Immerse Sessions with Kirsten Winkler – Fair Languages

Fair languages

Welcome to the Immerse Sessions!

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…

Check out this article by Kirsten herself on the best ways to learn a language: Immerse yourself in language !


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