In 2015, the Danish podcaster Kris Broholm joined me on the Language Mastery Show to talk about how discovering the polyglot community helped pull him out of depression and give his life direction (listen to that episode here).

His podcast, Actual Fluency, is now one of the most popular language podcasts on the planet, with 166 guests to date! Though Kris speaks multiple languages, he sees himself not as a language expert himself, but as a “language learning journalist” who highlights the expertise of the world’s best language learners.

In this special two-part two-way interview (which is also being shared on his podcast), we each talk about lessons we’ve learned in the last four years, patterns we’ve observed after talking to so many polyglots, and how our respective blogs, podcasts, and language businesses have evolved.

Topics Discussed ― Part 1

  • Kris’ origin story and why he started Actual Fluency.
  • How podcasting has grown in popularity since we started our shows.
  • Why there is no one “secret” to learning languages, but why there are important ways to optimize and increase efficiency.
  • How reaching fluency in a language is much like learning an instrument, losing weight, etc.
    Why the key to mastery in anything is having the right mindset and spending enough time on task, not being born with innate ability.
  • Why you should focus on enjoying the journey to fluency, not external endpoints and milestones such as passing an exam.
  • Why fluency is not binary and how you can get great benefit from a language you don’t yet speak very well.
  • The languages Kris now speaks, how he learned them, and his regrets not learning minority or heritage languages that were available in his community while growing up (e.g. Turkish).
  • How Kris would learn languages differently if he could go back in time and apply what he now knows about effective language acquisition.
  • The advantages of being a “language dabbler” and dipping one’s toes into multiple languages even if you never reach full fluency.
  • My first real exposure to foreign languages while doing a 2-week homestay in São Paulo, Brazil.
  • The paradox of choice offered by smartphones, modern online resources, social media, etc. On the one hand, these tools make language immersion easier than ever. But on the other hand, they can also increase distraction and risk of addictive behavior.
  • How any native speaker can create a career leveraging their native language online (e.g. creating a course).
  • The danger of perfectionism in language resource selection and why you need to stop researching and start doing. (“You can’t optimize something you’re not doing.”)
  • The importance of having a big, strong, meaty WHY for learning a language (“It would be kinda’ cool” probably won’t provide enough motivation to sustain you).
  • Why language learning should be as fun as possible, but will inevitably entail work no matter what methods or resources you choose.
  • The importance of engineering early and frequent “wins” in language learning to ensure consistent doses of dopamine (a “feel good hormone” that will keep you coming back for more).
  • Why video games are a “dopamine producing machine,” and therefore an ideal way to learn foreign languages (especially English).
  • Why there is no “right” or “wrong” in language learning, nor any one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone. (“Try everything!”)
  • The advantage of re-watching a familiar film in your target languages (which can be—somewhat surprisingly—more interesting than watching completely new content).
  • The importance of getting comprehensible input. As Stephen Krashen’s points out, “We learn when we understand.” But perhaps just as importantly, we have fun when we understand!
  • Why “comprehension” is a spectrum and how even native speakers don’t always understand 100% of a film, show, play, etc.
  • Language evolution, modern internet language conventions, the genius of means, and more.
  • The advantages and disadvantages of creating your own flashcards versus using a premade deck.
  • The Broholm Coefficient: “The best method to use is the one that is the most fun and the most efficient.”
  • Why you should focus on learning ① vocabulary in context, ② vocabulary that fits your unique interests and professional needs, and ③ just in time vocabulary instead of just in case vocabulary.
  • Why there is no “finish line” in language learning, even for one’s native tongue.
  • Why the number of words you know is far less important than your ability to creatively apply whatever words you know (e.g. Dr. Seuss used only 236 words in The Cat in the Hat and then only 50—to win a bet with his publisher—in Green Eggs and Ham).
  • Why being able to talk one’s way around unknown words is a sign of fluency.
  • Using “verbal fillers” to buy yourself time and put your interlocutor at ease as you search for the right word.
  • How to find “balance in all things” and stay focused on what matters (not “majoring in minor things” as Jim Rohn puts it).

Listen to Part 2 here.

Concepts, People & Resources Mentioned

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