[Video] Your own language learning method

I got inspired to make, yet another, video on YouTube about creating your own language learning method. These are guidelines you can use when you reach an intermediate level and take things to the next level.

Remember, learning on your own does not mean you are learning alone.

Share your experience and feedback on the comments

My life story as Polyglot: Guest post by Dimitris Polychronopoulos

Today I’m feauturing a guest post by Dimitris Polychronopoulos, a Greek man with an interesting life story regarding languages and his experiences with learning different ones, especially with French. I must say that Dimitris’s story is quite similar to mine, though there are some differences that you may see later.

If you would like to be a guest writer on Linguablog.org, please contact me.

My life story as a Polyglot

I’m Dimitris Polychronopoulos. I’m a citizen of both Greece and USA. My mother is a monolingual English-speaker and my father is bilingual Greek and English speaker. As a child growing up in the US, I had a basic knowledge of Greek and took Greek lessons at the Greek Orthodox church. I could read and write Greek at a basic level from an early age but I didn’t get the push to really move it along until later, even though deep inside I knew someday I would live in Greece. However it wasn’t until after my second visit to Greece in my 20’s that I became proficient in the Greek language and I became determined to live there, which I did from March 2000 until 2009. Getting better at my heritage language, Greek came as a roundabout way that I’ll explain here.

When I was a child, my favorite book was the World Atlas. I would look at the different maps and dream of traveling to the many different countries I saw as I looked through the pages. Then I started thinking about how it would be important to learn different languages in order to help communicate during the travels. I wrote a list of all the countries I wished to visit and all the languages I wanted to learn. My family thought I was crazy. That didn’t stop me from carrying out my plans though. Years have gone by and now I’ve visited more than 100 countries on all seven continents, have lived in seven different countries, have sojourned in an additional eight countries and have studied more than 15 languages — some of which I am proficient in and some of which I can survive in and some of which I’m somewhere in between.

The above example shows how at an early age, I showed curiosity and wasn’t deterred by any of the skepticism of those around me to carry through with my plans. As an adult, it happens that I took the ‘Big Five’ personality test, where I scored high on ‘Openness’, which means being intellectually curious, appreciating beauty and the arts, being in touch with ones’ feelings, and looking for adventure.

It wouldn’t surprise me if some people who do poorly at languages are dragged down by their lack of openness. The other parts of the ‘Big Five’ personality test are: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, and neuroticism.

Another factor I scored high in is conscientiousness. This seems to be an important factor as well because a person with a high level of conscientiousness will take the time to study grammar rules, focus on correct pronunciation, and build up a vocabulary.

There is more to being successful at language learning than just personality. Other things factor in as well, such as confidence, motivation, effective methods and the ability to overcome challenges.

Looking back at high school, the first two years of French were not successful. We had to take exams where we conjugated verbs and I even tried writing down verb endings on a tiny ‘cheat sheet’ for one of the exams. The teacher noticed the ‘cheat sheet’ during an exam and confiscated it.

However, by the third year of French, I was the only student in French class who could actually hold a conversation in French and the first one ever in my high school to pass the Advanced Placement French exam. What happened? Where did the change come from?

There were two things that really made a difference. First, my parents took me to French Polynesia and I was able to experience the language in a real environment rather than in just a classroom and from a text book. This visit made me interested in getting beyond the text book. Second, two French exchange students arrived at my high school and became my best friends. In both cases, getting the taste of the language as a living form rather than a classroom task really played the biggest role in changing my attitude about learning French. The language moved beyond just a text book and meant participating in real conversations about real things and events that concerned my life, with real people. That became my motivation to learn French.

Once I had motivation, my confidence was boosted from the French teachers in high school who were married to French spouses and they let me talk to their in-laws.  One of the teachers even invited me several times to their house to chat in French when the family would come over from France. It was completely unique for the French teachers at my high school to see a student actually becoming conversant in French so they boosted my confidence even more by showing so extra interest in me.

They say that once you feel success learning one foreign language, you build the confidence to know you can learn a second one, then a third one, and so forth. That’s how you become a polyglot and a hyperpolyglot. It seems natural that I developed my own path to learning languages despite the fact that nobody else around me was doing so. My success in French built up my confidence and I began self-study in Italian. I noted the similar structure of the language and the cognates and learned about ‘false friends’ as well. For example, Sciare is very different from Chier.  After I started to study Italian, the French joked with me about the Italian skier who was misunderstood and sent to the toilet because he used such a ‘false friend’.

Success didn’t come without sacrifices, however. I spent a lot of lunch breaks during my senior year of high school on my own studying vocabulary, grammar and reading for example. One of my favorite things was the simple versions of French literature Les Miserables that my teachers lent me.

The best news was that my friends invited me to France and that their families really appreciated my efforts in speaking French. From time to time, there were also strangers in France who also commented on it, for example one said that I spoke ‘lentement, mais correctement’. I ended up even getting a scholarship to study at the Université d’Angers for a semester. It was a great experience.

My biggest challenge in learning a language is listening. It’s my biggest weakness in all languages really. Sometimes I’m embarrassed to ask somebody to repeat something and I laugh nervously, say a non sequitur or change the subject. Sometimes I end up making a tangentially related response. I know that best thing to do is to ask the person to repeat it slowly or clearly. I have a fear that the person will switch to English or that I will lose face. This is something I always need to be aware of and need to try to improve. Self-awareness and humility are essential to overcome this problem. It is more commonly a problem around people who haven’t spent much time around me. After I get to know somebody, I’m more comfortable asking them to repeat and to let them be aware of the limitations I have in speaking their language. It’s always hardest when I’m not engaged in a one-on-one conversation with somebody. When I’m the only non-native speaker in a group of people speaking one of my target languages, the pace of speech along with any background noise can make it difficult to catch every word. In these circumstances, you just have to absorb the overall meaning and not obsess understanding with every single word or expression.

After all these years of language learning, my main advice to somebody getting started in a new language is listening to the language to learn the sound of the language. Try to determine when one word ends and another begins. Try to note different accents and tones. Get a variety of content. Sometimes you need content at your level. Go for cartoons with subtitles for example. Other times just listen to podcasts in subjects of interest to you. Check out YouTube for content.

Do not obsess about grammar. It will come through the later stages. The grammar was what was wrong with the high school French. We spent time on rote memory of conjugating verbs from the text book. Most people aren’t interested in this and they find it tedious and irrelevant. Understanding the grammar can come later. Even a little bit of exposure to the language (say 15 minutes a day) if it is done steadily, builds up and over time you make progress. For me what works best is diving right in with intensity. That’s what I did when I was first starting Mandarin as well. I was studying for four hours a day for the first four months.

Recently I’ve started a website, Yozzi.com, for advanced language learners who want to improve their writing skills. I welcome guest blogs in different languages and encourage guests not to write in their strongest language but in a different one and to also help others by posting corrections and feedback for those whose blogs are up on the site. There is also a Yozzi Language YouTube channel where I have short videos for advanced learners where I share new vocabulary words in different languages.

Wishing you the best of success with your language learning endeavours. Feel free to write comments and questions here for me to answer.

Thank you Dimitris for your time and dedication!

[Repost] Video interview given to Artem from Yaziky.com [in Spanish]

Entrevista en video para Yaziky.comVideo interview for Yaziky.com

A few weeks ago (curiously, just before taking a sick leave due to nasty flu), I gave an interview to Artem from Yaziky.com in Spanish about my language learning process and giving some general advice on languages, traveling and foreign cultures. Artem speaks fluent Spanish and he is an amazing and humble guy.

You can watch this interview on YouTube and interact with him on his blog, YouTube channel and Facebook page.


My future with Polish: hard decisions

I have not updated in a while as I have dealing with a hard decision involving my future. As of August 2016, I will be starting my Master’s in Cultural Heritage. It will be 3 semesters long, yet it will require for me to focus mostly on my studies and sadly, I will be leaving my Polish lessons behind.

my future with

One of the reasons I decided to take Polish lessons in a class setting was that I believed what people would say about Polish. That it was a hard and impossible language to master. I do think it is hard, but I refuse to believe that it is impossible to master it. I refuse to believe that it is hard and impossible because “even native speakers make mistakes” or “I have never seen a foreign person being fluent in Polish”. Also, I do have problems with keeping myself focused and a classroom setting with a private instructor would give me the enough discipline and learning certain habits that boosted my language learning (e.g., being in contact with Polish media on a daily basis, using the language outside the classroom and more). In fact, my instructor did that and more.

Now, I have a level that allows me to run simple errands with no further issues, talk about most issues and that I can manage most tenses that exist in Polish. If I were in a lower level, it would have been a real loss to stop studying Polish, but thanks to the Internet and my acquired habits, I think I can work a learning method that would allow me to keep working, studying for my master’s *and* have a life besides studies and work. Now that is the biggest challenge: How to keep up with a language you love when you have bigger responsibilities?

What I am thinking about doing is incorporate more Polish to my daily routine: more Polish media (e.g. listening to Polish radio at work or whenever I have spare time; getting a good self-teaching material and do exercises for 45 mins during the weekends/days off from work; buying 301 Polish verbs and finally, start using virtual Flashcards. Good thing that Duolingo started recently with their new project, Tinycards (as the price for the official Anki app on my mobile OS is way out of my budget), so it’d be a good idea to try it out and see how can it works for me.

I am aware that my learning process will slow down for a while. Yet, it would be a perfect opportunity to start exploring, trying and making a better use of self-teaching methods. My core knowledge of Polish is already there and it is completely up to me to strengthen it.

Have you been in a similar situation in your language learning process?

Interview with Salvatore from Nzignàmunni ‘u sicilianu (and learn Sicilian)

After my vacation in the US which was fantastic in many ways, it’s time to get back to regular posting. Today I’m honored to present an interview I had with Salvatore from the Facebook page Nzignàmunni ‘u sicilianu, a site meant to teach and revitalize the Sicilian language and consider it as a language of its own, and not a mere Italian dialect. I’m really excited to feature a piece with him and of course, feel free to be in contact with his FB page to see if you can join his Sicilian classes through the Scola Siciliana.


Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your main occupation?

My name is Salvatore Matteo Baiamonte, I’m 20 years old and I was born in Palermo, Sicily, Italy, but I live in Northern Italy, in the area of Parma. I studied at the Liceo Linguistico Gabriele D’Annunzio in Fidenza, Italy (a liceo linguistico is a high school with a five-year course in which you focus on languages). At the moment, I study Modern Civilizations and Foreign Languages at the University of Parma, Italy (the languages I’m focusing on are English and German). So, I’m a student.

How did you become involved with languages? Did anyone motivate you?

Nobody did, to be quite honest. It’s something that has always been typical of me: in Italy public schools focus a lot on teaching grammar at a good level. When I was 7, I started studying English, and I remember I always liked it. I never found any difficulty in it. When I was 11, I started studying French, and I fell in love with that too. And when I was 14, I started studying German: one more language to love. When I was even younger, I started feeling interest in one of my two first languages: Sicilian, a language that is not recognized in Italy even though it was the first language in the area of Italy that developed a literature and is currently spoken by about 5-7 million people.

Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?

I wouldn’t say supportive, I’d prefer to say that they simply agreed with my choice. When it was time for me to choose the high school I thought that could be good for me, I changed my mind. In the beginning I had the intention to attempt a liceo artistico, but thinking back on that particular historical moment: it was the worst part of the economic crisis in which we’re still going through. I thought that if the situation would worsen, I could always drop the card of foreign languages and go abroad. My parents were surprised at the beginning, but it was basically OK for them.

How have your life experiences shaped your relationship with languages?

I have always liked being connected with other cultures. The real, free and total access to a foreign culture is allowed only to a few chosen people. I have always been thirsty for knowledge, so I have always seen in language the key to open the door that leads to the understanding of a different culture. Languages have become like real friends for me, friends who have wonderful secrets and can lead me into something new and enriching.

Can you tell me more about the status of Sicilian in Italy and your personal opinion about it?

Well, as I said before, Sicilian is spoken by about 5-7 million people in Italy (but it’s also spoken all over the world, in places where huge Sicilian communities exist, i.e. in the USA). But it’s as though it doesn’t exist. In 2015 I started a petition to change one of the Italian laws: there’s an Italian law that recognizes certain minority languages, but those languages were not chosen according to linguistic criteria but according to political criteria. So Sicilian, the first language that developed a literature in the Italian area, does not officially exist. Historically speaking, Italy has always denigrated any languages other than “Standard Italian” (at least since 1861), and designated them “dialects” as a means of making one feel sub-standard for speaking them. They tried to convince people that they were wrong ways of speaking Italian, and made it very difficult for people to realize the importance of keeping ones own language alive.  About two or three years ago, I created an educational Sicilian page on Facebook, with grammar rules and so on.  I began making contacts in America with Sicilian-American communities. For these communities, keeping the language alive is sometimes very difficult. Last year I started the Scola Siciliana project, the first school that teaches Sicilian. This is my effort to help them reclaim the language of their ancestors who left Italy in route to America about a century ago.

Did you ever face a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?

When you want to study a language in a serious way, you generally go through a lot of hard moments, me too. You just have to try to do your best, and try to build some kind of relationship with it.

What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your tricks for that language?

At the moment, I’m not interested in any particular language because I am preparing for an exam I’ll have to take at the university in the coming days – the sad life of university students haha!

Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you will not be able to learn it properly?

There isn’t any language I can’t learn properly – I’m always positive about languages!

Can you tell me a short, positive anecdote about your language learning history?

I could tell you about a funny thing that happened to me and a friend of mine. We were studying German together, in particular we were reading some exercises, and in one sentence there was the word Bedeutung (that means ‘meaning’). While he was reading I stopped him to check whether he knew the meaning of that word (so to check if he had studied) and told him: “What does Bedeutung mean?”. He answered: “I don’t know”, and I told him “Meaning”. He replied again, “I told you I don’t know”.  “No! Haha! Bedeutung means meaning”, was my answer. That was fun haha!

Thank you for your time!