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.
While at a Christmas dinner party recently, I was asked the standard American icebreaker: “So, what do you do?” “I’m a linguist and an author who writes about language learning.”
“Oh? What languages do you speak?” “I’ve dabbled in a few, but I mostly focus on Japanese.” “Wow, that’s a really hard language! You must be really smart.” I knew this exclamation was coming since it’s the same response I almost always get when talking about language learning, but it still makes me cringe every time. Many people, even those who have never studied the language, assume that ① Japanese is difficult, and ② you have to be really smart to learn it.
So is Japanese difficult? And does it require great intelligence? Read on to see my answer to both.
We get better at what we practice most. Sounds obvious, yes? Yet far too many language learners wonder why they aren’t getting better at listening and speaking despite all the hours they’ve spent reading, memorizing vocabulary, and studying grammar rule. See the faulty logic here? Trying to get better at speaking by memorizing words and rules is like trying to get better at martial arts by watching kung fu movies. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Once upon a time, you had to two choices if you wanted to get fluent in a language: ① Take language classes, or ② Move abroad. I did both and had a (mostly) great time doing so. But while I think classes can be great for those who can afford the time and tuition and that living abroad can be a profoundly transformative experience, neither undertakings are a requirement for learning a language. Today, anyone with an internet connection, a little creativity, and sufficient discipline can reach a high level of fluency anywhere in the world if they design the proper environment. Read the article to see exactly how.
If an adult fails to learn a foreign language (and most do), most of us assume the learner did’t study hard enough or simply isn’t good at languages. The real problem is not usually a lack of talent or effort but using the wrong methods, choosing the wrong materials, and having self-defeating beliefs. Read on to see how to choose effective methods, fun materials, and empowering attitudes.
As a teacher, blogger, and coach in language learning, I’ve heard just about every excuse there is for why one can’t learn a foreign language. Here are the most common, limiting, and ultimately untrue beliefs: 1) “Learning languages is really difficult, especially non-Romance languages like Japanese.” 2) “I don’t have enough time, money, or language ability to learn a language.” 3) “I don’t live where the language is spoken.” 4) “I’m too old to learn a language.” While learning to speak a new tongue might be easier or more convenient for some people (e.g. those who have hours of free time available each day, deep financial resources, the freedom to travel frequently or move abroad, etc.), it is imperative to understand that anyone can learn a language well if they: 1) Prioritize language learning in their lives. 2) Do the right things consistently (heaps of listening and reading input and heaps of active speaking and writing output). 3) Change their beliefs about language learning.