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 (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.

L2 Logo _ Banner

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

Gabija Rasiukevičiūtė – Sport will teach you a language

Today we share from Gabija Rasiukevičiūtė’s story about learning languages.
Gabija is Lithuanian, 20 years old and a professional athletes.

She speaks Lithuanian, English and Russian. She studied Russian at school but could not speak. After starting to work in a shop for sport equipment she slowly started to use the language and now she is getting better and better.
First day at work she was escaping from Russian customers but now she is not scared anymore, from body language she moved to conversation, getting better everyday.

The unsuccessful story of Spanish Language

For 2 years she studied Spanish at school, 2 hours/week.
Now, after 2 years, she can’t say much. She might know the rules but she never managed to use the language.

If you speak spanish go to Gabija shop and help her practicing.

The lesson

The lesson is clear: no matter how long you study you will never be ready to speak the language. If your goal is to be able to communicate, speak and understand, then as soon as you get some basic word and phrase, jump into the real world and create situations where you have to use the language. Not just in an artificial way, but in real day by day situation, as Gabija’s example with the Russian customers.

Interview with Dani – I Simply Love Languages

Today we have another polyglot’s story: Dani from Austria. We met Dani at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin.
Check her out at
Dani-Sw Kopie

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

My name is Dani and I live in the Western part of Austria. This is also the
region where I come from.

Can you tell us something about your First Time (Comment Dani: I assume
first time language learning?!?!).

At the age of 10 I started learning English in school. I found it so
incredibly interesting that different languages exist and that they all
sound differently
. Since then I’ve been fascinated by languages and over the
years I tried to learn as many as possible.

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

I don’t remember a specific terrible experience but I remember that
especially in my first years of intensive language learning I was often very
disappointed when I realized that I couldn’t express something I was sure I
could say in a foreign language or when I couldn’t understand a native

There is one language that I gave up: Latin. I had to study Latin because my
studies at university required an exam. So I spent one summer to prepare for
this exam. At the beginning I was quite motivated and I really wanted to
“learn” the language and not only prepare for this exam. But in the end I
realized that I don’t like it very much and I gave it up after passing the
exam. Although it was a deliberate decision to give up Latin, I was a little
bit disappointed because “giving up”, for whatever reason, is always a bit
Claudio and Dani - Bliu Bliu simply loves languages

Why you are passionate about languages and not wine tasting?

To be honest, I don’t know exactly why I’m passionate about languages. I’ve
thought a lot about it and eventually I came to the conclusion that I simply
love languages
. But I definitely know why I’m not passionate about wine
tasting: for me every wine tastes the same and the only distinction I can
make is between red, white and rosé wine. So basically I don’t know anything
about wine and wine tasting but recently my passion for languages forced me
to learn more about it. At university we had to translate a text about wine
from German into Russian. I couldn’t understand the German terms used the
text although it’s my native language… So I was forced to do some research
and it turned out that wine is a very diverse in some way an interesting
topic. This showed me that language is the essence of every part of our life
and I guess this is only one reason why they are so fascinating.

Can you tell us your secret weapon to learn languages.

As simple as it sounds: motivation, commitment and practise

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

When I start to learn a new language I always create a folder that is
dedicated to this language
. Very important: it has to labelled with a flag
of this language. Before I don’t have this folder in hand, I don’t consider
a language as “my” language.

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

I read more than I watch TV/news etc. I find that reading helps me best in
improving my language skills and try to start reading as early as I can
Recently, I also discovered that I like to listen to podcasts. For me it’s
very difficult to find suitable material and I often rely on recommendations
of other learners or native speakers. When I found a platform/channel etc. I
usually stick to it for a longer time. So I prefer material that offers lots
of different texts, podcasts episodes etc.

Did you ever try to use Bliu Bliu? :)

Yes, I started using it recently for Polish. What I really like is the
concept of deciding whether you know a word or not. It forces you to think a
bit more carefully about a text and I’m sure this boosts the memorization

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

Whatever our goals in language learning are, we should also give ourselves
the time to have fun and simply enjoy our passion!

Connect with Dani

Is it hard to learn Russian?

After 1 month of studying it, what do I think about learning Russian language?
This is a video of me talking in Russian with Katia and Nastya, two native russian girls, after 32 days of studying the language.

The Incredible part is that…

The incredible part of my Journey into the Russian language is that it took only few days to be able to understand basic conversation, being able to partecipate and talk with people.
I am living in Vilnius where many people speak Russian, but I never made the effort to understand the language and it just sounded like background noise. Now I can understand people when they talk and I recognize lots of words. Incredible.

I understand Russians…and I can talk with them

As I said, it’s incredible how short time it takes to be able to understand a language. With the basic words in place you can start to make educated guesses and most of the time you are right. And once you understand what people are saying you can find your way into the discussion to get yourself understood.

Learning Russian Is Fun

So far the journey has been simply fun. All I do is

  • Russian Music (My all time favorite Родион Газманов: Осторожно
  • Michel Thomas cds
  • Memrise to get vocabularies
  • Bliu Bliu to get exposure to content I can understand
  • Watching Friends in Russian (Season 8 Episode 4, The One With the Videotape!)

Сериал Друзья 8 сезон 4 серия - смотреть онлайн
I am getting so many new vocabularies form Friends. I know almost every episode by heart so when I listen to them in Russian I know already what they will say.

And maybe it’s fun because I am not studying the grammar!

Is Russian Grammar Hard to Learn?

I have no idea. I hear from everybody that Russian grammar is simply impossible.
So I decided to entirely skip the grammar. People are worried that if they don’t study the grammar they won’t be able to speak correctly and according to these believes, my Russian should be really broken…but I don’t think I am making a lot of mistakes on these videos, at least no more that I would make after studying the grammar.

I am trying to understand the essence of the language. When I speak I try to feel if it sounds right or not, without thinking of any rule (as I don’t really know any rule).

I can read Russian

I am not very good at reading yet but after a month I can read it 60/70%. I am learning how to read simply by listening to the audio version of many texts and connecting sounds with words or phrases.

I can’t write in Russian

I made the decision not to learn how to write in Russian. I can write my name and few other words but nothing more. I want to become really good at speaking and reading first, after that I will start focusing on writing. At this stage it’s too early and too painful.

The Road to Mastery

My videos kinda look all the same, I am saying the same things all over again. But even if consciously I don’t have the feeling I am progressing very fast, as the first days, I know that subconsciously my brain is absorbing Russian and making new connections in my brain. Plateau are normal when you are acquiring a new skills. I read GEORGE LEONARD’S BOOK “MASTERY” and I love what another reader has to say about it:


One of the most valuable realizations that came from the book is learning to love the plateau. You will spend most of your journey toward mastery plateaued.


I wish my level would be better but for the amount of effort I have been putting, in just a month, I am surprised of the results. Next week I will move to Berlin and I am looking for Natives to talk with. I also decided to wake up earlier in the morning and work for 30 minutes every day on acquiring more words.

Learning Russian it’s fun!!

Interview with Olly Richards – I Will Teach You A Language

Today we have a guest on our blog: Olly Richards. We met Olly at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin and we had an interesting conversation about learning languages.
Olly runs the website Check out his story.

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

I’m Olly, 33, from the UK. I’m living in Doha, Qatar at the moment, where I’ve been for 18 months. However, I’m getting ready to move to Cairo in September, which is really exciting. I’m getting ready to start learning Arabic next month, which will certainly be a big challenge!

Can you tell us something about your First Time.

My first time was in Paris, the city of love! ☺ I was 19 years old, and I had just taken a year out of university. I couldn’t speak any other languages besides English, but I had the travel bug. My ex-girlfriend had told me all about the gap-year she’d spent in Paris, so I thought I’d go there too and see what happened.
I bought a one-way ticket on the Eurostar and turned up in Paris one rainy November morning. I remember it was cold and wet. I found a place to stay, but needed to find a job. The owner of the place I was staying put me in touch with the owner of a youth hostel in the Montmartre, saying that they needed a receptionist.
I jumped at the chance, went for an interview, and only when I got there realised that the interview was probably going to be in French.
It was.

Believe it or not, I fudged my way through it by nodding a lot and occasionally saying “oui, je comprend!” For some reason unknown to me, the guy gave me the job. I was now settled in Paris.
I was working the night shift in the hostel, which was nice and quiet. I used the time to study French as much as possible. Customers would come in and ask things, the phone would ring, sometimes the boss would drop in.

My French began to improve quite rapidly.
What I learnt from that experience was that if you can create the right situation for yourself, you can learn a language very quickly indeed. Our brains are capable of great things – we just have to provide the conditions for learning to happen.

Olly Hokkaido

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

My biggest regret in language learning is that I’ve let my Italian slip. I used to speak it very well, and spent some time in Italy, but these days can’t say very much at all.
There are two reasons that this happened.
Firstly, after leaving Italy and going back to London I didn’t make any effort to keep up my Italian.
Secondly, and this is related to the first point, I began learning Spanish at the same time as I arrived in London. As you know, Spanish and Italian are so similar, that unless you really try hard to use both languages on an ongoing basis, it’s inevitable that you will lose one of them.
And that’s what happened to me.
Lesson learnt – you have to keep it up!

Tell us about an “easy” experience

Spanish, after having already learnt French and Italian, was comparatively easy. There are so many similarities between the languages that you don’t have to learn a whole lot from scratch (as I later did with Asian languages, for example). Once you learn things like common noun and verb endings in Spanish, it’s quite easy to transfer knowledge over from other romance languages.

Olly Richards

Why languages and not…..

At the root of it all, I think, is that I’m a people-person. I love connecting with people and learning about other cultures. Language learning has simply been the logical consequence of that. That’s not to say it just happens easily, but that passion has led me to seek out people to spend time with and be around, and in those conditions languages are much easier to learn.

Can you tell us your secret weapon to learn languages.

I really can’t point to one thing, but rather a set of principles that combine well together to make language learning easier.
Those, in short are:

  • Be clear about what makes you passionate about the language – cinema, people, books, music… whatever. This is what will keep you going when motivation slips.
  • Speak with native speakers regularly, ideally in a language exchange or with an informal tutor. You don’t need a teacher. People often overlook this step, but I think it’s a crucial step in developing your own persona in the language, as I mentioned in this Japanese video: 

  • Read and listen to texts at the same time, ideally texts which are slightly above your current level
  • Have a system for capturing vocabulary and revising it (spaced-repetition flashcards work for me). Don’t just nod your head and smile when you learn a new word – capture it somehow or it will be lost.
  • Have a simple routine that you keep to everyday, however small

Do these things well, and I defy you not to improve!

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

No. I’m kind of middle-of-the-road. I spend a lot of time speaking with people and using my SRS app (Spaced Repetition System)

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

It depends on the language. I often lose patience looking for content that both appeals to me and is also at the right level. Good content is easier to find in certain languages than others, often because of script problems. Cantonese, for example, is a spoken language, so finding written content is extremely hard. Japanese kanji is very difficult to read without the phonetic script (furigana) to help you, but hardly any authentic content has that, except for the occasional word that even native speakers don’t know. Technology is advancing all the time, though, and I think the landscape will look very different 5 years from now. Exciting times!

yakimochi shop

Did you ever try to use Bliu Bliu?

Bliu Bliu is one of the most exciting websites I’ve seen for a long time. Right now, because of the languages I’m studying (Cantonese and Egyptian Arabic), it’s not a great match for me (nothing is!!), but when I come to work on my other languages I will certainly be stopping by!

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

I mentioned earlier that I’m starting to learn Egyptian Arabic. On my website I will be documenting the entire process with videos and blog posts, showing you exactly how I go about learning, right from the start. If you think this would be useful for you, I’d love to have you follow along! Just head over to the site at and sign up – I’ll send you all the updates.

Where to find Olly Richards


Vaida Žūsinaitė about Languages

Today we feature on our Blog the interview with Vaida Žūsinaitė.
She is a Lithuanian professional athlete, sharing with us her experience trauma related to languages.

1:20 she share her secret trauma from school: how focusing on grammar makes it really hard for shy people to practice languages.
1:50 Vaida tells that sometimes you only need 1 word to speak.
3:15 Race for Life, let’s see if Vaida can really run and jump

If you need a personal trainer you can find more about Vaida on her personal website – – and her Facebook page.

Bliu Bliu live version

Last weekend we were invited at a big festival here in Lithuania called PLJS (Meeting of World-wide Lithuanian Youth).

Bliu Bliu was invited to help people learning languages.

There are big communities of Lithuanians in the States and for all emigrants, keeping the language of their parents can be a challenge:

  • No language course available, unless you live in big cities or big communities
  • Often parents choose not to teach their native language to their children, being afraid they won’t learn english as native

During the festival we presented Bliu Bliu and our way of learning languages. People have various believes when it comes to learn languages and most of them are quite negative.

Learning a language can be fun and interesting.

During the festival we were teaching Lithuanian, Italian, English and Russian. People were quite excited to be able to have simple but interesting conversations…after only 30 minutes

1) We started by teaching fundamental words and phrases.
2) We introduced one topic for specific vocabulary (flirt, politics, festival, sports, business)
3) We spiced things up with words, phrases and expressions to sound like a native.

The results were impressive. In 30 minutes people could improvise a conversation, get to know each other and use expressions that only natives use, making them sound really authentic.

Video from our beta testing.

It’s windy and impossible to hear…but watch our for the Panda!


Are you attending PLJS 2014?
Here is the PDF with all the words and phrases to create interesting conversations


How much Russian can you speak in 15 Days

Here a video we made about Claudio’s progress in the Russian language.


  • This was the first time we met Margarita
  • Conversation is improvised
  • Claudio is not taking any class


So far, Claudio did not formally study any Russian grammar



PS: we just found out that Margarita (маргарита) is one of our user – she is studying Spanish on Bliu Bliu. Oh Yeah!