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.”
Shannon Kennedy is a language lover, traveler, musician, and writer. She has written extensively for Fluent in 3 Months and Drops, and is also the Language Encourager and Community Manager for the Add1Challenge. In 2018, she co-hosted the inaugural Women in Language event, an online conference to champion, celebrate, and amplify the voices of women in languages. In the interview, we discuss ① why majoring in music led Shannon to start learning German, Italian, and Spanish, ② how her self-study methods differ from how she had learned languages in school, ③ why learning is short, frequent chunks of time is more effective than longer study sessions, ④ her daily habits and how she fits in language learning around work and motherhood, ⑤ why kids don’t learn languages better than adults, and ⑥ why discipline is more important than motivation when learning any skill.
Idahosa Ness is an accomplished polyglot, world traveler, musician, and the founder The Mimic Method, which helps language learners adopt more native-like pronunciation through the power of listening, phonetics, and mimicry. In the interview, we discuss how he went from a monolingual speaker in the suburbs of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to a globetrotting polyglot who speaks Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and Mandarin Chinese, why he focuses on pronunciation and speaking first, how his conversational fluency helped him out of a jam with the Mexican police, why music makes language more memorable and engaging, and much more.
Lindsay Williams has been hooked on languages ever since childhood when she got a taste of French—and the free croissants that accompanied the class! Since then, she’s gone on to learn Spanish, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, Esperanto, Indonesian, Korean, Guarani, and more. Along the way, she developed a passion for teaching languages, too, and has taught learners in Costa Rica, refugees in the U.K., countless learners online, and even employees at a garlic bread factory! She now dedicates time to inspiring independent language learners and online teachers, sharing a wealth of useful tips and tools on her popular site Lindsay Does Language. She has also created one of my favorite new podcasts, Language Stories, a documentary series that highlights various languages around the globe and the people who speak them. In the interview, we discuss: 1) Lindsay’s language “origin story.” 2) Her most memorable language learning experiences. 3) The most common learner mistakes and myths. 4) Her daily language learning routines and “minimum viable daily habits.” 5) How to create “onion goals.” 6) The importance of being kind to oneself and seeing mistakes as evidence of growth, not proof of failure. 7) What to do when motivation and willpower wane. 8) Why one size never fits all in language learning.
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.”