Donovan Nagel is an Applied Linguistics graduate hailing from rural Queensland, Australia (the amazing soundscape you hear in the background of our interview) and the man behind the language learning site and community, The Mezzofanti Guild, and the Arabic learning site, Talk in Arabic. Donovan named the site after one of his heroes, Cardinal Giuseppe Gasparo Mezzofanti (1774 – 1849), a hyperpolyglot who Donovan felt a strong connection to given their mutual background in theology, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic, and the fact that they both focus on learning via contact with real people.
In our interview, we discuss:
- The difference between various Arabic dialects.
- The fuzzy distinction between “dialects” and “languages”.
- Why you should NOT start with Modern Standard Arabic.
- The importance of learning the Arabic dialect of the people you’re interested in.
- The pros and cons of learning a foreign language with a significant other.
- Why he created Talk in Arabic (a learner-centric content site).
- The importance of learning in short bursts and focusing on time-sensitive vocabulary.
- Why you should focus on only 5 to 8 words at a time.
- How flashcards and app-based study can be a form of procrastination, not actual learning.
- How sequence in flashcards can build false confidence.
- The power of urgency in language learning.
Resources Mentioned in the Interview
- Donovan’s Arabic content site: Talk in Arabic
- Where to find native speakers: iTalki.com
- Online Irish learning site: Ranganna.com
- Ranganna’s textbooks: Gaeilge Gan Stro (“Irish Without Struggle”)
- Music-based language training app: Earworm’s Musical Brain Trainer
- Good Arabic books: American University of Cairo Press bookshop
- Audio spaced-repetition training for high-beginners: Glossika