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.

IMG_1758

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