Interview with Richard Benton from Loving Language

This week I am feauturing yet another interview with another language blogger. Richard is from the US and his blog is devouted to cultural understanding through languages and his learning experience. He even has a complete list of resources devouted to Somali.

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

I received my PhD in Hebrew and Semitic Studies, and I previously taught Ancient Hebrew, Jewish History, and Comparative Religion at various universities, both in the US and in Ukraine and Lebanon. I discuss these sorts of topics at “The Bible as Literature” podcast.

Currently, I work in IT at a global, US-based corporation. I work on finding gaps and problem-solving, which often forces me to interact with teams in multiple countries, especially China and Russia. I co-chair our company’s Employee Resource Group for Global Mindset, as well.

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


I had a friend who studied French in middle school. I thought it sounded fun, so I decided to do the same. Then, over the summer, I took an intensive Latin class. The following summer, I took an intensive German class. That German class hooked me. (I blogged about that class at “On pronunciation and memorization: A eulogy for Dr. Thomas Coates.”)

My mom always loved interacting with other cultures, which got me interested. As a natural introvert, she wasn’t so great with languages, but she was always trying. I remember listening to her language tapes when she drove me around in the van. She traveled a lot, and passed on her Wanderlust. Back in the 1960s, she traveled through Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe, and the Middle East. As a family, we traveled to Switzerland, France, and UK, and she visited me in Kiev and Marrakech when I was living in each. Even now at 70 years old, she just got back a couple weeks ago from Chile, Easter Island, Argentina, and Tierra del Fuego. She put into my genes the desire to learn about other cultures, people, and places.


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

Too much so, maybe! My family traveled to Europe when I was in high school, after I had learned some French and a little German. My mom would send me to the train conductor to figure out if we were on the right train, and would have me order at the restaurants in France. Honestly, I hated it! When she heard languages being spoke, she would say, “Rich, go talk to them!”

My grandfather would get some new electronic gadget, where the instructions were in multiple languages. He would send the instructions to me in the mail.

My father was hoping I would get a job in international law or something, so I could make some decent money off of my languages.

Now my wife is very understanding of me. When I hear another language, I’m totally tuned in. If we’re eating in a restaurant, and she sees that “look” in my eyes, she smiles and stops talking, knowing that I’m not really hearing her any more. She is very patient with my love of languages.

My kids get embarrassed when I talk so much to strangers when we go out. At the same time, one asked if I might come speak to one of her classes.

But now it’s my turn. As a father, I try to impress the importance of languages on my children and their friends. I convinced them that we should have an exchange student this year, and we’re loving it!

I came across your latest piece about the reality of knowing and speaking foreign languages in the US, which was quite shocking and inspiring. How has been the reaction of other US citizens?

Most US citizens get nervous hearing another language being spoken. Some get indignant when they are asked on the phone, “Press 1 to continue in English.” Many immigrants train themselves to keep their voices low when speaking another language in public. Physical attacks are very rare, but the tension is common.

As native English speakers, I feel that we have a duty to cut this tension. We can learn their language. Let them have a break while I take the stigma for sounding weird onto myself!

Have you ever faced a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?

When I lived in Morocco, the family I lived with would often make jokes about me. It wasn’t personal; Moroccans are always teasing each other. I was so frustrated, though, that I couldn’t figure out exactly what they were saying or how to respond. I think I ended up yelling at them about it at least one time.

In reality, I was frustrated with myself, not with them. I overcame the problem by learning patience, that you can’t learn languages quickly. You only learn languages through perseverance.

What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you
practice them? What are your techniques for that/those language(s)?

I’m focusing on learning Somali now. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St Paul contains around 50,000-70,000 Somalis, so you can hear the language all over. I mostly memorize words, and then go to a Somali café for a tea and sambusa for breakfast when I get the opportunity. When I get to the Somali parts of town I usually look for strangers who don’t appear busy and ask them questions. I write down what I learn, and then try to memorize it. I also listen to a Somali-language Australian SBS radio podcast.

I speak a little Amharic and a little Oromo, and I try to learn new words now and then when I run into speakers. I work with a native Amharic speaker, and he teaches me phrases from time to time.

At work I started a Spanish and a German table. We get together over lunch and practice our languages.

I started listening to Russian and German podcasts, just to keep my ear active. When I meet over video with my colleague in Russia, we conduct our meetings in Russian.

Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you won’t be able to study?

I can’t imagine what that would be. I didn’t know what Oromo was, and then a couple years ago I ended up studying it because I found a class on Saturday mornings. I love all languages, but I’m loving more the languages around me. And then I find out that there are way more languages around me that I thought. What will be my next Oromo?

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

I’ve accidentally sworn in multiple languages. When I was an exchange student in France, the teacher once asked if the class wanted to take the exam on the day planned or the following week. I said, “I don’t care,” and the class exploded in laughter. Even the teacher was unsuccessfully holding in chuckles. My friend turned to me and said, “You should say, ‘Ça m’est égal.’” This literally means, “It’s all the same to me.” I had said, “Je m’en fous,” which means roughly, “I don’t give a fuck.” The phrase is used commonly—but not in the classroom!

I learned that I better be ready to laugh at myself if I’m going to learn languages. Learning a language, I speak like a child, so I better be ready to sound like a child! It also taught me a little of the feelings that immigrants around me experience every day, so I learned some sympathy.

Interview with Chiara from Runaway Daydreamer

For today, I’m featuring an interview with a language blogger from Italy, Chiara. She runs the blog Runaway Daydreamer (beautiful and inspiring name) and she dedicates herself to write about culture, traveling and languages. What I like about her blogs is that she is quite honest about her language journey and she is more than willing to share her ups and downs with us.

Without further ado, here are her answers!

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

My name is Chiara Grandola and I’m a runaway daydreamer, as my blog claims.
I’m currently studying for a bachelor’s degree in Theatre, Performing Arts, Film and Technologies at “La Sapienza” University of Rome. I am an entertainment girl at heart. I thoroughly enjoy all forms of artistic expression and communication, with languages being one of them.
How did you become involved with languages? Did anyone motivate you?

I was born and raised in Italy but I feel like a citizen of the world and that’s why I’m fond on learning languages. I love connecting with people and learning from them. It’s one of the most rewarding experience ever and it enriches you in ways you cannot possible imagine.
Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?

Absolutely! I grew up in a monolingual environment but my family has always been supportive of my passion for languages.

How did you start your journey with blogging about languages?

I was inspired by Melissa Muldoon’s journey. Melissa has a contagious enthusiasm for all things Italian – from the language to the culture, food and so on. Her blog, Studentessa Matta, inspired me to join the blogosphere and create my own blogging adventure. Grazie Melissa!
Have you ever faced a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?

Oh my! It happens all the time. I’m actually facing a hard moment right now so… perfect timing!
I always struggle to keep myself motivated and that’s why I write a language journal (http://runawaydaydreamer.com/language-journal/) that reminds me of my progress over time.

The best advice I can give you is to slow down when you feel overwhelmed. Take a break if you need to. Redefine your goals. Remind yourself why you started in the first place. Be patient. You won’t fail if you won’t give up.

What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your techniques for that/those language(s)?

I’m mostly focused on French but I’m also trying to learn some Japanese.

I try to get as much exposure to the language as possible. The first thing I do is listening regularly to get used to the flow of the language. I love music so I make sure to fill my iPod with every kind of foreign songs. Then, I do my best to interact with the language on a daily basis, by developing habits, such as watching a foreign movie every week, reviewing new vocabulary every day and so on. Using a variety of resources is what works best for me.


Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you won’t be able to study?

Hmmm. Interesting question. I would say that I only learn languages that I can use in my everyday life.

I’m fascinated by Breton, but I don’t think that I’d make an effort to study it because there aren’t many resources and opportunities to use it and I have other priorities. That said, I don’t want to say “never”. I might change my mind in the future. Who knows…


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

My favorite experience was on a recent trip to Marseille, France. I was approached by a French guy while admiring the view on the top of the “Château d’If”. He told me that he was about to propose to his long-time girlfriend and he asked me if I could capture the moment by taking some photos of him kneeled down on his knees! I cobbled together enough French to help him and then wish them both “félicitations”. Thank God his girlfriend said “oui” or it would’ve been an awkward situation!

 

Grazie mille Chiara 🙂

End of year poll and contest

Would you like to win a book about Chilean Spanish?

Since this year has been quite special for me, I have decided to do a giveaway. I will give away 2 books about Chilean Spanish (How to survive in the Chilean jungle? 2 and Speaking Chileno).

All you have to do is fill out some questions about the blog that will help me deliver you better contents during 2016 and you’re in.

Winners will be announced on December 18th via the blog, e-mail and the Facebook page.

You can fill out the poll directly here or via this website.

How to learn a language from scratch and keep yourself motivated? (aka my Hungarian Journey)

This has been something going around my mind that lately, but now I have got it out of my mind and I feel ready to share it and talk about some methods that may help you in any language you are interested in.

So, since practically the first week of November, I started to learn Hungarian. On my own.

Choosing the right notebook can help you have fun learning a language :)
Choosing the right notebook can help you have fun while learning a language 🙂

What is my purpose from this? Be able to hold small talk and probably feel comfortable with talking or writing about my interests and so in Hungarian. It won’t be an easy thing, considering that Hungarian grammar is very different from the languages I’ve learned or I am acquainted with. Also, Hungarian doesn’t use as much loan words from other languages as you may think. The word for History? Történelem (and all I can think of is cake with it 😛 ). All of that might sound disencouraging… considering also that I live far away from native speakers or chances to practice it in real life. Yet, there are several steps I have taken in order to have an effective, motivated and interesting learning experience with all of those obstacles that seem hard to fight with.

  • MOTIVATION: If we can compare language learning to a machine, motivation is the energy or fuel that keeps it alive. It may come in different shapes or inputs, but it should be the main thing that keeps your engine running. Otherwise, you won’t be able to keep it up with as much as you can. With Hungarian, my motivation came in the shape of literature, music, history and of course, being acquainted with other learners (either in Hungary or online) that have showed me that it is possible to learn it, that it is an interesting language. They can be really helpful if you want to look for advice, keeping up with your motivation or sharing materials and techniques to be more acquainted with it.
  • WHAT KIND OF LEARNER ARE YOU?: This is also an important step to tackle when you learn a language. Are you a visual learner? Do you learn by listening? Do you prefer a classroom-like environment? Do you prefer to simply start using the language right away? It all depends on you and how well you know yourself.  Also, be aware if you are a procrastinator. Maybe, self learning won’t be effective if you tend to lose the focus of your attention every now and then, or so. I rediscovered that I am a learner that likes to create his own material. I have a small notebook in which I write down new phrases, vocabulary and so… since by the simple act of writing them and paying full attention to that act of writing, I feel like I learn it by heart. Also, I like writing down lyrics of songs and lately, I have met tandem partners who are native Hungarian speakers that have taught me new words and are willing to help me in my journey. Sure, I am not in the stage in which I can speak to my tandem partner in Hungarian or so, but for example it is perfectly okay to talk about your life or so with your tandem partner and ask them to teach you at least 2-3 daily words and how to use them effectively. It works for me. Not only I practice my language, but I also get to know the daily life, customs and other interesting cultural things about my target language.
  • MATERIALS: It is an important thing to use materials in any kind of learning situation. A simple Internet search might help you look for materials both in legal and “non legal” means (my advice would be, if you have the money available for good material, please BUY IT! If you are in a vulnerable situation financially or so, well… you know what to do! 😉 ). Also, you can create your own material for learning, suited to your needs and interests. Instead of cliché phrases with references might not get or sound too boring, you can ask an educated native speaker or an experienced learner to introduce things with music, films or even your casual conversations about topics. In this situation, media consumption ALWAYS HELPS: news portals, articles, music radios, television, films, you name it! Anything from the topic that might interest you would be a really good sign. I often play Hungarian radio while working or resting at home. I might not get most of the things they talk about, but it helps you to be acquainted with intonation, new artists and music bands (and with the help of Shazam, discover new artists!) and of course… associate certain words to the right pronounciation.

There are plenty of places to contact fellow learners and educated native speakers of your target language: Facebook groups, Tandem sites and apps (like Hellotalk), you name it. One thing you must keep always in mind is

MOTIVATION.

Be creative with it. If your motivation is literature, get acquainted with the literary scene 🙂 if it is the people, be acquainted with them! Yet, with no actual motivation, you won’t get far. The goal is turning that motivation into a PASSION. A passion that it won’t wear out despite obstacles and adversities (more or less, that happens to me with Polish, which I will continue learning it no matter what, and it is still my priority 1 and 2!).

Have you tried learning a language from scratch and basically on your own? How was the result? Have you felt passion for a language? Share your experience in the comments!

Interview with Vladimir Skultety from Forever a Student

Today I have the pleasure to feature my interview to Vladimir Skultety from Slovakia. Many of you know of him because of this video:

Thing is, after this interview I became highly surprised and I find him as a true inspiration. As someone highly interested in breaking down barriers and fighting the fear of the unknown, he has become someone I look up to due to his interest and persistance to learn a certain language, as you would see.

So, without further ado…

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Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your main occupation?
My name is Vladimir Skultety, I have a Master’s degree in International relations and diplomacy, a Bachelor’s in Chinese studies and work as an interpreter of English, Slovak and Mandarin Chinese. I also give lectures about language learning and Chinese and have a youtube channel and a blog related to language learning.
How did you become involved with languages? Did anyone motivate you?
I grew up speaking several languages as a child and continued learning as I grew older.
Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?
Yes, my family has been very supportive. Even though I’m Slovak, my mom has decided to put me into a Hungarian kindergarten so that I would learn Hungarian and later sent me to her sister in the USA and her cousins in Austria to learn English and German, while I was still very young. My grandmother’s sister gave me French lessons every Friday after school.
How did you start your journey with Chinese?
When I was studying at the International relations department, some professors said that it would be a good idea to learn this language as not a lot of people in the diplomatic corps spoke it.
It really called my attention that your blog is named “Forever a student” (an inspiring phrase, I must say). How did you come up with it?
It has two meanings actually. The first one is, that I love learning new things and I’m always interested and curious and I hope I can stay like this forever. The other funny meaning is, that in Slovakia, when someone is in college for too long, or studies too many degrees like I have is often called an ‘eternal student’ which is a funny name for someone who avoids work buy staying in school.
Have you ever faced a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?
Many times. Especially with Mandarin Chinese. I faced moments like this more times than I can remember. I would take a break and wait for motivation to come back naturally and then fully concentrate on my studies again.
What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your techniques for that/those language(s)?
I’m not learning any languages, only trying to ‘stay fit’ in the languages I speak, especially Italian and Hungarian. I try to make learning as natural and stress-free as possible, so I only do that what is fun and relaxing. I usually call my friends and we chat for hours.
Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you won’t be able to study?
No, not really. I mostly study languages for very practical reasons. It’s usually for work of because I will travel, live or study in the country where the language is spoken.
Can you tell me a short, positive and funny anecdote about your language learning history?
I had a very nice experience in Hungary recently. The relations between Hungary and Slovakia are unfortunately complicated, often with a lot of emotions on both sides. I am Slovak but speak fluent Hungarian, which is not very usual and I made a video in which I spoke Hungarian and it was very well received in Hungary. The video managed to get to many newspapers and TV news reports and I think even some politicians and TV personalities talked about it. I received a lot of emails and comments from Hungary saying that it was very nice to see a Slovak person learn Hungarian so well. One comment that I thought stood out was, that ‘one young Slovak man speaking Hungarian did more for the Slovak-Hungarian relations than all Slovak and Hungarian politicians together in the past 20 years’ and even though some might say it’s nothing special for me personally it honestly was one of the greatest successes of my life.
Thank you so much Vladimir for this nice interview!