Gabriel Gelman is the founder of Sprachheld, a popular language learning website for Germans learning foreign languages (and―as an added bonus―non-Germans learning German as a foreign language). On the site, Gabriel shares useful language learning tips and tools, inspirational interviews with polyglots and linguists, and a dialogue-based Spanish course (with other languages slated for production in the future). I’ve followed his work for some time and was delighted to finally meet him in person at the 2019 Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava.
Elisa Polese is an Italian polyglot known for teaching multiple languages at once (up to ten languages at a time!), including Arabic, Catalan, Dutch, Italian, English, Esperanto, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. In addition to her focus on multilingual learning, Elisa is also a big proponent of speaking from day one and getting over the fear of making mistakes. I had the privilege of witnessing her impressive multilingual teaching skills firsthand at the 2019 Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava, and it was exhilarating to see so many languages flying around in the room at once!
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.
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.