Interview with language blogger Kris Broholm

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

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Chris Broholm with his irresistible smile!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

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

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

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

What languages do you speak?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much editing is necessary before you publish the interviews?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you dream in a foreign language?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a favourite language?

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

What do you think of LearnWithOliver.com?

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

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

What is your definition of fluency?

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

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

What keeps you motivated to keep learning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has speaking multiple changes changed you as a person?

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

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

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

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

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

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

One day I’ll get back to French.

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

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

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

Do you use mnemonics to learn new words?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any books about language learning you can recommend?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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