How Real Fast Spanish Founder Andrew Barr Went From a Monolingual Aussie to a Budding Polyglot
Despite doing well in other school subjects, Andrew Barr failed French in secondary school. Upon hearing this news, his supportive father assured him:
"The Barrs don't do languages. We do maths and sciences. You will never have to speak of a word of French again!"
It turns out that this prediction was a bit off the mark. Today, Andrew speaks multiple languages and has built a successful business teaching languages at Real Fast Spanish.
In this deep dive into Andrew's language learning journey and philosophy, you will learn:
- How a multilingual climb up Mount Kilimanjaro inspired him to learn languages (and led to befriending a French actress).
- The importance of high-quality language input (high-yield listening and reading content).
- The power of learning with other people (teachers, tutors, and exchange partners) and why you need to avoid the input-only trap.
- Why motivation, consistency, and discipline are the essential 3 essential ingredients of successful language learning.
- Why Andrew decided to start learning Polish (his first non-Romance language) and the surprising origins of his family name.
- The ideal order of operations for learning a new language from scratch and why you should master sounds first.
- The 24-hour rule for new vocabulary and the simple $5 language-learning tool you should carry with you everywhere you go.
- The language-learning advice Andrew would give to his younger self to break through his earlier stories and self-limiting beliefs.
- Why learning a language is akin to learning to play the guitar (you have to learn by doing, not watching).
- Why your feelings about a language-learning method are more important than the method itself.
- Why pursuing pleasure in language learning is not always the answer and why Andrew studies flashcards in Anki even though he doesn't enjoy it.
- The most common mistakes that native English speakers make in Spanish (and how to sound less like a "gringo" by changing just one sound).
- Why correctly pronouncing vowels is more important in Spanish than getting consonants right.
- The critical difference between "accent" and "pronunciation" and why the latter matter much more.
- Andrew's 2 essential language-learning principles: 1) readiness to learn, and 2) high-quality practice.
- How to build early confidence by setting the bar low and having specific goals in each conversation.
“One of the things that I really changed was I went from learning by myself to learning with other people. So rather than myself and a book and a podcast in my room at home, I started attending a local Spanish school, and I started doing meetups and language exchanges. And over the next 6 to 9 months, I went from that very awkward beginner type to very conversationally comfortable. And from that point, I really felt Spanish opened up to me and became really enjoyable.”
Concepts, Methods & Resources Mentioned
- Real Fast Spanish (Andrew's website)
- Real Fast Spanish Podcast (Andrew's podcast)
- My 2015 interview on Andrew's podcast
- CEFR Levels (e.g. A1, A2, B1, B2, etc.)
- Language input & output
- italki 1-on-1 language tutoring
- Anki SRS (spaced repetition flashcards)
- Diacritics (marks on letters to indicate pronunciation)
- If You Want to Sound Less Like a Gringo... (Andrew's YouTube channel)
- Schwa (ə)
- Spanish phonology
- churros & porras (types fried dough)
- porros (marijuana joint)
- puros (cigar)
- Voiced dental fricative (ð)
- Comprehensible input (part of Stephen Krashen's "Input Hypothesis")
- Deliberate practice
- Intermediate plateau
- Growth mindset
- Dunning–Kruger effect
People, Places & Names Mentioned
- Ruan De Witt (Andrew's polyglot friend & car accident survivor)
- Mount Kilimanjaro
- Barszcz (Polish version of Borscht)
- Warsaw, Poland
- Kraków, Poland
- Wrocław, Poland