Real Deal Spanish caught up with Olly from iwillteachyoualanguage.com and were very keen to find about how one actually should should go about tackling the rather small task of becoming fluent in EIGHT LANGUAGES! Here’s what Olly had to say.
1) What was the first language you tackled and why?
I studied French and German at school for a couple of years, but I don’t really count that because I didn’t learn very much! My first real independent experience of language learning was when I spent 6 months in Paris, aged 19. I started learning for no other reason than I had chosen to spend that time in Paris and didn’t want to be a typical Brit living abroad who doesn’t speak a word of the language. I also wanted to connect with the people and make friends, of course, so it seemed like a natural thing to do.
2) What’s your usual study routine?
The answer to this really depends on when you ask me, as it’s always changing. Right now, for example, I’m in an unusual situation because it’s proving impossible for me to find useful or interesting resources for Egyptian Arabic. As I’m still at a low level in the language, authentic materials are not very accessible for me, so I’m being forced to find alternatives.
My routine at the moment looks like this:
– 2-4 speaking sessions per week with my tutor (1 hour each)
– sporadically working through my textbook (but it’s hard work)
– transferring vocabulary that I’ve learnt from both of the above activities into my flashcards app, and spending time every day reviewing and learning that
3) What’s keeps you motivated when studying a language?
My passion is speaking and communicating with people. That’s what interests me. I’m not a “sit down and study” type person. Knowing this about myself, I make sure to base my routine around speaking, which is why I have multiple sessions with my tutor each week. By speaking a lot, I am always improving my ability to speak (sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many people never actually start speaking their target language), and so it’s like a virtuous circle.
4) How much time should you spend studying a language everyday?
I think 15 minutes per day is an “absolute minimum”, because repetition is the mother of skill. There is no upper limit, but I’ve always found that 1 hour is a daily limit beyond which I can’t take much more in. However, I usually find it hard to sit down for a whole hour, so I prefer to break that hour into 4×15-minute chunks throughout the day.
5) What tips would you give to a beginner looking to start learning their first foreign language?
Start with the things that scare you most, because if you put them off they risk becoming the big things that hold you back in the future. I’m thinking specifically about speaking here. It is entirely possible to start speaking with native speakers, even as a beginner, and yet many people wait years “until they’re ready”. You can start by using mostly English, and learning useful phrases in the target language. This is a very good use of time because you can get feedback on your pronunciation and stop bad habits developing, and also because you break through the “fear factor” right from the start.
6) Generally, what are the most common mistakes you see language learners make?
I would say, firstly, not starting to speak soon enough, for the reasons given above. Secondly, holding themselves to unrealistically high standards. “I want to make x amount of progress every week!”, they say, and then get disheartened when, through no fault of their own (the brain behaves in mysterious ways), they don’t.
7) What do you think the most effective way is to progress the quickest?
The answer to this really depends on what stage you’re at. Two things I’d point to. Firstly, work consistently through a good textbook every day. Secondly, speak with a native speaker at least twice a week. Both these things are high-impact because you’re learning a lot and actually using the language.
8) How has technology helped you pick up new languages?
Generally, not very much, as I find most language learning technology to be a distraction. However, there are a few exceptions. Most importantly, online tutoring services allow you to connect with affordable tutors over Skype, meaning you don’t even have to leave the house to practice. Some online video and audio content is excellent (FluentU and Yabla I like a lot). Lastly, spaced repetition flashcards have become an indispensible part of my daily routine.
9) How is free online content, such as that found at OpenLanguage and the Real Deal sites, helping people improve quicker?
Free online content can obviously make a huge difference to those who can’t afford commercial learning material. Having said that, the internet is full of free material. It ultimately comes down to your determination to learn. If you’re committed, you’ll find what you need.
10) What are your plans in the near future and where can people get in touch with you?
I’m currently in London, where I’ll be until August. After that I’ll head back to Cairo until the end of the year, perhaps longer. If you’re in either of those two cities, maybe we can grab a coffee and chat about language learning! You can reach me at:
– Blog: iwillteachyoualanguage.com
– Facebook: I Will Teach You a Language
– Twitter: @Olly_IWTYAL
If you have a question about language learning, I’ll answer it for you on my new podcast. Search for “I Will Teach You A Language” on iTunes, or check out the latest episodes here: www.iwillteachyoualanguage.com/category/podcast/
Nowadays books like “How to Learn English in 30 Days” have become popular. Does it really work? Seems impossible!
No. You can’t learn a language in 30 days, although you can certainly make a good start. There’s no substitution for hard work, determination and time. Sorry!
What’s the secret to retaining an extensive vocabulary?
Read a lot, and often.
How much language acquisition is discipline and how much aptitude?
It depends on your circumstances. I became fluent in Spanish without ever studying, but I was lucky enough to have Spanish friends who just talked at me every day for months until I learnt! However, for all my other languages I’ve had to study a lot, whether I live in the country where the target language is spoken or not. In most cases, it’s 80% discipline, but discipline doesn’t just mean “study”, but the determination to go out and find opportunities to speak.
4) @ffrenchay What is “fluent”?
There are lots of definitions of fluency. For me, the definition of fluency is: “The ability to hold an enjoyable conversation without undue difficulty in expressing yourself, or undue strain on the other person to understand what you’re saying.” I know people will disagree on this, but personally I have no particular desire to reach “native-like” fluency in any language, only to be able to have it as a full part of my life – and you don’t need to speak like a native in order to have that.
What’s going to be the next language?
If I can choose freely, it would probably be either Thai, Mandarin or German. However, if I move to another country, I will prioritise learning that language instead!
So there you go! Feel inspired? Go and learn a language! Big thanks to Olly for the interview. Go check him out!
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