Last week, I shared part one of my most recent chat with the inimitable Olly Richards, who first appeared on The Language Mastery Show back in in April 2014. Since that time, he’s gone on to build I Will Teach You a Language into one of the top language blogs, launch a slew of excellent language courses, and publish a series of great short story books through Teach Yourself. In part two of our wide-ranging conversation, we get into his language learning routines and habits, how he tackles reading (especially in Japanese), the importance of getting a wide range of high-quality exposure to your target language, the power of following your interest and curiosity, and Olly’s top tips for launching a successful online language learning empire or just a profitable side hustle to help pay the bills.
Whether you find Duolingo to be a green-feathered friend in your pocket or an intimidating monster lurking outside your door waiting to pounce on you for not meeting your daily study goal, there’s no denying the app’s ubiquity and widespread cultural influence. Even Saturday Night Live has done a skit about it! Given its popularity, I am frequently asked whether I use Duolingo myself and what I think about it as a path to foreign language fluency. The answer to the first part of this question is easy: yes. Every single day. The answer to the second half, however, is far more nuanced and chock-full of caveats. Read on to see why Duolingo (alone) won’t get you fluent in Japanese, but why I think you should use it anyway…
Arieh Smith, a.k.a. Xiaomanyc (Xiǎomǎ, 小马), is a popular YouTuber who loves practicing Mandarin on the streets of New York and surprising unsuspecting native speakers. From 24-hour crash courses in new languages like Korean, to learning additional Chinese dialects like Cantonese and Fuzhounese (which are really mutually unintelligible languages), his viral linguistic exploits have entertained and inspired millions of learners around the world. In our conversation, he shares why and how he learned Mandarin Chinese, tips for mastering Chinese characters and tones, and strategies for going from zero to basic conversations in days instead of years.
Katie Harris is the founder of Joy of Languages, a site dedicated to helping make language learning a joy instead of a chore. She was bored to tears with languages in school, but eventually figured out a more fun, effective approach to language learning that is focused on communicating with people and enjoying authentic listening and reading content. With a Masters in Linguistics from Cambridge University and an MRes in Speech, Language and Cognition from University College London, Katie does a great job peppering in just enough linguistics, psychology, and neuroscience to help language learners, but always keeping the focus on fun and efficacy. We first met at the 2019 Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava where I attended her talk How to Learn a Language by Watching TV and Film. Her philosophy was right in line with my “Anywhere Immersion” approach and I was eager to get her on the podcast.
Gretchen McCulloch is an internet linguist, the “Resident Linguist” at WIRED Magazine (Best. Title. Ever!), the co-host of the Lingthusiasm podcast, and the author of the new book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, a smart, loving, pun-filled look at the evolution of language in the internet age.
John Dinkel is the CEO and founder of Manga Sensei, an online education company that teaches Japanese through fun, effective, modern mediums, including a weekly comic series, a daily 5-minute podcast (the #1 Japanese language podcast on Spotify), and a free 30-day course on the basics of Japanese. John began his Japanese journey as an LDS missionary in Nagoya, Japan, an experience that changed the trajectory of his life, showed him the necessity of making mistakes, and lead him to start his business and share the lessons he learned. In the interview, we discuss: 1) How John went from a rural farm in Nebraska to a Japanese metropolis. 2) Why you need to make as many mistakes as possible to learn a language. 3) How the LDS approach to language learning is different than traditional courses. 4) The critical difference between chikin (チキン) and chikan (痴漢). 5) John’s frustration with traditional Japanese language education in universities and how it lead to the creation of Manga Sensei. 6) Why John focuses on practical application (and why he didn’t learn the Japanese word for “coffee” until a year into his learning journey). 7) What to do if you are struggling with spoken Japanese. 8) Why John still uses roumaji despite being able to read kana and kanji. 9) John’s favorite Japanese learning resources for beginning, intermediate, and advanced learners. 10) How John learns Japanese in the shower each morning. 11) Why you have to make 10,000 mistakes to get fluent in a language.