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!
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
W – What 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.
W– So, 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.
W – Why 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!
W – What 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.
W – I 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.
So, if you haven’t been living under a rock the past few days you will have heard that the second season depicting the life and times of the most prolific drug lord of all time, Pablo Escobar, has just hit Netflix and it is an absolute cracker! I am talking, of course, about Narcos.
However, I am not here to give you a step by step review of the series as I don’t want to bore you. Highlight for me though; Señor Escobar casually burning $2 million to keep his daughter warm. If that isn’t the picture of a upstanding family man I don’t know what is. I am however going to assess whether I actually learned any Spanish from my 10 hour Netflix binge.
Firstly, I think we should give some much deserved credit to Wagna Moura who plays Pablo Escobar. The Brazilian actor did not even know how to speak Spanish before taking this role. Spending 6 months in Medellin learning to speak just for this role! Just shows, with the right motivation you can do it.
It is safe to say that I have mainly learned various bad words from the Medellin Cartel and spent the majority of my Sunday walking around saying “Malparido hijo de puta – a Pablo Escobar se le respecta” – now, despite making me feel like a badass, has watching and listening to this made me improve my Spanish? I would argue that yes it has. How can watching 10 hours of television that is mainly in Spanish not help you learn. I don’t care that it may not be the most PC of programs and that you may not be learning the textbook Spanish that you get from the classroom. However, this is genuine, authentic content, you are listening to natives speaking in their native tongue and they aren’t pretending to “order a coffee at a bar” or “ask their friends about homework”, as riveting as that may be.
Only by listening to natives speaking the language you are learning are you going to pick anything up. The accent, the mannerisms and the culture – why are you learning a language otherwise?
So, if you want a little motivation to get that Spanish homework done or you feel like you haven’t spoken or listened to Spanish in a while, give Narcos a try. You may be surprised by how much you pick up. Just make sure you don’t go around saying “malparido” no matter how much fun it is to say!
Here is the trailer for the new season:
And here is an interview with Wagna aka El Patron:
Make sure you sign up to Immerse App for more authentic content!
Part of any language learning experience is Immersing yourself in the culture of the country. Food is hugely important in every culture and will help you gain more of an appreciation and understanding of that language you are learning. We realise that not everyone is going to jet off to South America, Spain or France, so here at Immerse we have put together a list of foreign restaurants in London that you HAVE to check out!
Ready for a Peruvian taste explosion? Peruvian food is famous throughout South America and having been there and tried the national dish Guinea Pig myself, I can understand why! However, for those less adventurous, do not fear, Ceviche is on offer too. If you want to spice things up and get out of that comfort zone, head down to Mommi Raw Bar and Grill on Clapham High Street. The food will not disappoint and neither will their astonishing array of cocktails. You may be lucky enough to catch one of their secret happy hours – Pisco Sours galore! If you’re looking to really push the boat out, there is a special “Mommi and Movie” offer on…which does exactly what it says on the tin!
London being France’s sixth largest city with 300,000 – 400,000 French men and women living here, you might say that is enough French immersion for you, however you can never get enough French cuisine! Have you been to Le Mercury in Islington? Super cheap (for London anyway) and one mouthful will make you feel like you are sitting out on the Avenue des Champs Elysées enjoying that classy Parisian life. The Magret de Canard comes highly recommended.
On we move to Germany. If you have been craving a Currywurst or Schweineschnitzel lately, we have found just the place for you; Bierschenke, based on Blomfield Street that has an array of classic German dishes that are sure to blow your mind. And what self respecting German restaurant would be complete without a fine selection of beer! Certainly not Bierschenke – get a pint of Bierschenke Weißbier, or if you are feeling particularly crazy go all out and order a stein!
Last but not least, Argentina. Why, you ask? Well, because once you have had an Argentinian steak there is no going back. Having spent a year living in Argentina I am forever sceptical about Argentinian restaurants in London living up to their namesake, however Casa Malevo on Connaught Street did just that! Go for the Bife de Chorizo and never look back. Don’t get me started on that red wine!
When attempting to master a foreign language, immersing yourself in the culture is the easiest way to both learn and build your fascination with the respective culture. One central part of recent pop culture in Germany is its rap and hip-hop music. There are whole music festivals solely dedicated to rap and hip-hop, such as Splash! Festival and hardly any popular radio station refrains from playing the music of the spoken word. Therefore we figured, giving you a little list of recommended German rap artists would help you further your immersion into German culture. So here we go:
Marten Laciny a.k.a Marteria is the German equivalent to Jared Leto, in that he has had success in almost anything he touched. He played for the German under 17 soccer national team, moved to New York to become a successful model and in the last few years practically revolutionized German rap. While his flow is not rapid by any means, his plays on words and lyrics in general are extraordinary. The vibrant metaphors in his songs that underline the great perspectives on many ideas he has, are well known gems of German popular music. Start off with his song “O.M.G.”, it is an absolute tune, enjoy the ride!
I am almost certain that when you started reading this article you were surprised by the mere idea that there is such a thing as German rap. Let me surprise you even more, by telling you that its history goes back more than 20 years by now. One of the oldest German rap outfits now a juggernaut, is Absolute Beginner. Their 90s flow is, as almost all 90s flows, a bit slower, but the lyrics are more polished than many modern gangster rappers’ texts. Especially Jan Delays nasal tone will be something to remember, as he later in his career turned to singing, and not just anything but soul and funk. The best gateway to this trio is “Füchse” (German for foxes), which they featured Samy Deluxe on, another one of German raps evergreens.
Now let’s get a bit dirtier. Xatar is part of the relatively large Kurdish community in Germany. He spent a few years in prison for armed robbery and was even featured on German national news. He produced his first mix tape from behind bars and it surprisingly exploded on the German rap scene. Today he is one of the hottest new artists, to come up in the last few years. The other members of his “Alles oder nix“ label, most notably SSIO, are equally popular at the moment. Especially interesting is the way he talks about the Kurdish Pershmerga’s fight with ISIS, evoking the memory of Kurds being the sons of Salahuddin, and the opinions he voices about the German prison system. First of Xatar’s songs to listen to is the more light-hearted “Iz da”.
Do you like crossovers? Then you’ll love Casper. His voice sounds like Joe Cocker in a screamo band and his music is somewhere between hip-hop beats and his hardcore background. He regularly works with big names of German rock music, such as the Beatstakes Arnim Teutoburg-Weiß, or Tomtes Thees Uhlmann. If you are more into songs to make your heart heavy and think of your last love lost Casper is the German way to go. Try “So Perfekt”, which, in contrast to many of the other songs, an anthem to the end of something that is the beginning of new endeavours. It’ll remind you of your high school graduation, or the best times of your first relationship.
Nobody actually knows what K.I.Z. stands for. “Kanibalen in Zivil” (civilized canibals) or “Klösterschüler im Zölibat” (celibate cloister school boys) are just two of the acronym’s many translations. Not only their name sparks controversy, but their lyrics do even more. Set to DJ Crafts intense beats, they talk about being serial killers in mental asylums or their idea of a perfect post apocalyptic world. Their last release is more straightforward than their mostly ironic first albums, but incorporates current topics such as the migrant crisis. The rants some of their songs include are nothing short of awesome. Try their last single “Hurra die Welt geht unter” to start with. It features one of the great voices of modern German music, Henning May, and is a song for a Sunday morning on your sunny Berlin balcony. Check it out here and just imagine that Berlin balcony!
In the coming months we shall be interviewing various language blogs, film startups and basically anything we can get our hands on to help you all Immerse yourselves in the language you are learning. The whole process needs to be fun and that is what we shall be bringing you!
A few weeks ago I sent out a hopeful message into the twitter verse requesting an interview with Fair Languages and today we bring you an exclusive interview with Kirsten Winkler the founder and editor in chief.
Kirsten if you were to describe Fair Languages in a tweet what would you say?
Barely hesitating she replies: “Fair Languages is a source for trends, tips, #resources and information for #language learners and teachers & tutors.” (yes the hashtags were added in by me for added effect)
So do you speak any languages yourself?
K – “Well I am German and I have been living in France for the past few years. I also speak English and I dabble with a bit of Spanish too. So a couple of languages, yes!”
Feeling less than pleased with my own language abilities I comment that this is the case with most of the Germans that I know, putting us English monolinguals to shame.
Why do you think English speakers are so monolingual?
K -“Put simply you guys can get away with it. English is spoken all over the world, it is so easy to get around with it, and so there is less incentive there to learn another language. Germany, like many other smaller countries such as Holland and Luxembourg already have English embedded in their school systems, they cannot get away from it. Added to this they are convinced (and they are right) that not many other people across the world are going to learn their language, so they are much more flexible both for personal and business reasons about learning new languages.”
We then got to talking about the concept of “Mother-tongue plus two” which basically states that every EU citizen should speak two foreign languages plus their mother tongue. Is this not what being a European citizen should mean? We are part of such a linguistically diverse continent should we not engage ourselves in it to this degree?
What do you think about Britain exiting the EU? Will this affect language learning here in the UK?
K – “I think historically you have strong ties with the US as they are English speakers as well and you can travel to Australia and even move there. You can basically live internationally but within the Anglophone universe! I have met quite a few expats here in France – British expats, and you basically have these two groups, the ones that continue to Immerse themselves in the culture and the language and those who surround themselves with only British people and are apparently happy with that. So really it is a matter of desire, either you really want to embrace this new life and culture or you don’t. Britain exiting the EU or staying within it will not make a difference to that.”
I briefly retell my tale of living in Argentina (one, I am told, I tell all too often) and noticing how many people did either surround themselves with English speakers or went full native! The American-Spanish accents were the best. I have a fond memory of my American friend asking in her strong Californian accent where her “Waleta” (referring to her wallet) was!
It is easy to fall into this trap, making friends and working in your mother tongue is just so much easier. You find English speakers everywhere and when you are far from home in a completely new environment you will look for comfort wherever you can. However I cannot stress enough how much you need to resist that urge!
K – “I mean it wouldn’t feel complete if I was living in France and just speaking to Germans all of the time, I would feel a little bit alien. I think you pick another country for a reason and you miss so much about actually living in that country and being surrounded by a new culture if you only speak your mother tongue.
I always tell people when they finish University or College that they should take the leap and go and live abroad. It is the time to enjoy yourself and make these experiences. You never know what you might find!”
What are the best ways to Immerse yourself in the language both when you are in the country and when at home?
K- “If you have the opportunity to move abroad that is of course great and you will pick up the language quickly but we are living in the 21st Century and technology has a lot of positive effects on language learning as well. You can connect with people via Skype and language exchange for to name but a few. I think even if you don’t have the chance to go abroad there are now new ways and enough opportunities to at least Immerse yourself in the virtual sphere and surround yourself with the language that you want to learn to about. It is not a deal breaker if you cannot leave your country”
It’s an expensive option and not necessarily an essential one.
K – “I mean you can develop an appetite for speaking with Argentinian people online and Immersing yourself in that way. Like I said, with the technologies available today, there are many ways to get involved. Online immersion can develop a certain sense of how it may be to be abroad”
Do you think apps such as Duolingo and Busuu are really helping people learn languages?
K – “I think apps such as Duolingo, Busuu and Babble can help you lay the groundwork and it allows you to see if you are at all interested in the language. You can obviously learn vocabulary quite well with apps such as Memrise and learn grammar with Busuu and Duolingo. I think the interesting part comes a little after that when you actually want to speak with a native speaker, I am not sure how helpful these apps are when it comes to actually speaking the language, as it is mainly passive knowledge that you are gaining from them. I think you are always going to need the synchronous element, actually speaking to someone is essential and adds a different layer and quality to your language ability.
Technology is getting better and better and sometime ago Google bought a startup called Wordlens where you basically have your smartphone camera and you hold it up to a sign say in Chinese and it instantly translates it. It will be coming out as a new google service at some point.”
Check out how it works here!!
I may have lost my professional edge at this point becoming a little too enthusiastic – “Wow that is awesome” – but bringing it back round I talk a little about Immerse and the benefits that our site offers and the progress that we are making (shameless plug) and ask:
Do you have a particular film or book that you have read or watched in a foreign language that helped you out?
K – “I think when you are at the level of understanding film you are already quite advanced, so it most likely comes down to taste. I mean for myself and French. I remember I had a lot of lessons at school and a wide passive knowledge of the vocab, grammar and I could speak well, however when I turned the TV on in France I was extremely overwhelmed. I realised, wow, this is another step, another level in my French learning.
The speed is so much faster and you have to react to this. It was frustrating but it was an experience nonetheless. As soon as you feel like you know enough words and grammar, start watching everything in that foreign language, even if it is just the news at first because they speak very clearly and they speak the language properly you can then make your way up to films and TV in whatever genre you are interested in. The key is patience, don’t expect to understand 90-95% of what is going on in a one and a half hour film as it is just so overwhelming”
“Don’t expect too much and unnecessarily frustrate yourself”
We say our goodbyes (virtually over Skype) and I am left feeling more enlightened about the language learning process and less frustrated with my terrible attempts at listening to Portuguese Radio. Do I, like my friend Eddie keeps banging on about, need to go and live in Rio de Janeiro to perfect my Portuguese? Maybe not – the technology is here for me to do that from home, however the lack of beaches and 40 degree heat may leave me less motivated…