Dr. Gareth Popkins is a lawyer, historian, and former English and Welsh teacher who is fluent in German, Russian, and Welsh, advanced in French, conversational in Hungarian, Finnish, Italian, Portuguese, and Basque, and now hard at work on Japanese.
We first met in June 2019 at the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava and I knew right away that I wanted to have him on the podcast to share his language learning story and tips.
As he puts it:
“I’ve got fluent because I really wanted to and I kept going, despite myself. It’s sometimes said that an expert is someone who’s made all the mistakes in the book. If so, I’m that expert. I’m still experimenting. I’m still learning…. and still making those mistakes, of course.”
In the interview, we chat about:
- The problem with the word “polyglot.”
- Why anyone who is interested in languages should attend a language event regardless of current language ability. (For more on this, see my post 5 Reasons to Attend a Polyglot Gathering or Conference Even if You Don’t Consider Yourself a Polyglot).
- An inside look at the business of language blogging and self-publishing.
- Why Gareth started studying Japanese and what attracted him to the language and culture.
- The critical impotance of having a strong WHY for learning a language.
- Why learning kanji is on Gareth’s bucket list.
- How to best learn Japanese kanji.
- The pros and cons of paper vs. digital flashcards.
- Why harder is often better when it comes to learning.
- How Gareth has learned languages in the past and what he’s doing differently for Japanese.
- Why one size never fits all in language learning, nutrition, etc.
- The importance of getting lots of audio input and writing practice in a foreign language.
- The power of persistence.
- Why it’s usually attitude, not aptitude, that makes someone a polyglot.
- Why we all have certain advantages we can leverage in language learning.
- How Gareth fits language learning into his working life and what will be change during his sabbatical.
- Why you should count your language learning in hours, not years.
- The importance of smaller, more frequent study sessions and taking breaks in between.
- Gareth’s current favorite Russian and German TV shows.
- The case for squeezing more out of fewer resources.
- Why Gareth likes textbooks.
- Why there is no single perfect resource.
- The importance of making language learning a habit, setting clear goals, and joining a community of learners.
Events, People & Resources Mentioned
- The Polyglot Gathering: May 26–May 30, 2020 | Teresin, Poland
- The Polyglot Conference: For everyone who loves language.
- LangFest: North America’s hotspot for linguists & language lovers
- Richard Simcott: A hyper-polyglot who has studied 40+ languages.
- The Language Influencer Summit: An event for language experts who want to turn their passion into a profitable online business.
- Master Japanese: How to Learn Japanese through Anywhere Immersion (my step-by-step guide to learning Japanese)
- Authority by Nathan Barry.
- Kanji/Hanzi/Chinese characters: ideophonetic characters used to write Japanese and Chinese.
- Remembering the Kanji by James Heisig (my recommended tool for learning all official Japanese kanji in an adult-friednly way).
- Japanese From Zero! (the Japanese textbook Gareth is using).
- Jouyou kanji (常用漢字): the list of standard, common-use kanji used in Japan.
- Will Smith on taking on big projects “brick by brick.”
“You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. You do that every single day. And soon you have a wall.” —Will Smith interview on Charlie Rose
- Anki: A popular spaced repetition flashcard app for web, iOS, Android, etc.
- Leitner system: A spaced repetition system for paper flashcards.
- Steve Kaufmann: A polyglot, the founder of LingQ, and the author of The Way of the Linguist: A Language Learning Odyssey.
- Shortwave radio: Radio transmissions using shortwave radio frequencies.
- Multiple Intelligences: A theory by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner detailed Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
- Кухня (Kukhnya): A Russian comedy set in a kitchen (which is what “Кухня” means).
- Rentnercops: A German comedy set in Cologne about two former homicide detectives who come back out of retirement when there is a staff shortage.
- На краю (Na krayu): A topical Russian drama set in Syria.
- Pimsleur Japanese 1: An audio-based course that helps you master pronunciation and basic vocab and structures.
- Wikitongues: A a global volunteer movement expanding access to language revitalization.
- Glossika: Mike Campbell‘s excellent language training site and app.
- Lindsay Williams of Lindsay Does Languages
- iTalki: High-quality, low-cost, one-on-one online language tutoring.
- Cognitive distortions: How our thinking affects our feelings, productivity, etc.