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!