[Video] Entrevista con Marlon “Señor alemán” Görnert

Hoy nuevamente tengo el gusto de presentar la entrevista a un amigo que realmente se transformó en una charla muy interesante sobre la vida en general y que espero que haya una segunda parte de esta. Quizás esta fue bastante informal, pero creo que le da un gran toque de naturalidad y una sensación de comodidad.

Marlon es alemán y actualmente reside en Estocolmo, Suecia. Sabe alemán, inglés, español (con un perfecto acento porteño), portugués, catalán, francés, sueco e italiano, con un fuerte interés en otros idiomas germánicos y lenguas itálicas, como el sardo. Nos hemos conocido por intereses en común y muchas veces pasamos horas conversando, discutiendo y riéndonos de distintos temas y básicamente, eso queremos plasmar en este video.

Los invito también a seguir a Marlon en su canal de YouTube y su página de Facebook.


[Video] Entrevista a Carlos Reyes – Periodista chileno y profesor de hebreo

[Post in Spanish since the interview is in that language]

Nuevamente, les tengo una entrevista que grabé hace un tiempo con un compatriota mío que reside actualmente en Perú, Carlos Reyes. Él es periodista y profesor de idiomas (de inglés y hebreo), cuya historia de vida es muy interesante debido a que ha aprendido un idioma poco común, el hebreo, sin siquiera tener una conexión fuerte con la cultura de Israel. Él también maneja una página de Facebook en la que se traducen canciones al hebreo llamada Tazinu (y que les invito a seguir).

He aquí la entrevista:


[VIDEO] Interview with Antanas, teacher of Lithuanian for foreigners (IN SPANISH)

This time, I’m presenting an interview with Antanas Vinčiūnas, a physical trainer from Lithuania who is also working as a Lithuanian foreign language teacher, who is looking forward to teach his native language to Spanish speakers. Besides his native Lithuanian, he fluently speaks English, Russian and Spanish. The interview is in Spanish as a way of proving his excellent skills in my native language.

You can contact him on Facebook, YouTube and italki.

Hoy les presento una entrevista con Antanas Vinčiūnas, entrenador físico lituano y que también trabaja como profesor de lituano para extranjeros, dispuesto a enseñar su idioma a hispanohablantes. Además del lituano, habla muy bien inglés, ruso y castellano. Esta entrevista es en español como manera de mostrar sus excelentes habilidades en mi idioma materno.

Pueden contactarlo por Facebook, YouTube e italki.

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!

Interview with Artem Nazarov from Yaziky.com

Today I am proud to feature an interview with one of my first followers of this blog. Artem is from Novosibirsk, Russia and runs the blog Yaziky.com. I have followed his learning process closely and I have been amazed by how far he has gone. I am quite confident he is doing a great work with a learning process he has adapted to his lifestyle and situation.

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

My name is Artem and I am a language enthusiast from Russia.

I am a student of International Relations and European Studies. I really love it. But this wasn’t my first choice. I had to make some efforts to find out what to do in my life. In a way, language learning helped me find my purpose.

Apart from my university studies, I love learning languages, practicing sports and getting to know people from all over the world. That’s why I worked in a local hostel.

My main job, for now, is my language learning blog (yaziky.com).

The languages I speak now are Russian (native language), English, Italian, French, and Spanish. I am also learning German and Portuguese.

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

I was born and raised in an absolutely monolingual environment. Here in Russia, it’s not easy to encounter anyone who speaks English well, let alone multiple languages. So I never actually thought that someday I would be able to speak multiple languages. But I clearly remember the moment when my language learning journey began.

I was 19, the only foreign language I was able to speak was English. Back then, I went abroad for the first time. I have visited some European countries such as Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. It was an amazing experience. I was impressed by everything I saw.

I realized how cool discovering new cultures is. And what had the most impact on me was the Italian culture. I totally fell in love with it and when I returned home, without any hesitation I started to learn Italian.

This trip motivated me a lot, but it wasn’t the only motivator, so to speak. The other one was a very famous youtube polyglot who showed though his own example that speaking multiple languages is not only possible but could lead to an amazing lifestyle.

I am talking about Luca Lampariello. His native language is Italian, so I used his videos and articles to learn that beautiful language. It was very useful because I was not only learning Italian, but also fundamental language learning principles that I apply now.

That’s how I was deeply involved in an amazing lifestyle full of cultural discoveries and constant engagement with people from all over the world.

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

To be honest, nobody in my circle has ever shared my language interests. I mean, of course, all of them were supportive and very happy that I have such a great passion for languages. But I really was the only language enthusiast around.

However, thanks to the Internet and numerous language learning communities, I’ve always been in contact with people who are also into languages. So I’ve never felt alone in that sense.

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

When I was learning Romance languages, I never had any difficulties, lack of motivation or anything like that. I’ve never given up on my language learning before. I thought it would always will be like that. How naive I was…haha.

One day, I decided to learn German. And here my biggest language learning challenge began. I knew that it was going to be harder than all the other languages I’ve been learning before, but I wasn’t ready for German. I was so relaxed after learning 3 Romance languages in a row, that I forgot that to learn a language one should actually make some efforts.

The first difficulty with learning German was that I had no basic vocabulary in common with other languages at the start, which is not the case when learning multiple Romance languages.

The second difficulty was German grammar, which also has nothing to do with both my native Russian or any of the languages I had learned before.

Third, I had a lack of motivation caused by the fact that I couldn’t understand and speak the language for a long time.

And lastly, I just didn’t know how to approach such a complex language.

That’s why after a couple of months of learning German I quit, for the first time. I switched to Portuguese which turned out to be the easiest language I’ve ever learned so far. Fortunately, after a couple of weeks of my break, I began to learn German again.

Although I can’t say that I’ve overcome it, the fact that I try to do something to learn German on a daily basis convinces me that one day I’ll finally reach the level I’m aiming for.

What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your methods or “secrets” for that language?

As I mentioned earlier, the languages I am interested in right now are German and Portuguese. And, of course, the way I approach them is not the same.

Portuguese is the 4th Romance language I’ve been learning. So it is very easy and I don’t really learn it, in the sense we used to call it, I’d rather say I use it.

Mainly, what I do to learn Portuguese is, first of all, listening to podcasts every day. I’ve found an amazing show called «Café Brasil». Second, is speaking with native speakers at least once a week.

Less frequently, I write in Portuguese on italki.com and I read some article on the web. I call this approach to language learning natural and I am happy that it gets more popular with language learners. It’s a lot of fun and stress-free. But it works when you already have the basic knowledge.

As for German, I use a completely different method. Listening to podcasts and waiting till I start to understand everything doesn’t work here. Speaking with natives neither. Focusing on Grammar will only make matters worse. So what I do is translating. It worked out with French and it’s going to work with German as well.

So I’ve got a book with authentic texts for beginners and intermediate students. It has both translations and audio files recorded by native speakers.

I try to first figure out what the word means from the context, then I look it up on Google translate. Then, I read it sentence by sentence listening to the recording and trying to imitate the pronunciation and intonation.

That’s going to build the vocabulary I’ll need to understand native speech. It will help to work on my pronunciation and also to learn grammar in a passive way.

What counts most when it comes to language learning is not so much the method you use, as the attitude. If you like the learning process and you practice it every day, you’ll certainly end up speaking that language.

From my experience, to reach basic fluency, meaning that you are comfortable with communicating on non-specialized topics, it takes about 6-10 months, depending on how far the target language is from your native one.

My «secret» to learning languages is first being in contact with the language in any possible way you can. Second, attack the language from different sides (listening, reading, speaking, writing). Third, don’t skip your language learning two days in a row.

Be consistent, patient, and creative. Then, you’ll become a successful language learner.

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

I was recently thinking about the languages I would like to learn in the future. I counted about 13 languages, among them are the most difficult ones like Chinese and Arabic.

Of course, I don’t pretend to learn all of these languages up to a native-like level, it would be impossible. I am ok with making mistakes. It’s normal and I am not aiming for perfection, I am aiming for the amazing experience I get from the communication with native speakers in their own language.

The difficulty of the language, lack of materials or any other obstacle shouldn’t deprive us of the cool experience we get from learning a new language.

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

When I was learning Spanish, I used to hang out with Colombians a lot. We spoke entirely in Spanish, no Russian, though they spoke some of it.

One day, they took me to a salsa class full of guys from Latin America. I talked to one of them. I wanted to ask him if he was from Colombia as my friends were. But instead of saying «¿Eres de Colombia?» (Are you from Colombia?) I said «Soy de Colombia» (I am from Colombia). We had a chat for a couple of minutes and then my Russian friend came to me. Of course, I responded to him in Russian.

The guy I was talking to before said to me «¡Vaya! ¡Hablas ruso sin acento!» (Wow! You speak Russian without any accent!). And I realized that I have just come across as a «Colombiano». I explained to him that I made a mistake and we laughed. It was such an unusual and fun experience. I’ll never forget that moment!

Interview with Kendal Knetemann from LingoHut.com

Today I am featuring an interview with Kendal from LingoHut.com, a site which teaches the very essential phrases and structures from several languages online (with a user-friendly interface, of course) and has been well used in several states in the US to train public servants, police officers, among other people involved in the public administration. Her life history is a good example of how a then-complicated language situation can empower you and lead you to better things in the future.


Can you tell me a bit about yourself? How have your life experiences shaped your relationship with languages?

My name is Kendal Knetemann, I live in Colorado, USA.  I have been married for 30 years and we have two children.  Both my husband and I had to learn English when we moved to the USA in the early 80’s.  My husband’s mother tongue is Dutch and my mother tongue is Spanish. The importance of language has been a part of our lives and family since we started our voyage together in the 80’s.

In the 90’s my husband and I had the opportunity to live in Dusseldorf Germany for one year, where I was yet exposed to another language.  I again needed to learn Germany to assimilate to the new culture.  In those days we learned through books, tape cassettes and practice with anyone that was willing to listen to my silly German.  I can’t say I got fluent in German but I do understand it and speak at an elementary level.  After this experience we came back to Colorado. I became a certified teacher and worked in the public schools system in Colorado for many years.  During my career as an educator, I started a before and after school language program at our school, where I managed and supervised the French and German classes and I taught the Spanish classes. I loved running this program. It taught me if you give the love of language to a young child it would inspire them to continue their language learning journey.

After the positive experience teaching both adults and children in my community Spanish. A big change in my life happen in 2003 when my husband and I decided to become entrepreneurs and start our own online language business. The first thing we needed to do was build a platform that could teach Spanish, once completed.  We developed the training material for different Public Safety Communities such as police, 9-1-1 dispatch, corrections, ect.  We could not have done this without the help of professionals in that field, we spend countless hours with each one of them learning their needs. Lastly we needed to get the training recorded by professionals and onto our platform.  With many startup struggles we finally launched SpanishOnPatrol.com, our first website in 2005.  This endeavor has been a ride with many peaks and valleys just like life. The peaks have been fun but the valleys have been very challenging.

In 2008 we decided to start yet another website using the same platform but a different marketing model.  We started the process over again with different professions such as educators, healthcare providers, bankers, relators, and more.  LanguageAuthority.com was born.

Then in 2012 we decided to use the platform again, but this time to help refugees around the world help themselves assimilate into a new culture. So we put our thinking cap on and created an international website for people needing or desiring to learn a new language, which is when LingoHut.com became part of the World Wide Web. This website needed to be completely free to the user so again we tackled yet a new marketing model.

LingoHut’s unique platform focuses on basic conversational skills and word pronunciation.  We do not focus on the fundamentals of language as there are many websites available that concentrate on this area. LingoHut provides short interactive lessons and quick easy games to provide the student the knowledge needed to build a large pool of language wisdom.

It turns out that LingoHut does not only help refugees it also helps tourist, teachers, students, shopkeepers, polyglots wanting to be expose yet to another language, and senior citizens hopping to delay dementia.  This website has exceeded our expectations for sure.


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

It was a necessity.  I had to leave at the young age of 14 alone my homeland overnight, being displaced because of a war from everything I knew even the language I spoke.  That is how I got involve with language. Survival motived me. As I mentioned I left Nicaragua overnight by myself. My parents and siblings stayed back to protect our belonging, business and home. All to be lost a year and half later.  These were very difficult scary times for me and my family.
Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?

You see the family I was placed with on my arrival to the USA had no experience with Spanish or dealing with a refugee.  I had to learn English quickly, to fit in and understand what was going on around me. Of course once my family joined me we all had to assimilate plus my sibling also needed to learn English.

My big break in life was after a few years in America I found a terrific friend that came from the Netherlands.  We practice English together a lot.  We worked hard on not having an accent and making sure we articulated every word that came out of our mouths.

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

I would like to learn how to speak Dutch fluently.  I practice on LingoHut.com, record myself speaking and practice communicating with my husband. You see that friend I made from the Netherlands early in my journey in America, I married a few years later. I find that recording oneself and being your own critic is the best way to improve your language skills.

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

Of course, I would love to have the time to learn Chinese, Thai and Italian but at this time I have no time to focus on the time it takes to learn them.  Someday maybe!!

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

Sure, I was at an international law enforcement conference in San Antonio Texas when I meet a policemen from Albania.  We got talking and he was sharing that he had found a terrific website to learn English from his native language.  I asked him which one, his response LingoHut.com.  I just smiled.  He asked if I had ever heard about it, I said yes.  I told him that LH website was mine.  He was so surprised, all he could do was hug me and say kind words about the site.

Do you want to connect with Kendal and ask her more questions? Feel free to check out her Facebook page or leave a comment.

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

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.

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.


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.