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.”
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.
On August 28, 1963, The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., an American activist, humanitarian, and pastor gave what would become one of the most famous speeches of all time and a defining moment in the Civil Rights Movement. The masterful address, usually known simply as “I Have a Dream”, was delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in front hundreds of thousands of people who had joined the “March on Washington”. If you haven’t watched the speech in a while, please take a moment now to relive a bit of history and honor King’s memory. And for extra points, read the speech in 12 different languages.
Ellen Jovin is variously described as a “linguaphile,” a “language-crazed writer,” a “grammar freak,” a “former freelance writer,” and a professional trainer specializing in communication skills. On the first of July in 2009, Ellen began a impressive language and culture project called “Words & Worlds of New York” with the goal exploring the myriad languages spoken in The Big Apple.
Susanna Zaraysky is a self-proclaimed “language geek”, a speaker of 7 languages, and the author of “Language Is Music: Over 100 Fun & Easy Tips to Learn Foreign Languages”. She has been featured on CBS, BBC Radio, CNN, NBC, and Univision, and now thanks to me, the world’s most famous podcast! Just kidding. In our interview, we discuss the weaknesses of traditional language education, the power of music in language acquisition, the importance of developing a resonance for one’s target language and culture, and the fact that you can learn any language, anywhere.