The Goethe Institute has launched a video competition called MehrsprachICH for people who speak a number of foreign languages. This is the latest in a recent wave of interest in our ever-growing online language community, polyglots, hyperpolyglots and the language-learning process in general.
Why share your language story?
Growing up I always wished to have a way to be in contact with other like-minded people. When I started at university in 1995, I was introduced to IRC and I was able to get in touch with a people in many different countries and chat in a variety of language. It was great to speak to other people in their own languages and also find other language enthusiasts.
Meeting other language learners today has never been easier
Nowadays more and more language learners have shared their stories and got in touch through their forums, blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and YouTube channels. Thankfully I have been able to plug into this amazing resource and get in touch with many interesting people too. I am really grateful for that.
This competition highlights some great stories of language learning, including my own. I encourage you to take a look at the videos and enjoy all of the stories in the competition. The winner will get to talk about their story at the international Poliglotti4.eu conference in Italy (Last year’s conference took place in Madrid).
Your opinion counts!
You decide the winner. You can vote on the Goethe Institute’s MehrsprachIch Facebook page for your favourite!
I’ve watched all of these videos and I love seeing more and more people tell their language stories online.
Have you got a story to share?
Join our helpful and encouraging community on the SpeakingFluently Facebook page. We’d love to have you with us! Let’s share knowledge, share stories and get everyone learning languages!
I encourage you to share this story with other people outside the language learning community as languages can be fun for everyone!
If the opportunity arises, is it worth grabbing?
I have talked about courses before, be self-study with Pimsleur or taught like Turkish course in Skopje.
What about these “intensive courses” though? Just how much can you learn on one?
Living the language
Learning a language in-country can take many guises. You can move to a country indefinitely for work, love or study without a definite plan to return to your native land. Other options are exchanges (particularly for school/university students). The other option open is short to medium stays, learning the language as an independent learner or on a course. You could choose to do this in combination with a paid or unpaid work placement. Or you might choose to seek out language tuition in the country.
All of these options have pros and cons attached, including a number of factors ranging from cost and efficiency to personal experience and preference. I have done the language exchanges offered by my school, like Tim Doner from New York, who went to France on such an exchange this year. In this video he talks about his experience:
I have been on short courses abroad to brush up on my language skills and full year-long courses, working towards a diploma, like my Advanced Diploma in Czech Studies from Charles University in Prague.
If you are thinking about going on a course of study abroad with a language school or university, this new challenge is FOR YOU.
I am currently taking mandarin language lessons over Skype with LTL (Live The Language) in Beijing. The goal is to bring my very limited Chinese to a decent basic level in preparation for a one month stay in China at the start of 2013.
I will be taking part in the “Two City Combo” offered by LTL and spending two weeks in Beijing and then two further weeks in Chengde. I will live with local families in a bid to make the most of my language learning experience and really Live the Language. Whilst I am in both cities I will have twenty hours of tuition a week.
What do you expect to know after a month in China?
I aim to get my Chinese to a solid A1 level before I go over. 80 hours of tuition in China should be sufficient to get to the next level. I hope to be able to speak it at a good A2 level by the end of my stay. Any more than that would be a bonus. The key is to get a solid grounding in the language to build on it after the stay.
Why Chinese? Why now?
Mandarin and I have had a rocky relationship with lots of starts and stops for a number of reasons. Without a doubt it is an important language in terms of numbers of people who speak it. It contains a the rich history and culture heritage. I would also like to support my daughter in her studies of the language, as she constantly expresses an interest in learning it too.
Recording my journey
My Chinese was very basic before starting the Skype lessons, so it makes little sense to record a video saying nothing, right? I will make a video in Chinese after I have studied for three months and then again at six months. When I arrive in China I will be assessed officially for the course. I will record this assessment too and then later show my progress at the end of the course.
Join me on my journey
Share your stories with me on here and on my Facebook page and let me know how I am getting on!
There are a number of languages in the world that are mutually intelligible. Croats and Serbs can communicate with each other relatively freely, as can Macedonians and Bulgarians, Afrikaners and Dutch people and of course the Danes, Swedes and Norwegians.
Cristina – the Norwegian polyglot
This week I was stayed with another polyglot in Oslo. Cristina participates on the How To Learn Any Language forum that I started writing on when I first got into the online language community. She is an active member there and tries to help other learners where she can. I have always admired not only her ability to use a number of languages to a very high level, but also her kindness towards others.
Going to Norway
OK, so I am in Poland, studying Polish…I know….but the invitation to spend time in Norway with Cristina was too good an opportunity to pass up. With Wizzair tickets at a crazy low prices too, the deal was done!
I had been to Norway before and I spoke in Swedish there without any great problems. The written languages in Sweden, Norway and Denmark are even closer than their oral forms, but people do often ask me…just how close are they? And…which one should I learn first to best understand the rest?
My story with these languages
I went to The University of Hull, where there was a strong Scandinavian studies department at that time. I wanted to study Icelandic, but the only way to do that was to take Swedish. Luckily enough for me it was love at first sight. I was involved in preparing for the Lucia Fest in December, learning all of the words to the songs. My teacher, the co-author of Colloquial Swedish, promised that we’d be fluent in the IKEA catalogue by the end of the first year!
I studied Swedish for two years at university and thoroughly enjoyed it. To be surprise university studies did not mark the end of the relationship.
Swedish from uni and beyond…
After university, Swedish was one of the languages I guessed I would never use. That was true for a year or so, but then I started working with Scandinavians and I began to familiarise myself with the Danish and Norwegian languages, so I could better understand the slight differences to join in fully with conversations. Whilst I never felt confident to speak Norwegian fluently because I found it too similar to Swedish for me, I could have a good stab at Danish. I could also infuse my Swedish with Norwegian words to adapt it to native Norwegians.
I didn’t consider my choice in Scandinavian language as it was chosen for me by default. In this video, Cristina and I talk about this topic and I get attacked by her roses!
What has your experience been with these languages?
On 15th April I started my 30-day Pimsleur Hungarian challenge. The course I used was from my local library. It came with a booklet with some words to read halfway through the course. Every day I listened to a new lesson and went through the study programme as prescribed by Pimsleur.
My struggles with the course…
My plan was to have a month where I would have uninterrupted time to go through the course at a set time each day. Life does kick in though and I ended up going to the US and Canada, which meant I started my challenge there and not at home as planned. The other issues I faced were my general commitments for work, study and family. We all know those problems right?
One of the most important things in language is keeping it fun so you stay motivated. It’s always best not to stress. I often changed the times and locations of my lesson to listen to the course, so that it fitted around my life. It’s best to keep encouraging yourself during your study, so you stay pumped and learn more when you’re able.
So what do I think of the course?
I was surprised by how much I could learn in each lesson. The lessons are well thought-out in that you feel that you are getting quite far in the language with relatively few words and little grammar. Hungarian is described by The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK as a Class 2 language.
I was also aware of the type of grammatical structures in the language from studies of language families. So my expectations were that it would be tough to teach it in the way you can teach other languages. Languages with complicated case systems or agglutinative languages often need more sample sentences to build up meaning for more varied conversations. Then the exceptions can kick in to throw a spanner in the works!
I did on occasion find it tough to concentrate on just listening, I have to admit. But that was not a deal breaker for me with Pimsleur. My main real gripe was the lack of writing…I LOVE to write things out when I study a language!
OK, so what level can you expect from Pimsleur’s level 1 course?
Pimsleur say that their course takes you to around an A1 level (when you do the comparisons online). This level is definitely opened to interpretation. After the 30-day course you cannot expect to sit an A1 exam and get 100%, you may not even get near the 60% required for a pass. There would not be enough vocabulary or grammar to use all of the necessary structures for success at that level. You do have a nice introduction to the language though and I feel more confident going back to Hungary in the future now!
What do you achieve after 30 days on Pimsleur?
You get a good grounding in how the language is pronounced. They use a great tried and tested method of teaching how to make the sounds by starting from the end of the word and working back to the front. Then they put them all together, so you can make all of the sounds and then put the sounds together to make the word or phrase and say it in an understandable way.
The fab community on the Speaking Fluently Facebook page seems to agree that clear pronunciation is key to language learning. Whilst a native-like accent is a lovely extra, it is not the be all and end all of the learning process. I agree that speaking in a way that is easily understandable to other speakers of the language is the most important thing. We all know what it’s like to ask people to repeat things 100 times and to be asked to repeat things 100 times just to communicate a basic idea or need. Sometimes we are in situations where the message is important, so it is worth putting in a bit of effort to ensure that is possible.
Pimsleur will help you to get those basics down in an easily understandable way. You do still need to make the effort and not worry about sounding “funny”. The sounds in a new language will always sound a bit strange at first and they can make us feel self-conscious. Those new sounds are part of the language and they are as important, if not more important, that getting the grammar down pat. Even Tarzan gets his point across, right?
Pimsleur also teaches you some good basic phrases, which you can re-use and substitute for different words to change meaning. This is a handy tool for travel to the country or for a gentle introduction to the language.
So how well do I speak Hungarian after my challenge?
Honestly, I speak it as well as I would expect to speak a language after only listening to it for about 30 minutes a day for a month…not very well! It has been a useful and enriching experience though. When I go back to Hungary again, I feel that I can say some basic things and make myself understood more than before. Here is a video of me saying some very basic things in Hungarian with the words, structures and themes presented in the course.
Well, here is a video of me using some of what I learnt…what do you think?
Did you do a challenge too? How did you get on? Or are you planning a challenge in the future? If you speak Hungarian, please do let me know how effective and understandable my Hungarian is after the challenge? Can you understand me?
Visibility online gets your message out there. Speaking Fluently has been nominated in The Top 100 Language Lovers 2012 competition. Voting has started now!
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Thanks for your support!
On Saturday 5th May 2012 a piece called “Word Play” appeared on Canada’s GlobalTV. It formed part of the 16×9 programme and was hosted by Carolyn Jarvis.
The programme brought together a panel of Canadian polyglots, spoke to linguists and Michael Erard, author of “Babel No More”. As part of the story Tim Doner (a 16-year old from The US) and I were brought together in New York. Tim had already appeared in a number of newspaper articles, since an initial story came out in The New York Times about him. The article has been translated into a variety of languages, including Italian, Russian, Spanish and probably many more.
Tim has also done a TV interview for NBC’s The Today Show in the US and a radio interview for the BBC. All of this media attention has, of course, raised questions about Tim and his ability to speak foreign languages, particularly in the online language community.
When I was offered the chance to meet Tim for the show, I was very excited for a few reasons:
1. He reminded me of how I was when I was 16
2. I always love meeting other extreme language learners
3. I wanted to meet the real Tim
Why so motivated?
It was an honour to be cited as an inspiration of his. My main goal for having a public online presence was always to encourage other learners and to let them know that they are not alone. It was something I didn’t have growing up. When I was young, what I was doing with languages was considered by many around my passion as being a bit odd. Some even said that I would drive myself mad with all of the languages I was studying. Having a community of like-minded people is fabulous!
Tim and I first met on camera in Washington Square. The scene of us on the programme is entirely real and that was the goal – to capture that first moment when we met.
Following that meeting, we walked and talked about languages all around New York, interacted with various people in a number of tongues. Whilst it was something that took us both out of our comfort zones a bit (having everything recorded), the experience was really enjoyable. I had some really good talks with Tim about his learning and we discussed many things in different languages. He could certainly hold his own out on the street too!
Quotes in the media
I have been quoted and asked to say things about my language knowledge before, which I don’t always feel comfortable with. I am very cautious about describing my ability to speak languages because I am aware of the issues that can arise from big claims. We only have to look at Ziad Fazah to see how this can play out in extreme cases.
Once the genie is out of the bottle, can you put it back in?
It is tough to backtrack on claims, but an immediate, “that’s not what I said” can go a long way to restoring your public profile. Tim did address some of this publicly by giving a more detailed appraisal of his language skills (see PolyglotPal). I always cite “Chinese Whispers” (“Telephone” if you’re form the US) when I am misquoted!
Some don’t even seem to want to backtrack and still maintain that they have fluency in a number of languages long since discredited. This puzzles me but does not affect me personally, so I leave them be.
If it’s dangerous…Why join in the numbers game?
Wisely Professor Arguelles refused to give a figure for his language speaking ability. Recently he was also quoted in The Guardian as being able to “speak 50 languages”. Prior to that quote he had only ever said “studied”. At first I had thought perhaps there was a change in his position following reactions to him in “Babel No More”. However, he has since corrected that in comments querying this change in position. Of course, the difference in the two (“studied” and “speak”) is important, especially in the online community. I know I made such a correction when I was cited as being able to “speak 30 languages” too.
The difference in experience…
I naturally wince when I see any “I speak 30+ language claims”. I know what it involves to speak and retain 10 to a high level, let alone 20 or 30+. Michael Erard describes what most polyglots know – there are usually a handful of languages at a high proficiency. The rest of the languages on the list tail off in ability until you are talking about languages where you have just a few basic phrases at your fingertips. C3P0 we ain’t!
I was therefore shocked to hear that Professor Arguelles’ quote as I have a great respect for him as an accomplished language learner. I have also had first-hand experience of communication with him in 9 languages.
Whilst some of the quotes from Tim have been put under the microscope, Tim has never made any ridiculously absurd claims, like “I speak 23 languages like a native”. When I spoke to him he had his head screwed on too. He is an extremely mature, kind and generous soul with a HUGE passion for languages. I know only too well the pressures of putting a number on languages spoken can be like and I am not sure how I could have handled myself at 16.
I was aware that Tim would not speak 23 languages fluently. I would not and could not expect that of anyone in all seriousness. I knew there would be some media razzle-dazzle on it to make the story sexy.
So what’s true?
Tim has covered ground in an astonishing number of languages. His ability to discuss linguistics (yes linguistics and not just language) amazed me. I am definitely NOT a linguist, but he really wants to study the subject. This impressed and surprised me.
What else surprised me was his ability to communicate with natives in Chinese, Arabic, Farsi and Hebrew. He could more than hold his own in French and he could talk to me in German too. Sadly our language overlap is not huge. I say all of this and then I have to think…
1. He is a 16-year old in the US
2. He is, for the most part, self-taught
3. He has all of his school work too
Tim Doner is an incredible language learner. He has a knack for picking things up and for making connections in his head very quickly. His eyes light up when he speaks about languages and I was fortunate to spend a few days with him on his turf!
Here is the first video we made together following the filming in with GlobalTV – Enjoy!