are the advantages of paper flashcards:

– First good thing is that you don’t need to buy an expensive computer, you can get started right away with a pen and paper.

– It might be easier to take notes or draw something on the paper flashcards. Even though a good flashcard system will also allow you to take some additional notes. So this is no longer an advantage restricted to paper-based learning.

I think I would only use paper flashcards for children who can’t use computers yet or if you can’t afford a computer. But then again tablet computers have become really cheap these days.

So all in all it’s clear that electronic flashcards have the upper hand. If you haven’t tried digital flashcards yet, why not give it a go today?

My thoughts on how to get motivated to learn a language

In the language learning blogosphere there are plenty of articles about how to get motivated to learn a language.

I’ve actually read an interesting point about motivation. It basically said that motivation is a fickle thing and you shouldn’t rely on it. Instead rely on discipline. In other words just get on with it.

Personally I would say that motivation and discipline are connected. If you are disciplined enough to learn for a few weeks you will see results which in turn will motivate you to keep going. In other words if you are not motivated from the get-go, try discipline first and later you will be motivated enough to keep learning.

Apart from this I’d say have a system in place to track your success objectively. This is why on Antosch & Lin we have progress tests which can be done on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. These multiple choice tests take around 20 to 30 minutes. The final scores are shown on a line chart, so it’s easy to see whether you are improving. And if you see some progress every month it will give you the necessary boost to keep going.

A few days ago I listened to Chris Broholm’s podcast (with Anthony Lauder). The point they made is that progress is so gradual that it seems you are standing still, but you actually are progressing, it just happens so slowly that you don’t realise it.

Another good strategy is to read books about something that interests you. If you like “Lord of the Rings” for instance read it in your language you are learning.

Personally I read a lot of detective and crime books to learn English when I grew up in Germany in the 80s. I especially liked books from the Canadian author Margaret Millar. Her books often have a twist ending. Think “The Sixth Sense”, but in book form. One really good book from her is “How Like an Angel” which I read a few times.

I also learnt English by watching a lot of Hollywood movies with subtitles. In Germany movies are dubbed into German, so it was really hard to get your hands on these films. These days we have the Internet and things are much easier of course.