Olly Richards shares his language learning wisdom with Immerse

Language Learning
Olly Richards – Language Immersion

A few weeks ago we were given the opportunity to interview language learning guru Olly Richards in the hope he would share his wisdom with us. Take heed, this man knows what he is talking about!

Immerse: My first question is about overcoming fear. So my father is currently learning Spanish, he has been learning for around two months now. He knows all the basics and he can actually speak quite well when I test him. However, when he came out to Barcelona to visit me and started speaking to natives, it all completely fell apart. He would get one word wrong or forget a tense and freak out. I remember this happening to me and I know this is a common problem with all beginners. Do you have advice for language learners to overcome this fear of speaking to natives? Is it purely a matter of persistence or is there something more?

Olly: Throwing yourself in at the deep end by talking to strangers is not for everyone! There’s lots you can do to build confidence without having to put yourself through all that trauma. Specifically, I like to find conversation partners or tutors to speak with regularly from quite an early stage. By talking with a “safe person”, you get the chance to build up your confidence on a variety of topics. When you come to talk to native speakers later, it won’t be the first time you speak. 

Immerse: You have talked about how you learn languages and grow your vocabulary in a natural way. Are you talking about immersion in the language and being engaged in the content? And do you think that there is too much focus placed on purely memorising grammar and vocabulary in the language learning process?

Olly:It’s about striking a balance. The mistake many people make is to simply study for too long, without ever really using the language for communicative purposes. I don’t get the chance to have much genuine immersion, so I try to spend time each day listening to as much as possible. Of course, when you first start out, and at many points throughout the learning process, you will have to dive into your grammar book to make sense of it all!

Immerse: I wanted to ask you briefly about the expat bubble. Many people move abroad to work or study and become stuck in the “expat bubble”. They spend a lot of their time with people from their own country or just other expats. Mainly, I believe, as it is easier to make friends this way. What would your advice be for people moving out to another country who want to burst this bubble and get to know more native speakers? Whether it be living with native speakers or dating one!

Olly: Living with or dating a native speaker is great advice… but it’s easier said than done! What works for me is to look for clubs, events, or meetups that have to do with other interests I have. If you can meet people with a mutual interest, the language stops being the focal point, and people will be happier to speak with you. Also, I like to sign up to language exchange websites and meet people that way, as it’s a no-brainer way to find people with similar interests.

Immerse: Just a bit of a silly one to tie things up. If you were stuck on a desert island what Spanish book would you take with you?

Olly: Anything by Garbiel García Márquez, love his writing!

So there you go, enough listening to us though – get out there and do it!

Check out Olly’s awesome website here.

And for further language immersion make sure you sign up to Immerse!

Four classic excuses that native English speakers make when it comes to learning a language

Given the choice, I don’t think that there are many people who wouldn’t like to have the ability to speak another language, whether it’s for professional purposes, travel or personal enjoyment. Despite this, there are so few native English speakers who actually make the effort to do so. Why is this? Below are the top four excuses English natives use:

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1. Everyone speaks English, therefore I don’t really need to learn a language.

There’s no doubt that English is the most important language in the world and those of us who have it as our mother tongue should consider ourselves lucky. Estimates suggest that in between 1 and 1.5 billion people speak English as a first or second language and are at least able to hold a basic conversation. As 1/7th of the population speak the language you can see why English native speakers don’t feel the need. However, what about the other 6 billion people who don’t speak English? What happens if you want to communicate with them?  By limiting yourself to English, you are missing out on thousands of opportunities to meet people and create meaningful connections.  A good example of this is Brazil; estimates show that only 5% of people speak English, meaning that you are unable to communicate with 190 million people in the country!

2. I don’t have time or money to learn a language

This is a classic excuse that is used over and over again by people to prevent themselves from doing the things that they really want to do, and not just with language learning. But the impression that in order to get fluent in a foreign language you need to spend hours a day studying and practising is wrong. By just spending 10-15 minutes a day on consistent basis (this is key) you can speak a language well. Let’s say you learn just 5 words a day,  you’ll have a vocabulary of around 2000 words in just over a year, easily enough to have a decent conversation! In terms of money, how much does it cost to learn 5 new words and a grammar rule a day? Absolutely nothing. Don’t have time to look for new words? Use the Immerse app and choose from hundreds of articles!

3Languages just aren’t for me

This one makes no sense. So many people claim that just because they feel that they don’t have a “thing” for languages there’s no point in even trying to learn. Or they remember how unproductive and dull French Lessons were back in Secondary school and decide that the “language learning” environment isn’t for them. Yes there are some people who find it easier than others, but there’s three things in common that people who develop a skill have (language learners or not) – A can-do attitude, determination and a bit of discipline.

4. There’s no one to practice with so what’s the point.

This was one thing that initially held me back. I thought that there was no point putting in the effort to learn French as I had no-one to practice with. However, after spending a week in Belgium and realising how bad my French actually was and how much of a difference speaking the language well actually would have made, I tried to figure out ways to find people to talk with. Unfortunately, due to living in a small English village with no native French speakers (unsurprisingly) there was only one other solution, forcing myself to think in French. Thinking is truly the most underrated way to learn a language and despite being hard at first, you can gain a high level of a language very quickly. By being able to practice vocabulary and grammatical patterns anywhere and anytime you will be 10 times more prepared when you get the chance to practice your skills abroad!




No – The Chilean movie you need to see

No Film
Chilean Film No – Gael García Bernal

Before I start my review on Pablo Larraín’s No, why should you care and what does it have to do with language learning?  Why watch a movie in the language you are learning? Isn’t that just procrastination?

I realise that sitting down and watching a movie can seem slightly unproductive. It feels as though you are just using it as an excuse to slack off. However, it can be one of the most productive things you do if you follow these simple rules:


  1. Put the subtitles on in the target language. This way if you miss a word/do not know how to write it down, you have it right there on the screen. Netflix is fantastic for this.
  2. Write down any vocabulary you do not understand as you watch the film. Don’t keep stopping and starting the film, attempt to write it in time.
  3. Watch at least one interview with the director/actors and read one review IN THE TARGET LANGUAGE after watching the film. This may just be appealing for film nerds such as myself, however the benefits can be amazing.

On to the review.

No depicts the run up to the referendum to kick Pinochet out of government and follows the main protagonist, René Saavedra, played by Gael García Bernal, a young advertising executive who is the brains behind the “No” campaign.  This was Chile’s Berlin Wall, and the film lives up to the intensity and insanity behind the whole affair. Saavedra is attempting to sell the “No” campaign in the same way that he sells Pepsi to the Chilean population, all sunshine and rainbows. However, he does not just incur opposition from Pinochet but from the radical left, supposedly on his side, as well. The film brings humour into such a profound moment in Chilean history and Bernal, as usual, is brilliant!

Check out the trailer here – this one is not to be missed:

For any of you fellow film nerds here is an interview with Bernal and Larraín:

Immerse yourself in language through film!

The hard truth. Five reasons you aren’t yet fluent in the language you are learning.

I can’t even begin to count the amount of Gringos that I’ve met all over Latin America who come here with the goal of “getting fluent” in Spanish or Portuguese only to find themselves leaving with regrets and limited language abilities despite having spent an extended period of time in here. So why is this happening?

Here are 5 reasons why:

  1. You surround yourself with Gringos

So many people complain that they can’t get their Spanish/Portuguese fluent because they don’t have anyone to practice with. No wonder this is the case when you surround yourself with fellow Brits and Aussies in a hostel playing beer pong and sipping on Caipirinhas. Don’t get me wrong, hostels are great fun, but spice things up a bit by Couchsurfing with locals, getting in touch with friends of friends and venturing to places off the gringo trail. This way, you’ll immerse yourself in the local culture and give yourself opportunities to practice the language.

A great personal example of this would be in Rosario, Argentina, where after getting in touch with a friend of a friend (a guy I had never spoken to before) I managed to spend the night at a private birthday party in a top end bar/nightclub at a table with around 30 different Argentinians. Talk about a great opportunity to practice my Spanish!

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Despite being good fun, don’t be suprised if your Spanish still sucks when you’re staying in South American Hostels like this
  1. You refuse to leave your Comfort Zone

This one is a killer, and affects everyone including myself. We, as humans, do anything we can to protect our egos and avoid looking like a fool. However, the harsh reality is that you aren’t going to improve your language skills without going through the horrible beginner’s stage of sounding like an imbecile and making plenty of mistakes. Drop the ego, and embrace it, that way you have nothing to lose. These mental barriers severely hindered my German speaking. Despite having studied the language for a few years I avoided every opportunity of speaking with native speakers to ensure I wouldn’t sound like a fool. However, just a few weeks ago, I got my act together and seized on the opportunity to practice my German with a native speaker for a few days. The result; I learned more German in 4 days than I had in the past 12 months combined.

  1. Not learning the Grammar

No-one likes learning Grammar, but unfortunately learning the structure of the language early on can take a huge amount of time off the learning process. So stop spending all your time on Duolingo and invest in a good grammar book. For both Spanish and Portuguese I would highly recommend the Hugo “in three months” books and Michel Thomas’ Courses which are fantastic at drilling in the grammar and it is surprisingly addictive. By spending less than an hour a day you can master complicated grammar structures in just a few months.

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No money? You’re in luck, you can get this book for pennies on Amazon
  1. Inconsistency

As with all things in life, practice makes perfect, and this especially applies to learning languages. It’s all well and good spending a full day speaking Spanish, but if this is just once a month this isn’t going to get you far. Consistency is key, so putting yourself in a situation where you’re forced to speak on a daily basis is going to put you two steps ahead.

But I have no-one to practice with I hear you cry? Get into the habit of forcing yourself to think in the foreign language, even if you’re knowledge is limited.  Finally, spend 5-10 minutes a day reading new material and learning new words. My personal recommendation is the immerse app (http://www.immerse-app.com/en/), a language learning app full of a wide range of reading materials for people at different skill levels. This means that you don’t even have to look for reading material anymore and can just open to the app to find anything from politics articles to surf magazines right In front of you. Now where’s your excuse to not gaining fluency?

  1. Placing too much importance on Classes.

So many people believe that in order to gain fluency in a language you have to study it at university or invest lots of money in language classes. This is far from being true, and I actually find that this can be counter-productive. The often dull environment of a classroom isn’t made for everyone (especially myself) and can demotivate you and can even put you off learning a language all together. Stop believing in this myth and accept the fact that you can gain fluency by yourself with a few good resources and determination. On the other hand, one on one conversation classes can be a huge bonus, but this doesn’t have to be with someone from a high end institution.

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Language learning doesn’t have to be like this!

Language Immersion with BlaBlaCar

BlaBlaCar Immersion
Myself and my BlaBlaCar hosts Victor and Sara

When you are living in a foreign country, one can effortlessly fall into the expat bubble, it is easier to make friends in your own language and you are all usually there for similar reasons. I must admit that I have, despite my preaching, inadvertently fallen in this trap too. You really do have to be determined to speak the language you are learning and speak as much as you can on a weekly basis in order to burst it. Multicultural cities such as Barcelona, where I am currently based, are fantastic for their diversity, however it does mean that you may occasionally hear more English than Spanish, let alone Catalán.

There are many ways to get one on one speaking time, a £20 an hour speaking class or a once a week language exchange, both good options but neither cut the mustard. Done properly and the benefits can be incredible, however I find that once a week is simply not enough. You can of course live with native speakers, which is by far the best option if you want true immersion in the language and culture. You will pick up the language in a much more natural way and you will be speaking 24/7.

I am here to shine a light on a new language learning method, I call it BlaBlaCar Immersion (admittedly the name needs some work) If you are planning on taking any trips, this is the way to do it. You not only meet some great people on the way to your destination, but you speak in the target language for the entire journey. Last week I went on a spontaneous road trip to San Sebastian from Barcelona and booked a BlaBlaCar for the journey there.

I was slightly nervous about the trip, having never used BlaBlaCar before and the fact that it was a six hour drive with complete strangers. However two hours in I understood all the hype around it.

Myself, Victor and Sara listened to Rock.fm, talked about travel, film, music, discussed Alan Watts and I finally found out how and when to use the word “gilipollas”. Six hours of Spanish immersion and my confidence rose to a level I hadn’t experienced since spending a year living and working in Argentina. Add in the incredible views of the Pyrenees and the fact that I have now made two more Spanish friends here in Barcelona, I could not think of a better way to improve your language skills. My return journey was much the same, with two Spaniards and an Italian, it was non-stop Spanish and listening to the likes of Manu Chao (you can’t go wrong with Manu Chao). A road trip with strangers made to feel as though we had been friends for years. Immerse yourself in language with BlaBlaCar.

Thank you BlaBlaCar!



Marinating in Madeira. My road to Portuguese fluency

Marination in Madeira

I was always told that the secret to enjoying wine was to keep drinking it.

“If you don’t like it, just continue trying it until you do.” Wise words from my Dad!

This makes him sound like a religious alcoholic, which he is not. In fact, it turns out that his advice is applicable to many things in life, especially when it comes to immersing yourself in a new language.

I call the process cultural “marination” and having just returned from a marketing and wine internship on the island of Madeira, I can safely say I know how to put this into practice. After 3 months spent sampling the local culture and gastronomy, I am now not only a raving Madeira wine fan but also, I hope, a little more fluent in Portuguese.

So here is a flavour of what full “marination” in Madeiran culture involves:

Madeira Wine

The island is famous for its fortified wines, whose rare taste and longevity (you can keep a bottle open for a year without the wine going off) come from the unique heating and traditional ageing process which they go through. Vineyards of Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, Malmsey and Tinta Negra grapes tumble and cascade over Madeira’s rugged peaks and the wines made from these are served as often to tourists in restaurants as they are in locals’ homes. As with language learning, the secret is keep on trying in order to fully understand deeper levels of taste and complexity.


Madeira is Cristiano Ronaldo mad. He has his own museum, hotel and now airport. I was lucky enough to be on one of the first flights departing from the newly opened “Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport” on the 29th March. The inauguration day was a crammed confusion of important national figures, TV journalists and school children screaming at his horrifying new bust.

The Cristiano Ronaldo Bust - Madeira
Cristiano Ronaldo Bust

Bananas and Odd Exotic Fruit

Madeiran farmers claim their bananas are smaller than continental ones, but tastier. If that doesn’t do it for you then the extraordinary range of weird fruit just might. Even if you are widely travelled, Madeira will show you fruit you never knew existed: alien-green pipinelas, scaley but mushy custard apples, something known as an “english tomato” which has most certainly never caught a glimpse of British soil in its life, as well as a sort of ridged cherry called pitanga and over seven different types of passionfruit. Whatever your taste you’ll find something that takes your fancy.

Local Slang

The Madeiran word for a coffee with milk is garoto, which means boy. I’ve been told it’s not appropriate to use this when ordering at a café on mainland Portugal.


It’s an absolute essential to try the local delicacies if you want to fully immerse in Madeirenese culture. Eat Espada (sword fish) with banana (local dish, surprisingly edible), Espetada (meat kebab), or Lapas (limpets) if you feel adventurous. Honestly more appetising than they sound.


One of the best ways to understand a foreign culture is to get their sense of humour, so listening to local comedians is a must! Check out the Portuguese Ricardo Arujo Pereira, debating live on radio the best way to eat cereal and the optimum temperature of milk:

Or the very Madeiran 4 Litros, a comedy group which satirise the island’s culture through youtube. In reaction to Donald Trump’s “America First” speech, they produced a parody video “America First, Madeira Second”:

A lot of the above may not exactly be your cup of tea, but the key to cultural immersion, much like wine tasting, is to keep drinking it in. Just as wine improves with age, so too do language skills with time. Alternatively, just try speaking Portuguese after drinking a bottle of Madeira, the results are astounding.

Read more about Maddy’s experiences abroad: https://madseverington.wordpress.com/category/musings-abroad/

4 German Podcasts to help you achieve listening greatness

Podcasts If you’re not already listening to Podcasts on your morning commute, it is time to start. Drown out the world with scintillating discussions on anything from film to current affairs. Download a couple of Podcasts in the language you are learning and you will be well on the way to listening proficiency.

The best part is you don’t even need to pay complete attention to absorb the information and vocabulary. You can listen on the go and wherever you are, whether it be that 7am Victoria Line tube on a dreary London day or travelling by train from Beijing to Tibet. Oh and don’t bother with the excuses, these podcasts are free!

Here are 4 German Podcasts you need in your life.

1 – Deutsche Welle has an incredible selection of Podcasts. The two I have found particularly useful are DW Global ideas which gives you an insight into the people and projects that protect our biodiversity. If you are keen on the environment and learning German this one is for you! Beware, this is not for the faint of heart and requires an intermediate level of German.

2 – The other notable mention here is DW Interview which is more of a “Who is who” of Germany and Europe. Check out their selection here: http://www.dw.com/de/media-center/podcasts/s-100976

3 – Deutsche Welle have also made a Podcast specifically for beginners – Radio D. It has been produced with the Goethe Institute and comes with that all important manuscript so you do not get too overwhelmed.


4 – Are you a film buff or an aspiring filmmaker? Do you watch a film and just have to know how it was made, who was behind it and what the inspiration was? Luckily for you there are plenty of German film Podcasts to choose from. The Goethe Institute have actually created their own one called “Inside Kino”. They take you through everything that is going on in German cinema and you can even test yourself with their podcast quiz.


Immerse yourself in truly engaging content!

Five Spanish speaking Vlogs you need in your life


This is the Immerse guide to five Vlogs you need to be watching if you are learning Spanish. We are not claiming that by solely watching these you will become fluent, however, if you want to be seriously entertained, learn about various cultures and travel, I can’t think of a better way to spend 10 minutes a day!

First up is Luis Comunica. This guy is absolutely brilliant, and with over 4 million subscribers, I am clearly not alone in thinking this. The young Mexican who can make even the most mundane of videos look exciting (I was even glued to the screen when he was talking about his metro adventures) This either tells you something about my state of boredom or the flare that Luisito brings to the screen. For the sake of saving face, let’s just agree that it is his flare. If you are looking to understand the difference between cheap and expensive food in Mexico, or what it is like to stay in a $16,000 a night hotel, this is the guy to watch! He also just met the Mexican President, which is testament to the great work that he is doing.

He speaks fast with a little bit of Mexican slang thrown in, so don’t worry if you don’t understand everything! Check him out here:

Next up is BERTH OH! A fellow Mexican and friend of Luisito (you will see Luisito in many of BERTH OH!’s videos) His pranks such as El Peor Rapero del Mundo are fantastic. Embarrassment is not a word this guy understands. Just watch this video and admire the disgust of his fellow metro riders.

Again he speaks rather fast and with a lot of Mexican slang, so it will take some getting used to. Check it out here:

Third is Alanxelmundo and avid traveler who shows off his adventures from Jordan to Mexico with three weekly vlogs. If you are looking for variety, this is your man – although try not to get too jealous of his lifestyle. I found his video “Mitos sobre Hostales” extremely useful! He goes into a lot of depth on each country he visits. However, it isn’t all about the tips, those visual vibes will catch you off guard! Alanexelmundo knows how to live. If you are looking for authentic local travel videos while learning Spanish, this is the channel for you.

His description of Jordan at the beginning of this video is fantastic!

Alex Tienda is the penultimate choice. With 3 vlogs a week you won’t be lost for content! This dude is crazy, lost and loving every minute of it. His enthusiasm for everything he is doing is unparalleled. His enthusiasm may be a bit much for a hungover morning, but if you are looking for a pick me up and a little inspiration, watching one of his vlogs will immediately fill you with more of a zest for life.

He speaks incredibly fast but no mumbling. You will learn a lot watching his vlogs. This vlog of him homeless in New York shows he knows how to hustle and make the most out of a bad situation!

Last but not least we have LuzuVlogs. These are slightly more mellow than Mr Tienda’s but that does not mean to say that they are any less watchable. I cannot explain how good the editing on some of his videos are. A Casey Neistat/Ben Brown channel all in Spanish! His entire surfing USA section is awesome, granted that is probably because I am a surfing fanatic, but you simply must check it out. Inspire yourself to travel more while learning Spanish at the same time with these videos.

So there we are. A quick guide to watching vlogs in Spanish. All of these channels are on Immerse, so be sure to check them out and Immerse yourselves in language!


Virtual Reality, Film, Science and Language: 30 minutes with Marco from Authentic German Learning

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For our second Immerse Session we talk to Marco from Authentic German Learning about his progressive approach to language learning, polyglot personalities, the science behind language learning and most importantly, what book he would take to a desert island! Strap in, it’s a hell of a ride!

What is clear from the very start of the interview is Marco’s passion for what he is doing, his general curiosity about language learning, the methods, theories and science behind language. This is a man who doesn’t just talk the talk.

WWhat inspired you to start Authentic German Learning?

M – Well, I was learning Italian with Alberto Arranging who founded and runs Italiano Automatico. The idea fascinated me; learning a language by also learning about personal development and exposing oneself to that language in a genuinely engaging context.

Exposing oneself to the target language is one thing, but you do also need context. Having subtitles or pictures to aid your language learning is an incredibly powerful approach and there is even some science behind it. You can learn a language by exposing yourself to anything that engages you or strikes your interest, why not combine this with personal development?

That is what I found particularly interesting when I started learning Italian and still do. I was inspired. I wanted to teach people German but also teach them everything I have learned in the past year. Last year I read 26 books so this is something I want to spread and bring into the language learning space.

We proceed to have a brief discussion about two scientists in Germany experimenting different language learning techniques with Syrian refugees to help them integrate into German life. They scanned each participant’s brain with an MRI scanner to test how exactly they were learning, how the structures were forming and which part of their brain they were using. They used this information to create bespoke language learning courses for each student, specifically suited to their language learning style. 

M – This is similar to what a lot of Polyglots, who are obviously learning a lot of languages, have said. They say they actually have a different personality in each language. Almost like they are a different person. Learning a language is like getting a new personality – when you learn a language and immerse yourself in the culture, you start absorbing that culture’s mindset and this actually changes your brain.

The new movie Arrival addresses similar themes, showing how learning languages can open us up to a deeper more empathetic form of communication. Check out the analysis here:  

M – There is one scientist that I am particularly interested in; Steven Krashen. He has 5 hypothesis of learning a language. The fifth hypothesis is called the Affective Filter hypothesis. This is the theory that a number of ‘affective variables’ play a facilitative role in language acquisition, namely self-confidence and motivation. You also must be very engaged in the content. You might be interested in his and Tracy Terrell’s book; The Natural Approach. It is a very balanced take on the science of language learning.

If you want to read more on this check out this link: http://www.sk.com.br/sk-krash.html 

When people are exposed to these new methods they are really relieved – it is a eureka moment, the sudden realisation that there is actually another way to learn a language. I don’t have to just memorise grammar and vocabulary.

We stay on this point for a while, I recount my time in Argentina, how I improved more in 2 months out there than 8 years of Spanish in the UK, and Marco on his time in America.

WSo, going back to the point about the different personalities that polyglots have. Do you feel you have a different personality for each language that you speak?

M  Maybe. In Italian I don’t think that I am fluent enough to be able to warrant a different personality. But in English yes. It is difficult to describe. You need an outside perspective. In a sense yes. A lot of personality traits that come forward when I speak English are those that I learned while learning English.

I went to the USA and there I immersed myself in the language and culture of high school and this is conducive to how I conduct myself in English. I think that I am more self confident when speaking English than when speaking German. It is very hard to self-evaluate yourself when speaking the language.

WWhy is it that English people are so monolingual in comparison to Europeans. Germans in particular?

M – Part of it is the school system. Almost everyone learns English from 1st grade, by age 3 we are already singing songs in english and it continues in this way for the entire 13 years of school. Although I have some contentions about how I was taught languages at school, for the most part it was good as the lessons were conducted in the target language.

It is key that you are taught in the target language. It is called comprehensible input, if you understand 70-80% of what is being said, then you acquire the language.

W – I totally agree. It almost gives you something to aspire to. Seeing the possibilities of what learning a language can give you. What doors it may open.

M – I think that is the second part. Why Germans are so multi lingual. We have a heavy influence from English speaking countries through film and music. As a young person growing up in Germany you are exposed to all of these English and American movies and TV Shows.

Some people watch the movies when they are dubbed but mostly not! They are excited about watching the original version. There is also a huge amount of other media, for example, I am a huge fan of podcasts!

WWhat do you love most about learning a new language?

M – This depends on the language. I started to learn many languages. The reason was almost always that I was in a relationship. I dated almost no German women. I dated Brazilian, Polish and Italian women and this was my motivation to learn. I decided to continue my Italian after that relationship finished. I had to finish what I started.

My motivation is always people oriented, the ability to communicate for me is so important and learning a new language brings this to new levels. I am also fascinated by communication strategies. Personal development and communication overlap as you can communicate better, you gain more self confidence. Communicating with natives is the only way to get to know the mindset of a foreign language speaker; how they think, their priorities their approach to living.

W What is your biggest obstacle when learning a language?

M – The hardest part is the first phase. Comprehensible input (mentioned earlier) does not work if it is well…not comprehensible. Getting over that hump is hard and you have to memorise a lot of vocabulary. It can be very frustrating until you are able to read or watch something and not spend all your time looking up words.

It doesn’t have to be difficult but it is sometimes hard to find engaging material for this stage. What I have found super helpful for this stage are videos with subtitles in both languages and texts that are translated.

I briefly agree and take the plunge with my penultimate question:

W If you were stuck on a Desert island and you were allowed to take one German film and book with you – what would they be? (This is for any of you Desert Island Discs Radio 4 fans)

M – Ok so the book would definitely be: Die Stadt der Träumenden Büchner (The City of Dreaming Books) by Walter Moers. It is a novel about a society in which books are everything, everybody is a writer and the city is built on top of this huge library that occasionally collapses. Members of the city get to dive into the dungeon of the library and hunt for valuable books. I love this book because it inspires you read more books. May not be the best book when there are no other books around to read though I guess!

Here is a link to a review that Marco wrote on the book – it is in both English and German: http://www.authenticgermanlearning.com/books/#stadt

For a German movie I would have to pick a historical movie. There have been some very interesting historical movies like Sophie Scholl – Die Tage (Sophie Scholl – The Final Days) and Das Leben de Anderen (The Lives of Others).

However, a personal favourite is Free Rainer. It is a fantastic movie by director Hans Weingartner. It is a culture critique about how a manager of a TV Station manipulates the ratings of TV shows to ensure that more informative shows and documentaries are shown instead of the incessant nonsense that is constantly shown on TV to dumb down the population. He initiates a TV revolution. It is an interesting take on how we consume media, what type of media we consume and what it does to us.

Here is the trailer in case you are interested:   

We then have a great discussion, by discussion I mean myself blabbing on, about Deutschland 83, which if you haven’t seen you MUST binge immediately.

WI have to ask about new technology and innovations. How will they, if at all, help language learning?

M – Something I have been hearing about recently which is a long way into the future or maybe just 10 years down the line is how virtual reality will affect language learning. This is all about context. What if you can make a virtual environment where you are in a German story. That would be awesome! Although I definitely think current technology is pushing the boundaries with language learning. Whether it be with your app, podcasts or Duolingo. There are just so many possibilities.

And with that the interview is over. I leave a more knowledgeable linguist, surprised at how much we managed to talk about in a 30 minute interview, from science to film, literature and virtual reality.

Expat life in Madrid – Livin’ la vida loca


Madrid, Expat

Living in Madrid allowed me to fall prey to bizarre Spanish customs and traditions. For any of you lovely readers thinking about moving to or studying there, DO IT.

To explain their lifestyle simply, take my timetable from last year at an English university, move every activity 3 hours later and voila you’ve got Madrid life down to a tee. I would stumble along to my 9am lecture on time, with the ever so english expectation of it starting at 9am on the dot. However I mostly spent at least half an hour waiting outside the classroom for the teacher to actually turn up! None of the other students seemed to bat an eyelid and they too stroll into class when the teacher eventually arrived. This relaxed attitude is very much the way of life here, which actually worked wonders for me, except for when it came to sorting out Erasmus paperwork or waiting for a response to an email. Lunch was usually around 2.30pm, or in my case 3ish, as that is when my flatmate would get home from Uni. I slowly adapted to this dramatic change in eating habits, ignoring my stomach cramps at midday, or in most cases grabbing a merienda so I could survive! Dinner (as you guessed) was also later, and by later I mean bedtime. If you wander through town in the early evening everything appears to be quiet and pretty empty until BAM its 11pm and suddenly the whole city is out wining and dining.

A night out in Madrid borders on the ridiculous when compared to England. Ridiculous… but oh so fun! For the Spanish, a night out literally means an entire night out. If you don’t come home past 6am, still busting those reggaeton inspired dance moves, on the first metro alongside some less than impressed morning commuters, then it has probably been a dull evening. Pre-drinks, or “copas”, would never be earlier than midnight and turning up to “la discoteca” (yes, that is what they call it) before 2am is considered almost a crime. Of course keeping up with their timetable was one thing, but their dancing…was incredible. Let’s put it this way, the majority of my girlfriends could have easily been in Beyonce’s new music video. My lack of sass on the dance floor made it extremely obvious that I was the foreigner of the group. Coping with the morning hangovers, especially with early class during the week, was not so fun.However, thank the lord that a siesta really is an accustomed day-to-day activity. This, without a doubt, was my lifeline. Why had I never napped before!?

The best thing, without a doubt, about Spain was the food. In particular the fact that when you ordered a drink at a bar, free food would magically appear. The tapas scene is something all UK bars should learn from. I loved it so much it got to the point where a) I was drinking way more just so they would keep bringing me food and b) if I received a drink and no tapas arrived, I became horrendously offended and left immediately. Hit me up if you are in search of a tapas bar in Madrid, my knowledge of all the generous tapas bars is unparalleled!

Madrid really is a crazy exciting city and I highly recommend living there. In between fiestas, tapas and not enough sleep you will have the time of your life!

To whet your appetite here is quite a well known reggaeton classic. You may have heard it: