Author, polyglot, and “langpreneur” Olly Richards from I Will Teach You a Language returns to the podcast six years after our first chat to share what new lessons he’s learned and how a high-altitude near death experience led him to the power of stories in language learning. Olly has been quite the busy bee since we last spoke, going on to build one of the most popular language blogs on the planet, launching a series of in-depth language courses, and publishing 16 short story books with Teach Yourself (with more coming soon, including a Japanese edition)!

Note: This interview contains some adult language.

Topics Discussed

In part one of our wide-ranging, in-depth conversation, we get into:

  • How Olly went on to learn 10 languages despite being a “late bloomer.”
  • How and why he built I Will Teach You a Language.
  • Why Olly finds story-based language learning so effective.
  • The importance of doing what you like and why enjoyment leads to more time on task.
  • The difficulty of finding stories and readers ideal for beginning to intermediate learners.
  • The challenge of proving whether a particular language learning method works or not, especially when studied in less-than-ideal classroom environments.
  • The few essential ingredients necessary for effective language learning.
  • The primary struggles faced by independent language learners and how best to overcome them.
  • How Olly’s approach to―and attitudes about―language learning have shifted in the past few decades.
  • The tyranny of perfectionism and the beauty of becoming a “disciplined half-ass.”
  • “Rigging the game to win” vs. “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
  • Why the imperfect method you stick to is better than the perfect method you quit.
  • The tension between setting realistic expectations about how much time and effort it takes to learn a language, and encouraging new learners to get started and build momentum.
  • How I learned kanji in college and whether I would use the same method if starting from scratch today.
  • Why mnemonics are so much more effective than rote memorization and muscle memory.
  • The law of diminishing returns for the last five perfect of approaching native-like fluency and the euphoria of starting a new language.
  • Which languages we are learning now and hope to learn next.
  • The critical importance of having a strong, meaty WHY when learning a language.
  • The role of identity in language learning and the challenge of feeling like “a stupid kid” again.
  • Why I argue that languages like Japanese are “different,” not necessarily “difficult,” and why the language itself is not what’s difficult, but rather the need to endure uncertainty and ambiguity.
  • How cognitive distortions (e.g. “all-or-nothing” thinking) sabotage our efforts to learn a language, build a business, or anything in between.
  • Why enthusiasm, confidence, and the eagerness to communicate matter so much more than language ability or linguistic accuracy.

Concepts, Events, People & Resources Mentioned

Olly’s Short Story Books from Teach Yourself

Olly’s Courses

  • Uncovered Courses: Beginner story-based courses for French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish that allow learners to naturally learn and uncover vocabulary and grammar in a fun, contextual way.
  • Language Learning Foundations: This step-by-step video course shows you the exact techniques and routines Olly used to learn 10 languages. You’ll learn how to start speaking with confidence in months instead of years.
  • Grammar Hero: Ditch boring textbooks and learn how to internalize Brazilian Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Russian, or Spanish grammar the natural, effective way.
  • Spanish Experience Summit: This epic online masterclass with the world’s top experts in language acquisition, travel hacking, and expat living is perfect for anyone wanting to live or retire in Spain or Latin America.

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