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

“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

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