[Guest Post] Is it possible to live off languages? Meet Kirsty

Today I’m featuring a guest post by fellow blogger Kirsty from the UK. She runs the site English with Kirsty in which she helps English learners from around the world. Her post is about how she managed to make a career switch and live from teaching languages.

I will leave you with now with her interesting post.

How my interest in languages helped me to start my own business 

Hi! I’m Kirsty from the UK. I’m an online language teacher and I work with adults who want to improve their English.

I’ve always been interested in languages. They were my favourite subjects at school. It was like deciphering a code or finding out how the pieces of a puzzle fit together. Learning the rules meant learning which pieces would fit together. Learning new vocabulary meant that I had the right puzzle pieces for whatever ideas I was trying to communicate. I don’t know whether I liked these subjects because I was quite good at them, or I was good at them because I worked hardest on the things that I enjoyed, but I always looked forward to my French, German and English lessons. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten all my French now because I haven’t used it since my time at school, but I am still interested in English and German.

I then studied German at a higher level and I really enjoyed the language exchange that came as part of that programme. I spent two weeks with my exchange partner and her family in Germany. We had agreed to only speak English in England and German in Germany, but although I felt really nervous at times when I had to speak, particularly when I had to give a “thank-you” speech in front of the town mayor, I really enjoyed the challenge of having to express myself in another language.

What happened next?

I would have been interested in a career in languages, but the only options I saw open to me at the time were translating and interpreting. I didn’t want to do either of these things. Although it was fun interpreting for friends who otherwise would not have been able to communicate, I was also able to take part in those discussions. I knew that interpreting in the traditional sense doesn’t give you this opportunity. You are there to interpret the words of others and, while this is a worthwhile career choice and I’m sure quite rewarding, I wanted to have a voice. I do some occasional translation projects now, but it is not the main focus of my work.

I would also have been interested in a career in teaching, but I knew that I didn’t want to work in a school with children, so I gave up on the idea. It was only much later that I realised that adults also need to learn!

So, my career progressed and until three years ago I worked as a Communications Manager in national government. In many ways this was what I wanted. I wasn’t using my German, but every day I was working with the English language, helping people to communicate their message to different audiences, writing reports, newsletters, case studies, speeches, articles and web pages. But somehow I knew it wasn’t what I wanted – firstly because I wanted more one-to-one people contact and secondly because I wanted to find some way of incorporating my interest in German and language learning in general into my career.

In the meantime, I continued to learn German in my free time – reading books, communicating in German whenever I could, working in a voluntary online community and later taking another course to prove my language level, as I thought that this would be important if I applied for a job in a German company.

How I solved the problem

I started looking around to see what jobs were on offer that would allow me to use my communications manager skills and also my German, but the only bilingual jobs that I could find were in sales, and that wasn’t something that I wanted to do either. I think it’s much easier to find bilingual or multilingual jobs if you’re not living in the UK!

I had also developed an interest in Turkish. I spent time with my German and Turkish-speaking friends, helping them to learn English, while they helped me to learn their languages. I did it voluntarily and found it to be so rewarding that I started to wonder what it would be like if I could earn my living in this way.

There was only one way to find out, so I studied for online teaching qualifications in my spare time, passed them and began to build my website.

Three years later

My website today is quite different from the one that went online in 2012, but whatever big project you’re setting out on, you need to start somewhere. I now work as an English teacher, providing online training for adults who want to improve their business English. As I speak German, I do a lot of work with German-speaking customers, which gives me the opportunity to use my German every day, something that I dreamed about when I was working in my communications job.

My work isn’t limited to German speakers though. As the training takes place online, I can work with people anywhere in the world and this gives me the opportunity to communicate with some really interesting people and learn about other cultures.

How about you?

Maybe you are reading this blog because you are interested in learning languages. For some people, learning languages is a great hobby and it doesn’t need to be anything Else. Other people might like to use their second language at work, but they don’t know how.

There are so many opportunities out there – many more than the few that I thought of when I was planning my career. There are whole career fairs that are specifically for multilingual applicants. Interpreters can do a range of things, from interpreting for government ministers to working in hospitals. Translators can work on anything – from films to books to marketing materials. If that’s not for you, you can do so many other things, such as teaching, sales or marketing in international companies, providing customer services, working in the hospitality industry or any other company that either operates in a number of countries or serves an international market. If you have knowledge of a country’s language or culture, you are more likely to build relationships faster and know how best to get your message across in that language.

I’m not sorry that I gave up on my plan to work with languages at the beginning, because I gained a lot of useful experience throughout my journey as an employee. I use a lot of the lessons drawn from my work in communications as I plan my communications for my own business. I’ve also gathered a lot of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work from my own experience as a language learner. In fact, I never really gave up on the idea of working with languages – I just shelved it for a while.

Maybe there’s a way that you can incorporate language learning into your current or your dream job, without having to take a specific job in the language industry. Maybe you’re already working with languages – either in your free time or at work. It would be great to hear your story too!

Find out more or get in touch

I’d love to hear from you! If you’d like to find out more about me or to get in touch, you can visit my website:

http://englishwithkirsty.com

I also have a weekly podcast for English learners. It’s called “English with Kirsty” and you can find it on my website, on iTunes or Stitcher.

Interview with Victor and Fiestoforo from Kimeltuwe

Today I am extremely honored and proud to feature an interview with 2 fellow Chileans, Victor and Fiestoforo from Kimeltuwe, one of the most popular sites to learn Mapudungun (they have a really good Facebook page). Mapudungun is the biggest indigenous language spoken in Chile and Argentina. For a long time, its use was frowned upon (despite Chilean and Argentinean Spanish having plenty of loan words from Mapudungun), but currently, there is a revival of the language and people have managed to re-appreciate the strong input of Mapuche culture in our heritage. Despite my interests in language learning are leaned through another part of the world, I feel great admiration for those who are interested in minority languages and they deserve as much awareness and appreciation as people who learn many popular languages.

Now, let’s get to know the people and their motivation behind this wonderful project.

I would like to know more about you. Who are you and what do you do?

Mari mari! (Hello in Mapudungun). We are Kimeltuwe (place of learning), a team who wants to spread the teaching and learning of Mapudungun via Internet. We are Victor Carilaf (primary and Mapudungun school teacher) and Fiestoforo (illustrator and Mapudungun student). We have different pages on social networks named Kimeltuwe, in which we publish graphic and video material about different topics, with the purpose of teaching Mapudungun and supporting teachers for their classes. We do most of our job via the Internet, as we met each other online a couple of years ago and since 2014, we started Kimeltuwe.

How did you manage to be interested in languages, especially Mapudungun?

In Victor’s situation, he has spoken Mapudungun since his childhood at home, and he has been interested in the last years of spreading it through social media, helping those who have questions, and also doing his own translations. Fiestoforo has been always interested in languages. He studied translation which did gave him some formal instruction in languages. He taught himself Mapudungun at first as he had no relatives that spoke it. He later went to workshops and formal classes, where he met peñi and lamgen (cordial treatment for men and women) who spoke it and could practice with them.

What has been your family and friends’ perception about this project?

Many of them appreciate that we are spreading the word, especially how we do it. We have managed to create awareness with all ages, from the very young to the very old. Also, we believe there has been a strong awareness and recognition of many Chileans regarding Mapudungun, which probably there wasn’t any due to lack of information. There are people who still believe that Mapudungun is no longer spoken, that there are no grammar rules, and so on, but slowly all of this is being debunked.

What is the main purpose behind Kimeltuwe? What has been the biggest obstacle you have faced?

The main purpose is the circulation of materials for teaching and learning Mapudungun through social media and new technologies. We try to update our social media pages everyday with illustrations and videos to teach pronunciation. We try to keep it quite simple and practical, to teach the language efficiently, but we also consider certain daily events and current ones too. Our biggest obstacle is probably not being able to dedicate more time to this project and lacking budget to create better materials, but we hope to solve this soon.

What are the next steps for Kimeltuwe?

Creating actual, printed materials that allow us to get right to the classrooms and out of the Internet. Right now, our friends who want to use our material, they must print them out themselves. We publish our materials in high resolution to make things easy, but that might be a problem when it comes to making lots of copies. This is why we are creating xerox-friendly printouts for classrooms and offering it to teachers who might need it.

This is rather a personal question, is there any language (besides Mapudungun) that interests you or you are currently learning? What are they and what do you use to learn them?

Honestly, we have focused a lot in Mapudungun because it is a language we master well as a group, but we might consider the idea to create materials for other languages such as Aymara or Runa Simi (Quechua). We were in contact with some teachers of these languages, but it is really hard when we are very dedicated to one language in particular.

Would you care to share some advice or anecdotes for my readers?

There is a really good phrase in Mapudungun: “Zungun mew kimngekey ta kümeke che”:  Good people are known by word. For those who want to learn Mapudungun, we must tell you it is highly rewarding experience. Languages do have a certain way of viewing the world, so learning a language like Mapudungun makes your culture and thinking richer.

Chaltu mai! Thank you!

You can contact Kimeltuwe through their site http://www.kmm.cl

The Spanish Fluency Pyramid

No, this is not a pyramid scheme or anything like that. I would say it is a product of my own observation and casual conversations with fellow Spanish native speakers and Spanish learners. In a time in which we are bombarded with what we should focus first in order to be identified as fluent speakers and so. Is grammar that important? Is rolling your r a matter of life or death? What dialect or variety should I learn and which of them is the best/easiest one?

Most of those answers are completely up to you, according to your current situation, your language learning history, your motivation, environment and many other factors any native speaker or even I don’t have to know. However, as a product of observation and conversation with different people (shout out to my Spanish chat group!), I think I have managed to gather some things that can really tell you are fluent at different levels, considering the 4 different language abilities and sorted out in 3 levels of the Spanish Fluency Pyramid! Is it scary? A bit, but I am confident you will enjoy your journey through it.

Spanish Fluency Pyramid

Now here comes the explanation of the three parts of the pyramid.

The base of this pyramid consists on two things: being able to be INDEPENDENT. That does not mean you know all words, verbs and how to construct a sentence by heart, but you do know how to construct a sentence, where the verb or noun goes, you drop pronouns as much as you can, you can give your opinions and ask back. Mistakes can still happen and you wouldn’t be able to speak about anything at more formal occasions, yet there is something that is evident: CONFIDENCE. You would probably make a mistake and either carry on or correct yourself immediately or if being corrected, you thank the person and carry on with your conversation. Confidence is essential for any of the steps above it is a sign you feel at ease with the language.

Now, the middle of this would be pronounciation and being aware of context. One thing many Spanish speakers do is aspiration of certain phonemes. Have you noticed that sometimes your Spanish speaking friends would say something like “e’htoy cansa’o” when they are tired or skip certain sounds at an informal setting? That is not wrong at all! In fact, it’s what makes a language feel alive 🙂 In several varieties, [s] gets aspirated or even ommited, specially in casual settings and it is probably a trademark for many Spanish speaking regions. If you were taught to pronounce all words and phonemes, it is quite good during formal settings, but at a party or while talking with friends, you may sound as distant or quite formal. The only way to be aware of when to do this is being a good listener and probably imitate their aspirations until they can become “yours”. As I already mentioned, the notion between formal and informal settings works different from, for example, an English Speaking context or even among different countries. For example, Peninsular Spanish tends to have a reputation of being less formal in many contexts that in other places would be formal and so. Being aware of the context you are in is important for many people. Your boss may use tú with you, but it wouldn’t be a smart choice to use tú with him or her. You probably don’t know anything about the shopkeeper, but if she or he looks your age, both of you might be quite okay with using tú. Also, formal Spanish tends to be more eloquent and less direct than other languages in formal contexts (if you’d ever see the documents I tend to proofread at work or whenever I have to sign a contract!). These kinds of distinctions are important in order to prove yourself you can transmit your confidence and play with it in different settings.

As for the top of the pyramid, here comes the scary part… most non native Speakers of Spanish often give themselves away with a single sound. For some people, their r’s or j’s; for others, a certain vowel and a long list of etc. Many people are quick to detect that and if you are one of those people who don’t want to give out that, well you can always look for help and work on mastering that pronounciation. There are plenty of YouTube videos who teach you step by step how to drill those sounds and listening always help. It doesn’t matter if you look weird while singing in Spanish while commuting (I’ve done it for my languages, people may stare at me, but I feel happy practicing my language skills with it) or if you tend to look yourself at the mirror while making that sound. You can always look for the method that suits you best because your motivation will do the rest. I also put mastering slang at the top of the pyramid since it is a thing that is even complicated for native speakers. What can be an innocent word in one Spanish speaking country, it may be a complete, different and even rude word in another. Many native speakers will probably have a funny anecdote of using an awkward slang word in another country and getting giggles or weird stares for it. Also, slang words are probably the most alive part of the language since they tend to evolve faster than regular words. What was cool in the 90s may not be cool right now. Again, listening and its use will be your ally at mastering slang words and using the right word in the right context.

I hope you have enjoyed this small guide towards Spanish fluency. If you would like to get this graphic as a printout, you can suscribe to my newsletter on the right sidebar and you will get it on your e-mail inbox during the weekend.

Are there any aspects you would like to add to this pyramid? What were the hardest things you have gone through with learning Spanish? Share it in the comments!

Interview with Michele Bondesan, the Wandering Euroglot

As I am going back to my blogging routine, the interviews are back as of now, and I am proud to present my first interviewee from this year, Michele from Italy. I have known him for a while and I am very interested in focus and choices of languages.

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

I am an Italian polyglot. I like to call myself “the Euroglot” or, more recently, “the Wandering Euroglot”, because I love travelling across Europe and learning European languages most of all.
I started to love languages as a teen, when I had French and English at junior high school. Afterwards, I chose to become a translator: I got a BA in Translation and Interpreting, and a MA in Translation, but they weren’t enough for me to actually get a job as a translator. So, for the time being, I just work as an online tutor and language teacher at italki.com, and keep studying languages.

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

It all started in a very ordinary way, with French and English classes at junior high school. My French teacher was excellent and I must thank her for what she taught me. The summer holidays I’ve been spending in France with my family almost every year also helped me stay motivated and improve my skills. Sadly, my first experience with English was not so good at all, as my junior high school teacher was totally ignorant! After three years, when I went to high school, I could barely make up some short sentences about myself!
However, I had fallen in love with languages and went to a high school focusing on humanities and languages, where I studied French, English, Latin and German. I soon started to learn languages outside school: I began studying Ancient Greek with a retired teacher, and Esperanto on my own during the 1998 summer holidays. I think nobody has ever motivated me to learn languages. It all started spontaneously.
Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?
Not really. My family members accept it but they would prefer that I would have a well-paid job instead!
Did you ever face a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?
I often face such moments. There are times when I feel that I suck or that I’m not improving enough. I think this is normal. On the other hand, I don’t really know HOW I overcome these times. I guess I just let the sadness and negativeness go away and then resume my learning activities.
What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your life-hacks for that language?
My main languages for this year are Ukrainian and Breton. I’m studying both of them with ASSIMIL courses. I must say the Ukrainian course is a bit too short and simple for me, maybe because I already know Polish and a bit of Russian. For Breton, I was using an old course full of interesting remarks and useful exercises for months, but eventually the lessons had become too long for me to study one per day. Therefore, I have recently started a more up-to-date course with shorter lessons, to see if I can progress faster. In both cases, I mostly listen to the audio of the lesson, then copy the original text and add the translation by hand. I also write the texts and my solution of all the exercises.
I haven’t practised either Ukrainian or Breton much so far, apart from short Facebook chats with Ukrainian friends or the postcards I write to Ukrainian members of postcrossing.com (check it out if you don’t know what it is, as this project can also help you improve your language skills).
It always takes me long before I feel like starting to talk in a foreign language. While I can already read and write in Ukrainian, it will take me much longer until I can read something in Breton and even longer before I can talk to a native speaker, if I ever find one!
In the beginning, I tend to focus on observing and learning how the language works. I usually know the basic grammar before I can have a fluent conversation because I’ve always cared a lotn about correctness. I know this isn’t a very popular method, but it usually works for me (it worked even very well when I learnt Latin at school: I haven’t forgotten almost anything after 13 years since I finished high school) and my online students also seem to appreciate it. So, my life-hack for learning any language is to deal with grammar since the very beginning, so you will be doing the hardest part of the work when you are still committed, and things will get easier as you progress. I’ve had students who had a broad Italian vocabulary but didn’t master the Italian grammar to the same level. That’s what I always try to avoid.
And here comes a life-hack for those of you who are considering learning Eastern Slavic languages: follow the order Polish-Ukrainian-(Belarussian)-Russian. I’m realizing that the Ukrainian vocabulary is much more similar to the Polish than to the Russian one, so if you learn Ukrainian after Polish, you will already understand quite a lot and will have time to focus on grammar and on the Cyrillic alphabet (you will devote a couple of weeks to learning the handwriting). Knowing Ukrainian will make learning Russian much easier.
Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you will not be able to learn it properly?
My lifetime goal is to reach an A2 level in all the official European languages. I don’t know if I can make it through, but I’m constantly working in that direction. Among the languages I plan on learning, I fear I may never learn any agglutinative languages well enough. My first try to learn Finnish and Turkish failed (the ASSIMIL Turkish course was to blame, as I found it way too difficult), hopefully things will work better next time.
From time to time, I consider learning non-European languages like Japanese, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, but I always fear they would require too big an effort and I may not stay motivated/committed long enough to reach a satisfactory level. As of this February, I have started learning to write hiraganas in my free time, to see if I can ever start learning Japanese.
Can you tell me a short, positive anecdote about your language learning history?
In June 2013, I travelled to Krakow, Poland, for ten days. I had arranged to stay with four different Couchsurfing hosts and was eager to test my Polish skills with them.
My first host was a guy from Nowa Huta (the Soviet-like area of Krakow), whom I had previously hosted in Italy. He was very welcoming but not so keen on speaking Polish, as he also wanted to practise his English. Anyway, after some talking in English, we started using Polish too.
My second host was supposed to be the most interesting experience of my stay: a cultivated young lady I had been in touch with on Facebook. We shared a few interests and values, so I was looking forward to meeting her and spending time with her, talking about various topics. Sadly, she was busy with her studies and spent most of her time at her desk, alone, so we didn’t share much. What’s more disappointing, she didn’t seem to realize I was still a foreign learner: she spoke very fast and got nervous when I didn’t understand her. This meeting frustrated me quite a bit, and made me think I sucked at Polish.
However, the second part of my stay in Krakow was much more interesting and rewarding! My third hosts were a family with a young mum, (a busy and mostly absent dad) and two children. The mum had a teaching degree and, having two children, she knew very well how to talk to people who are not proficient in Polish. She spoke very clearly and not too fast, so that I could understand almost everything she said. I could also speak well enough, having a patient partner who was willing to help me! But what stroke me the most was that I was even able to talk and make friends with her daughter, who was 8 years old! She was also amazed, because it was the first time she could communicate with a foreign guest!
My last host was a man in his late thirties. He was extremely welcoming and willing to share great moments with me. He drove me outside Krakow to visited interesting places I’d have missed otherwise. He even took me to a typical restaurant in the evening. Meanwhile, we talked quite a lot, and always in Polish!
On the following day, I flew home happy about the human experiences I had had, and confident about my Polish skills.
As you see, it is important to find a language partner who supports and motivates you. An ideal partner should help you with suggestions and corrections, without overwhelming and intimidating you.
You can stay in touch with Michele via his italki profile, Facebook page or his Instagram account.