Lýdia Machová, PhD is a polyglot, language mentor, interpreter, TED speaker, the former head organizer of the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava, and the founder of Language Mentoring, a site that shows people how to learn any language by themselves. Her 2018 TED Talk, The Secrets of Learning a New Language, has been watched nearly 4.5 million times, and has brought the language learning secrets of polyglots to a much wider audience than ever before. In the interview, we discuss: 1) Why Lýdia passed the reins to other organizers for the 2019 Polyglot Gathering. 2) How Lýdia got interested in languages and why the traditional classroom approach didn’t work. 3) How non-traditional methods like reading Harry Potter and watching Friends helped her acquire languages quickly and more enjoyably. 4) How Lýdia defines “comfortable fluency” and what language level she aims for in each new language. 5) Why you should think in terms of hours not years when learning a language. 6) Why success in language learning depends on interest and finding effective methods, not being “good at languages.” 7) Lýdia’s thoughts on the “Critical Period Hypothesis” and why you can learn a language at any age. 8) Why there will never be a “good” time to start speaking so you might as well start practicing as early as possible. 9) How you can use simple language to speak around words you don’t yet know. 10) Why speaking a foreign language is about applying the words you know, not translating word for word from your mother tongue. 11) The four core principles of effective language learning: ① having fun, ② choosing effective methods, ③ taking a systemic, habit-based approach, and ④ maximizing contact with the language. 12) How to use David James’ “Goldlist Method” to learn vocabulary quickly and easily. 13) Why language apps such as Duolingo can be a useful adjunct to other language activities, but why apps alone are not enough to learn to speak a language. 14) The critical difference between “passive recognition” and “active production.” 15) Why Lýdia always elicits specific language learning goals from her clients first and then adjusts her recommendations to fit them. 16) Lýdia’s thoughts on the “I don’t have time” excuse. 17) Why you should focus your time on a small number of core apps or resources. 18) How to fully leverage a single resource with multiple methods.19) Lýdia’s words of encouragement for new language learners. 20) Why you don’t have to be a “polyglot” to attend events like Polyglot Gathering, Polyglot Conference, LangFest, etc.
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.
The journey to fluency in a foreign language can be loads of fun at times, but it also includes inevitable challenges and setbacks. You will misunderstand others and be misunderstood yourself. You will unintentionally say offensive things or make cultural gaffes. You will butcher grammar. You will order the wrong food and get on the wrong bus. But as frustrating or painful as these mistakes can be, it’s critical to understand that they don’t block the path to mastery. They are the path to mastery. Screwing up and figuring out where we went wrong is an inevitable, mandatory part of the leaning process. The only true mistake is the one we don’t learn from.
Sara Maria Hasbun, a.k.a. Miss Linguistic, is a polyglot, translator, linguist, and the Managing Director of Meridian Linguistics. She speaks Spanish, French, Mandarin, Korean, American Sign Language, Nicaraguan Sign Language, and Indonesian, and has also dabbled in Thai, Cantonese, and Malay. In the interview, we discuss: 1) How Sara Maria got interested in languages, and went from a struggling Spanish student to a full-fledged polyglot. 2) How studying linguistics has helped her learn foreign languages better. 3) How she learned to mimic immersion environments anywhere in the world. 4) The power of probabilistic, statistical learning, and the importance of learning language through high-frequency chunks. 5) Why you should “spam your brain” with language learning input. 6) The power of using online tutors and the importance of removing pain points between you and spoken practice. 7) The importance of getting the sounds of a language into your head. 8) The similarities between learning a language and working out (and how doing both at the same time is a powerful combination). 9) Why you shouldn’t discount the power of passive learning, “dead time,” and habit pairing. 10) The insufficiency of rule-based learning. 11) Why you should work with multiple tutors. 12 ) The power of the “monologue method” and 30-day challenges.
If you’re lucky, you already know exactly which language you want to learn next. Congratulations! You can skip the following post and get back to bingeing Game of Thrones. But if you are among those struggling to decide which language to learn next, this post is for you. There are approximately 6,500 languages spoken today, and this massive number of options can quickly lead to what psychologist Barry Schwartz calls “the paradox of choice.” Many of us get stuck in “paralysis by analysis,” endlessly weighing pros and cons in a foolish effort to make the perfect choice. There is no perfect choice, of course, so we often make no choice at all. Or if we do manage to choose a language, we are left with a nagging fear that we made the wrong choice. Are we missing out on a more fulfilling adventure? Would another language be more useful in our career? So what to do? While there is no right answer to the question, “What language should I learn next,” there are at least some useful criteria we can use to narrow down the list of options. We can then spend less time deciding what language to learn and more time actually learning it.
Gabriel Wyner is a polyglot, former opera singer, the author of the book Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It, and the creator of the new Fluent Forever app, the most funded app in crowdfunding history. I highly recommend his book and app, especially to anyone who struggles with foreign language pronunciation or making new words stick. In the interview, we discuss: 1) How opera led Gabe to learn French, Italian, and German. 2) How a summer German immersion program proved he was not “crappy at languages” as he had previously believed. 3) Why opera is the perfect career for those who want to get paid to become multilingual. 4) The visceral difference between simply “pronouncing” a language and actually “thinking” and “feeling” in it. 5) Why you shouldn’t learn a language through translation (“It murders you before you start.”) 6) How images are a faster, more effective way to build new linguistics connections. 7) Why you should start with pronunciation training first. 8) How minimal pair training helps you learn pronunciation quickly and better notice your progress over time. 9) Why you can’t make old memories go away (the groove remains!), but how you can make new memories more powerful (making the groove deeper). 10) Why images (and the meanings they represent) create stronger memories than spelling and sound. 11) Why personal connection (“self-reference”) is the ultimate memory “supercharger.” 12) How self-testing with flashcards can make your study time five times more effective than simply presented yourself with information. 13) The critical difference between “recalling” and “reviewing.” 14)The power of “uh….?” moments and how spaced repetition can help optimize them. 15) Why modern digital flashcards are not really “flashcards” at all, but rather “computerized tests.” 16) Why language learning doesn’t take nearly as much time if you can actually hold onto what you learn. 17) Gabe’s “minimum viable” daily and weekly language learning habits. 18) How to get immersion “chunks” wherever you are. 19) Why frequency dictionaries are linguistic gold.