Languages can be a lot of fun

Do you think languages are boring? Watch this video

Trevor Noah grew up in South Africa and in this video is sharing his life experience with life, culture and languages. A lot of fun!

Brian Kwong from Add1Challenge

Today we want to introduce you to Brian Kwong. We met Brian at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin – so much to share, like the common interest in changing the world, starting from the way people learn languages.
Brian is the founder of Add1Challenge and from the next week we will help his students by adding the power of Bliu Bliu to Add1Challenge, offering premium subscriptions for the best ones.

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Who are you and where have you lived in the last 12 months

My name is Brian Kwong, the founder of the Add1Challenge.

In the last 12 months, I lived in Austria, Thailand, Vietnam, did a 2.5 months bicycle tour across half of Japan and currently in Berlin for two more weeks before I cycle down to Serbia from Berlin :)

What languages do you speak?

English, Cantonese, Mandarin and working on Japanese

Languages are just a hobby or you make money out of them?

Why not both? :)
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Tell us something about your First Time.

I lived in Austria for a two and a half years because my previous wife, Julia, is Austrian. The problem was, my father-in-law, aka Papa, can’t speak a word of English but I resisted learning German for a year and a half (personal preference). Finally, after a 9 days hike with Papa and Julia, I decided to take on a Learn German in 3 months challenge to speak with Papa for the first time for 15 minutes in German, on video!

It’s not pretty, but we communicated and spoke for the first time in German. Here is the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jM7VA0mbQks&feature=youtu.be

Any terrible experience? Like a language you could not learn and
you gave up…

I was born in Hong Kong, my family and I immigrated to the US when I was 12 years old so English is my second language. 12 years old kids in the US could be very mean (Name calling, fights, bullying etc) and going to the classes where all the other American kids goes instead of ESL (English Second Language) classes didn’t help as I was always the only one who can’t speak English.

So learning a language in that environment was probably the worst experience I’ve had while learning a language, which is why when I created the Add1Challenge, I am making sure that it is an environment full of support, encouragement and motivation, where the community got your back while having a blast and learning to speak the language you’ve always wanted to speak :)
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What about an “easy” experience

Learning Japanese with a tutor from italki made learning to speak Japanese “easy”. Being fluent and being comfortable speaking are two different things. I don’t have to be fluent to be comfortable at speaking a foreign language, and once I became comfortable at speaking, it made the learning experience much “easier”.

Why languages and not…..

I don’t like ALL languages nor do I have to. I learn language because I want to and it usually have something with connecting with people, the country and the food :)

Do you have a mentor? Does anybody inspire you?

I don’t have a mentor but many polyglots inspires me like Benny Lewis, Richard Simcott, Luca Lampariello, just to name a few.

Do you have a secret weapon to learn languages?

  • Add1Challenge for community support, accountability and motivation,
  • italki for finding tutor easily and affordably,
  • a simple space repetition app for learning useful phrases
  • and possibly Bliu Bliu :)

Can you share with us your language learning routine?

My routine is simple:

1. I find a tutor that I enjoy speaking with.
2. Ask him/her “How do you say (EX: My dog is bigger than his dog)……?” Comparing two things, past/ present tense, how do you use “and” etc.
3. I ask the tutor type it in the chat, then we break down the sentence structure on how it works.
4. I then try to make a new sentence with the same structure but with new vocabularies. The tutor can tell me if it is correct right away, if not, why is it not correct.
5. Make a few more new sentences until I am comfortable then start with #2 again.
6. Review what I learned in the lesson and use it in the next tutor lesson.

This way, I learn whats useful and interesting for me and I learn how to make more sentences.

That’s what a conversation is, listening to other people’s sentences and making my own sentences.

Do you try to read/watch content at your level? Is it easy to find?

Because it is not easy to find, I don’t. I would love to watch video at my levels with subtitles though, since Bliu Bliu can do that, it’s great!

Have you already used Bliu Bliu? :)

Yes I have, love the idea and can’t wait to tell people about it :)

Your final words: share anything you want with our passionate
community of language lovers.

If you lack motivation, procrastinate, don’t have a consistent routine when learning a language, join us to strive for the goal holding a 15 min conversation with a native speaker in 90 days together in the Add1Challenge! We have plenty of success stories, here is a few,

Kevin on what he learned in Add1Challenge #1,#2 and #3,

Jesus 90th day update speaking Portuguese,

Erika’s 90th day update speaking Russian.

If you like to finally speak your target language, sign up here and be the first to know when the next Add1Challenge opens.

How can people get in touch with you…

@B_Kwong, APolyglotworld.com or signup to Add1Challenge’s newsletter

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Languages Describe the World – Simon Ager Omniglot

Today we have another amazing interview to share with you. This time Simon Ager, English Polyglot, will talk about life changing choices and the importance of languages.

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Who are you and where have you lived in the last 12 months

My name is Simon Ager, I run Omniglot.com, and I come from Lancashire in the north west England, and currently live in Bangor in north Wales.

What languages do you speak?

My native language is English, and I speak French, Mandarin Chinese, Welsh and Irish (Gaelic) more or less fluently. I am semi-fluent in German, Japanese, Spanish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx (Gaelic), and have a basic knowledge of Cantonese, Taiwanese, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Russian, Czech, Dutch, Breton, British Sign Language (BSL). Recently I started learning Swedish and Serbian.

Languages are just a hobby or you make money out of them?

I currently make my living from my website, Omniglot.com, an online encyclopedia of languages and writing systems, so knowing languages and knowing about languages is very handy for my work. I used to work as a web developer for Study Group International, a multinational education provider, and specialised in producing multilingual websites, so languages were useful for that. Before that I worked for the British Council in Taipei, where my Chinese language skills were essential.

I also study languages out of interest, for fun, and for travel – whenever I visit a different country I will learn some of the local language.

Tell us something about your First Time.

The first language I studied was French. I started at the age of 11 at secondary school, and as far as I can remember, I picked it up quite quickly. I still remember the first text book we used and some of the phrases from it, like “Où est le syndicat d’initiative?” (Where is the tourist information office?”). That year I also went abroad for the first time – the French class went on a day trip to France, which was very exciting.

Any terrible experience? Like a language you could not learn and you gave up …

I struggled with German noun cases at school – I just couldn’t see the point of them. They started to make sense, of a kind, after I learnt other languages with cases, particularly Irish.

My first year of learning Mandarin was very intensive and hard work with a lot to learn. In conversation classes we all struggled to understand what the teacher was saying and to say anything. During my second year I spent a semester in Taiwan and was completely immersed in the language and had to speak it. It was difficult, but it worked and after four months I could have conversations in Mandarin about various topics without too much groping around for vocabulary.

I haven’t given up on any languages, but I have given up on particularly language courses. For example, I decided to try learning a language from scratch using only a Rosetta Stone course, and chose Russian because I hadn’t studied it before and because it was be help in my work – some of the websites I was building at the time had Russian versions. After six months I gave up as I felt like I wasn’t making any real progress and thought I would never learn conversational Russian from the course.

What about an “easy” experience

Languages that are closely related to ones you already know are generally easy to learn then unrelated ones, so for me Italian and Portuguese are fairly straightforward as I know French and Spanish; Dutch isn’t to difficult as I know German and English; and Manx is fairly easy as I know Irish and Scottish Gaelic.

Why languages and not…..

I find languages fascinating because each one is a unique way of describing the world. Each language has its own collection of phonemes, its own way of putting them together to make words and sentences, and its own treasure trove of words and idioms. Languages enable you to learn about other countries and cultures, and to make connections with all kinds of different people. When you visit other countries knowing at least some of the local language(s) gives you a great advantage in finding your way around, understanding what’s going on, communicating with locals, and so on. I also like to find out where words come from and how words in different languages are linked through descent from common roots.

The scientific study of language (linguists), is also of great interest to me – how we acquire our mother tongue(s); how language is used in different social groups; how it’s processed in the brain; how we learn foreign languages; how language can be disrupted or lost through brain injury, and so on.

I was good at most subjects at school, so could have taken another path, perhaps, however as it was languages that attracted me most. I played the clarinet and saxophone while at secondary school, and the piano for a while before then – and did consider becoming a professional musician, though didn’t think I would be good enough, and thought it might be hard to make a good living from it. After finishing school I continued playing for a few years, then got busy with university studies and gave up. I started playing again in 2007 and currently spend a lot of time on music – I play the piano, guitar, mandolin, harp, ukulele, tin whistles and recorders in various groups; I sing in a couple of choirs, and also write songs.

Another thing I enjoy that might have become a career for me is juggling. I taught myself while at secondary school and have been learning new skills ever since. I’ve considered joining a circus or becoming a circus skills teacher, but for now this remains a hobby.

Do you have a mentor? Does anybody inspire you?

I don’t have a mentor, but a number of people inspire me, particularly people like Richard Simcott, Stu Jay Raj and Mike Campbell, who speak so many languages so well.

Do you have a secret weapon to learn languages?

Lots of listening, reading aloud and practise writing and speaking the language whenever you can. I think that writing, either for yourself in a diary or a blog, or in text chats with others is a great way to practice as it gives you more time to think about how to say things, to look up words, to check the grammar, etc, than speaking.

Can you share with us your language learning routine?

I generally start listening to online radio in languages I’m learning from the beginning. At first I understand very little, but it’s a good way to tune my ears to the sounds of the language and to intonation patterns. I usually use a language course of some kind – recently I’ve been using online Babbel courses to learn Dutch and Swedish, for example. I also use Assimil, Colloquial and Teach Yourself courses, and have tried others like Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone. I try to study at least something every day, though don’t always manage to. I look for interesting material in the language – songs, stories, radio and TV programmes, podcasts, and so on. I practise conversations with myself, and with others, when I get the chance.

Do you try to read/watch content at your level? Is it easy to find?

I don’t worry too much about finding things at my level. If there are books for learners, I might read them, and listen to audio versions, if they’re available. Otherwise I just focus on material that interests me, and if it’s interesting enough, I will read / listen to it even if it’s way above me level.

Have you already used Bliu Bliu? :)

I had a brief look at Bliu Bliu, but haven’t used it yet.

Your final words: share anything you want with our passionate community of language lovers.

When learning a language try to make it part of your every day life and immerse yourself in it as much as possible. You could try doing some of the things you would normally do in your native language in the language your learning – e.g. watching TV, reading books, magazines, newspapers, etc, listening to the radio, and so on. You could also switch your phone and other devices to the language (if it’s available).

You can find more information about Simon or Omnigot:

My videos are: YouTube.com

My blog: http://www.omniglot.com/blog/

My songs: https://soundcloud.com/simon-ager

QUICK START GUIDE TO LANGUAGE LEARNING

How can you guide yourself in the language learning methodology? Today we would like to share with you some tips which might help.

Last month we introduced you with Language Mastery blog (by John Fotheringham) and today we will look deeper in some learning tips he gives.

DON’T HAVE A DREAM, HAVE A GOAL

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Firstly, it is not enough to say “I will learn a language”, make your goal count – set the time till than you will learn it. Maybe you won’t speak as a native but you will manage to make conversation flow. As well, you should set short time goals – “till 1st of August I will remember Japanese Kanji”. Goals can lead you in learning process.

DAILY LEARNING BASIS

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A long time goals are important, but… In daily life you should be more involved with progress.Have a list of “to do” tasks and put some effort to follow them starting from now – NONE of Mondays is good for it.

Also, choose interesting context in the language you want to learn: if you like music – listen songs and read the lyrics, travelling – find interesting blogger who traveled around the world. Maybe your passion is a country where you want to live? Listen stories or follow news on TV. All the material is good till its working for you.

KEEP IT SIMPLE AND FUN

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Do not depending on the reason why we start learning a language, motivation is the drive to keep the process going. How not to lose it?

Try to keep the learning tool close and comfortable (websites on your smartphones or tablets, apps, books work as a tool). Moreover, you can record yourself and see how much you improved.

All together, the most important is to have fun! And…… to do it now!

Conor Clyne, the language tsar

Today we welcome on our Blog Conor Clyne, from the Language Tsar. Conor is from Ireland and he speaks fluently several languages. We met at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin and we are so glad to have him here with us today.

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Who are you and where have you lived in the last 12 months

Conor Clyne, creator of Language Tsar website & YouTube Channel dedicated to language learning and travel. In the last 12 months, I have spending most of my time in Germany, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania.

What languages do you speak?

The languages that I speak or am learning include English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Russian, Romanian, Catalan and Ukrainian.

Languages are just a hobby or you make money out of them?

Languages are my passion but I have also never had a job where they were not an advantage so one could say that I also make money out of them.

Tell us something about your First Time.

I had Irish as a language at school and also French. The experience was awful. These two subjects were my worst results.

It was only when I went on an exchange program during university to France that I actually learnt my second language and began to love the process of learning languages.

Any terrible experience? Like a language you could not learn and you gave up…

5 years ago, I learnt some Mandarin as I had a Chinese trainee in my law firm for a few months but after she left, I didn’t have regular contact with the language or the culture so I decided to postpone learning the language.
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What about an “easy” experience

Catalan has a lot similarities with French and Spanish and other Romance languages so understanding it in the beginning is certainly a lot easier than in the other languages that I’ve learnt.

Do you have a mentor? Does anybody inspire you?

Other polyglots who inspire me are Richard Simcott, Luca Lampariello and Tim Doner, among many others. I don’t have a particular mentor for languages.

Do you have a secret weapon to learn languages?

It’s called ‘having fun’. Languages and learning them is integrated into my lifestyle so acquiring them has become easier and less time consuming. I do what I enjoy doing but through the different languages I speak.
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Can you share with us your language learning routine?

Currently, I take a class via Skype in Russian, Ukrainian and Romanian about once every two weeks to give myself some consistency with the languages that I am focussing on. In addition, I watch and read what I am interested in in the various languages that I speak. I also take every opportunity to travel to the countries where these 3 languages are spoken to have regular contact with these languages and gain further motivation. Having lived and traveled all over the world, I also have lots of friends who write to me everyday in different languages. If I am not using a particular language that frequently then I think of a way to incorporate it more into my daily routine.

Do you try to read/watch content at your level? Is it easy to find?

I watch and read what I am interested in. It can be difficult to find suitable material for my level when I start out with a new language.
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Have you already used Bliu Bliu? :)

No but I plan to check it out soon. I am a big fan of the concept.

Your final words: share anything you want with our passionate
community of language lovers.

Be consistent, persistent and passionate with your language learning – the results with follow!

How can people get in touch with you…

My website can be found at: http://www.languagetsar.com
My email is: conorclyne@languagetsar.com
YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/thelanguagetsar
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/thelanguagetsar
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thelanguagetsar
Google+: https://plus.google.com/111056688639953968294
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/languagetsar/

They speak German in Germany

Hi Bliuser

As you might know from our social media, we just moved to Berlin.
Claudio, Donatas and Greta will spend 3 months in Berlin promoting Bliu Bliu and new ways of learning languages.

Who would have predicted that they speak German in Germany…and not much more. For sure the population knows English but compared with Lithuania you get a feeling that here in Berlin is hard to communicate if you don’t know German.

Language Shock

We have been trying to communicate in English to buy train tickets, sim cards, asking for direction, talk with random people: English doesn’t seem to be in the CV of many people here in Berlin. They understand it but then they answer in German.

The funny thing is that Germans look very angry when they speak so we don’t really know what to think as we absolutely don’t understand any German.

30 Days to learn German

We arrived on Monday – and Monday is notoriously a bad day to start new things.
Tuesday was our second day in Berlin and we went for sightseeing.
Today is Wednesday, our third day in Berlin, and it’s time to learn German.

How will we learn German?

Foundation of the language & Vocabulary

  • We will go through Michel Thomas Foundation course
  • Reading the book “German Made Simple” that we found in our house
  • Assimil: German with Ease
  • Memrise

Exposure

  • You ask things in English, they answer in German. Easy
  • Keeping the radio always on when we are on

Speaking

  • Practicing together when we are home
  • Talking with Random Natives
  • Talking with Natives that will accept our Dinner invitations

And of course on top of everything, we will use BliuBliu to speed up our vocabulary learning and ability to generally understand the language.

Why we are doing this?

We are going to live here for 3 months and obviously, if you speak the language, life becomes much easier. We want to prove that in only 30 days, while having fun, you can get to a very good level. Starting from absolutely 0.

WANNA HELP?

You speak German? (Fluent/Native)
Are you in Berlin?

Send us an email to info@bliubliu.com and invite yourself to dinner at Fasanestrasse 28 :)

Languages Connecting People – Interview with Irena, Russian Polyglot

We met Irena at the Polyglots gathering in Berlin – Jun 2014.
She is in love with languages. We recorded a video during the conference to share some of her secrets on how to learn languages in 3 months.
Here is the interview, enjoy it.
Irena and Bliu Bliu

Who are you and where have you lived in the last 12 months

My name is Irena, I am Russian, but I’ve been living in Norway for the last three years. I am passionate about languages, I speak 9 on different levels. I currently work as a private Norwegian tutor.

What languages do you speak?

Russian is my native language. Then if I place my languages according to the levels I am on, it goes like: English, Serbian, Norwegian, German, North Sámi and just a bit of Portuguese, Spanish and Polish. The language I’m currently learning is Italian, but I also try to improve my other languages.

Languages are just a hobby or you make money out of them?

It used to be a hobby, but since I speak Norwegian well, a lot of my friends asked me for help, then recommended me to their friends and now I’m a teacher! It’s an unusual role for me, but I’m enjoying it.
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Can you tell us something about your First Time.

I consider learning Serbian, a language dear to my heart, to be my first real experience of learning a foreign language. Of course I learned English in school, but it was a torture, so if not for the private classes, I probably wouldn’t even be able to introduce myself in English. With Serbian it was a lot easier, I came to Serbia in order to study the language, learned it in 3 months and passed the B2 level test. It was surprisingly easy and a lot of fun!

Do you have any terrible experience? Like a language you could not learn and you gave up?

Hm… I wouldn’t really call it a terrible experience, but it was really hard for me to learn Turkish. It was a language I decided to pick before going on holidays in Turkey, so I wasn’t very serious about it. Besides, I was unlucky with the teacher. So after the holidays I never got back to Turkish again, but I want to do it one day. I am not giving up!

Tell us about an “easy” experience

Since my native language is Russian, most of the Slavic languages are relatively easy for me. I hear many stories about how hard Polish is, but I can understand almost everything people are saying without ever studying the language seriously. However I don’t really know the grammar and it can be indeed hard to read it.

Why languages and not…..

After trying to do many different things, I figured out that learning languages/working with languages is the only thing I can really do well in my life! I have made this choice long time ago and haven’t regretted a single time.
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Do you have a mentor? Does anybody inspire you?

People are my inspiration. People that I meet thanks to the languages I speak, stories they tell me, things I experience with them, people in the polyglot community that I read about, my family that supports me, my friends that I can use my languages with and have fun or just anyone with a positive attitude towards life!

Can you tell us your secret weapon to learn languages.

Haha, it won’t be secret anymore if I tell you! No, seriously, I don’t have any “secret weapon”. All I can say is that motivation is the key for me. If I am passionate about a language, I will eventually learn it, sooner or later. Meeting people from the country/countries where the language is spoken also helps. I get to know the culture, customs and traditions behind the language.

Can you share with us your language learning routine?

It really depends on the language I’m learning and resources available for it.
Usually I try to find a good book first, like Colloquial or Teach yourself, then content, like series or movies in the target language and last, but not the least, a good language partner. By a good language partner I mean a person who is serious about language learning and has time and wish to help me. In my opinion it’s important to start using the target language actively(=speaking) as soon as possible, even if you can only say few sentences in it.
Irena embracing new cultures

Is there anything you do, maybe not so effective but kinda unique, your sort of talisman.

I’ve recently started to carry a notebook with me, so I write down all the interesting things I hear in different languages and look through it when I’m on public transport.

Do you try to read/watch content? Is it easy to find?

Yes, I do. As often as I can. I remember when I was learning Greek before and while travelling in Cyprus, I was virtually reading everything I saw, from advertisements to menus in Greek just to get used to the script. I also like watching videos or films in foreign languages, but with languages like Sámi it can be challenging to find something interesting to watch. As a result, I end up watching cartoons and news about reindeer herders, coal mining and weather in the North of Norway…

Did you ever try to use Bliu Bliu?

Yes, I did check it out. Unfortunately these days I don’t have that much time for reading,so I looked through it only briefly. However I must say I really liked the site and the concept itself, and I am absolutely sure I will be using Bliu Bliu in future!

Your final words – anything you want to share with our passionate community of language lovers.

Learning languages is very enriching! Especially if you learn an endangered minority language. Don’t let yourself be fooled by clichés! Start learning a new language and don’t give up! In the end, there is always a reward waiting for you. And by a reward I mean to be able to communicate with new people, learn new things and embrace a new culture!

Check out Irena’s YouTube channel

https://www.youtube.com/user/lashforbates/

ActualFluency.com

A lovely talk with Chris Broholm from ActualFluency.com

I met Chris at the Polyglot gathering in Berlin and it was fun to record this talk.

From the Blog: http://actualfluency.com/

In this interview I’m joined by Bliu Bliu founder Claudio Spadini and we talk about what Bliu Bliu is before we get into a very humorous conversation about language learning and polyglot life in general. Claudio is a great guest and always brings a lot of energy.

This interview was originally scheduled to appear as a podcast episode on the blog, but Claudio has a great body language and we have great fun talking so I decided to make it a YouTube video instead.

0:00 Why Learning with Texts did not work for me
1:00 How Bliu Bliu works
2:52 Bliu Bliu inspiration (fun!)
4:22 How to go from Idea to Business
6:55 What kind of engine we are working on
9:35 Machine Learning – Bliu Bliu improves based on how people use it
10:45 Less academic, more real
11:30 What is your level: the same problem if you learn a language or you dance
15:30 Polyglot Gathering (fun!)
16:40 Why polyglots are different (fun!!) being social to the next level
18:30 Introvert – Extrovert
20:30 My first time with English
21:00 Friends on DVD…and magically I could speak English
21:30 Finland experience (fun!)
22:10 While I was studying Finnish…I improved my English
23:15 My father, inspiring me with languages.
24:00 Lithuanian experience
25:30 Lithuanian sounds like Russian
26:50 New languages coming soon…Russian and German
28:40 Would you marry me?
32:20 Confidence – the italian way to learn languages
33:30 Problem: Talent vs Effort
35:00 Variables in the real life
35:40 If you feel stupid you won’t learn a language
37:00 Perfectionists
38:00 Failing…it’s part of the learning
39:00 Find your comfort zone
39:40 Stephen Krashen
41:30 Talking about the Blog
42:00 Language Parents

How to Focus

Learning languages is challenging.
One of the reasons why people drop out is that they cannot find the time to study.
We are all very busy and it’s challenging to find the time to do the things we love.
This is why it’s important to learn few simple techniques to manage yourself, not the time.

Here is Claudio’s lecture at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin. We were invited to share magical tips on how to focus and finding the time to do anything you want. And if you are here, we know you want to learn languages!

The slides of the presentation

Interview with John Fotheringham from Language Mastery

Today we are honoured to feature in our blog John Fotheringham from Language Mastery. A very inspired person in the language learning community.
Absolutely visit his blog at L2mastery.com (or jump directly to one of our favorite article 33 Life Lessons Learned Living, Learning & Working Abroad for 10 Years

Here is John’s interview

John Fotheringham

Who are you and where have you lived in the last 12 months

I am from Seattle but lived in LA the past 2 years, helping take care of my nephew (my brother jokingly referred to me as a “bro pair” or “manny”). Prior to that, I lived most of the past decade in Japan, Bangladesh, and Taiwan. I just moved back to Seattle in early July.

What languages do you speak?

Japanese and Mandarin. I recently started learning Spanish.

Languages are just a hobby or you make money out of them?

Languages are mostly a hobby for me, but I have done a number of jobs directly related to language learning/teaching in the past, including teaching, teacher training, translation, and consulting. Currently, most of the language related stuff I do is free (blogging, podcasting, etc.) but I do sell some language learning guides through my site to help independent adult learners (Master Japanese & Master Mandarin).

John Fotheringham Collage

Tell us something about your First Time.

Blush… My first time being intimate with a woman or my first time speaking a foreign language? I’ll keep this Rated G and answer the second question. My first real exposure to foreign languages was when I did a short home stay in Brazil at age 12. There was a tight connection in Rio de Janeiro en route to São Paulo, and being an unaccompanied minor, a flight attendant had to guide me between planes. I ended up paired with a breathtakingly beautiful flight attendant, who was literally dragging me down the walkway at top speed to make the next flight in time. She went on and on in Portuguese, I can only assume venting her frustrations about having to look after me, until I finally said in English, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Portuguese.” She looked down at me in disgust and said, “Yah… Obviously.” Ouch! I vowed never again to visit a country without learning to speak at least some of the language.

Any terrible experience? Like a language you could not learn and you gave up…

I almost gave up Japanese a few times given how painful and ineffective the traditional academic approach tends to be. Luckily, my first Japanese teacher (and eventual lifelong friend) was so passionate about languages that I got hooked. When I moved onto more advanced levels of study (and interestingly, far worse teachers), I had enough internal drive and confidence to continue on, often learning on my own by speaking with exchange students out in the central square at my university instead of attending classes.

What about an “easy” experience

Having already learned to read and write Japanese, I really enjoyed the head start I had in Mandarin when moving to Taiwan. Grammatically and phonetically the language is extremely different of course, but at least I could already guess my way through a lot of written materials.

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Why languages and not…..

My favorite quote on why to learn is from Frank Smith:

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.”

Do you have a mentor? Does anybody inspire you?

Not officially, no, but lots of people inspire me. My parents. My siblings. A number of bloggers, authors, and entrepreneurs, including Mike McIntyre (author of The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless Across America), Chris Guillebeau, Tim Ferriss, Benny Lewis, the guys over at Fizzle (Corbett Barr, Chase Reeves & Caleb Wojcik), and too many more to name.

Do you have a secret weapon to learn languages?

The expert ability to make a fool of myself! You have to make mistakes in language learning, but most adults are so terrified of not understanding others or being misunderstood themselves, that they never put themselves in situations where they will actually make progress.

Another secret weapon may be my ability to imitate accents and do impersonations. Even if I am new to a language and have a tiny vocabulary and shaky grammar, I can usually pronounce things pretty well.

But I think that everyone has their own unique secret weapons that can be deployed in language learning. There are multiple kinds of intelligence, but traditional academic approaches only focus on linguistic smarts (an area I am actually pretty weak in compared with my other brands of intelligence). Figure out what you’re best at, what excites you most, and approach languages from there. Maybe it’s singing. Maybe it’s dancing. Maybe it’s reading. Maybe it’s learning a martial art. Whatever it is, don’t fall back on the tired cop-out, “I’m just not good at languages.” Yes, you may indeed be bad at learning languages in an academic environment, but I don’t believe that you couldn’t learn in a way that better fits how your brain works.

Can you share with us your language learning routine?

It varies year to year, month to month, week to week, day to day, and language to language, but right now it looks like this:

  • Wake up with the sunrise.
  • Take a walk while listening to foreign language podcasts.
  • Look up new words & structures that come up during the podcast.
  • Study this new vocabulary (and previously studied words) using spaced repetition.
  • Read for an hour.
  • Try to find someone to practice the language with (whether on iTalki, at a local meetup, or even strangers). I am always amazed where I end up finding native speakers. I was walking back down from the top of Lassen Peak last month in Lassen Volcanic National Park and came upon a young Chinese couple walking up the mountain. The guy was wearing a shirt that said 壞人 (which means “bad guy” in Mandarin), so instead of just saying hello, I jokingly asked him in Mandarin if he really was a bad guy. He was quite shocked to encounter a white dude on the side of a volcano who could speak his language and we had a nice little chat.
  • Review my flashcards throughout the day when “hidden moments” (hat tip to Barry Farber) arise such as waiting in line for my coffee, waiting for the crosswalk, etc.

Do you try to read/watch content at your level? Is it easy to find?

Actually, it’s best to find content that is just above one’s level (what Krashen would refer to as i + 1). It’s impossible of course to always find the perfect material at the perfect level, so I just try to make the most of whatever I have at hand. I am a recovering perfectionist and look back with regret on all the learning opportunities I missed when thinking, “Oh, this podcast/radio program/TV show is too easy, I’ll wait until I get home to use the right material.”

Have you already used Bliu Bliu? :)

I must admit that I have not. I have it on my list of sites to review and hope to do a write up at some point on Language Mastery.

Your final words: share anything you want with our passionate community of language lovers.

Learning foreign languages may not be easy, but it’s certainly not complicated. All you have to do is “show up” and give your brain the exposure and practice it needs to make sense of the new sounds, patterns, and symbols. Do this enough times in meaningful contexts, and your brain will automatically perform its amazing evolutionary feat: building the robust procedural memories that enable you to understand and produce human language on the fly, at the speed of electricity. The hard part is not the language itself but the motivation, discipline, tolerance for ambiguity, and willingness to make mistakes that learning a language requires.

The key to building motivation and sticking with the long-term process is having fun with the language and developing a deep love for the culture, its people, history, etc. Interact with real people, not just tutors and podcast hosts. Travel in the language. Learn to dance, cook, or do a martial art in the language. Don’t learn just to pass tests or get a promotion at work. Such extraneous goals don’t provide much motivation and don’t usually lead functional skills in the language anyway.

Connect with John

John recently deleted his Facebook account so you find him at his blog at
l2mastery.com