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.”
Lindsay McMahon is the co-founder of All Ears English, a podcast and site dedicated to helping people learn natural English in a fun, relaxed way by focusing on “connection, not perfection.” The show, co-hosted by Lindsay (“The English Adventurer”), Michelle Kaplan (“The New York Radio Girl”), and Jessica Beck (“The Examiner of Excellence”), is ranked in the Top 20 Most Downloaded podcasts in Japan, Korea, China, and Brazil, and has been downloaded more than 50 million times! In the interview, we discuss: 1) How living with an 18-year-old French exchange student at age 10 sparked Lindsay’s passion for foreign languages. 2) Lindsay’s experience living and learning abroad after university, including her life changing 1.5 years in Tokyo. 3) How Lindsay got certified in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). 4) The pros and cons of living in rural or urban areas while abroad. 5) How to prepare for standardized tests (e.g. the JLPT, IELTS, TOEFL, etc.) so that you actually learn how to communicate at the same time. 6) The most common mistakes that English learners make and how to overcome them. 7) Why there is no “best” dialect of English and how to choose the right one for your needs. 8) How to stay focused on connection and communication instead of mistakes. 9) How to lower the “affective filter” (psychological blocks to understanding and producing the language). 10) The critical cultural difference between doing business in Japan and the U.S. 11) The most common mistakes Japanese learners of English make. 12) The problems with linguistic interference and direct translation. 13) Why language “immersion” is superior to language “learning.” 14) What Lindsay has changed her mind about in the last few years. 15) How Lindsay prioritizes her life, work, learning, etc. 16) Where she sees All Ears English in five years. 17) Lindsay’s favorite ESL resources, apps, and online tools. 18) The importance of moving on to authentic content instead of only sticking with learner content. 19) The power of having an “internal locus of control” and how beliefs about control and choice vary culture to culture. 20) Lindsay’s future travel plans and why she plans to continue traveling throughout her life. 21) Why you need to keep your eye on what matters.
We all have days when we’re unmotivated to put in the time. We all endure embarrassing linguistic and cultural gaffes that can make it hard to get back on the horse. And we all encounter learning plateaus when lots of effort leads to little perceived progress. All normal, but frustrating nonetheless. When such challenges inevitably arise, I find it helpful to read the accounts of experienced language learners who have faced (and overcome!) similar hurdles. While reading about language learning is certainly no substitute for actually learning a language, we can gain a great deal of vicarious wisdom from these linguistic “Yodas” who have journeyed before―and farther than―us. To that end, here are five of my favorite language learning blogs that can help keep you motivated through the ups and downs of language learning and provide useful tips to overcome the most common obstacles.
Benny Lewis is a fun-loving blogger, YouTuber, author, language hacker, and technomad from Ireland (hence his nickname “Irish Polyglot”). He is the creator of the most popular language learning site in the world as of writing, Fluentin3Months.com, and has authored five books. He has demonstrated again and again that it’s possible to reach conversational fluency in a matter of months, not years as most believe. Benny’s philosophy on language learning is right in line with my Anywhere Immersion approach, as exemplified in the following quote from his book Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World:
“…where you are isn’t what decides whether or not you’ll be successful. Attitude beats latitude (and longitude) every time. It’s more about creating an immersion environment, exposing yourself to native speakers, and doing everything you can in that language.”
As language learners, we’re often told that we need to memorize new words followed immediately by memorizing a phrase that uses the word. There’s no disagreeing with the important of seeing new vocabulary in context, but this method does not tell the full story of context and its power.
In this guest post, writer Estelle Shumann discusses the effects of English on world education, culture, and ideology, and how some consider the prominence of English a form of neo-colonialism. What’s your stand?